Shenkman dining hall offers community space, lackluster food

Media Credit: Sage Russell | Photographer

Students, like officials hoped, are “building community” and once again finding new and old friends in the Shenkman basement, which is what the student body needs. 

As the new semester kicks off, Shenkman Hall’s new dining venue is up and running as a new hub for students to enjoy a communal dining experience.

The all-you-care-to-eat dining hall, which is the final installment of GW’s transition to a swipe-based dining system, provides a conglomerate of food stations – like “Rooted,” which centers around produce and lean protein options, and the “Teaching Kitchen” where students can learn cooking skills from trained chefs. But while GW describes the dining experience as one targeted toward those of ranging identities and varied dietary restrictions, Shenkman’s ambitious endeavors didn’t fully live up to expectations.

The Hatchet’s staff set out to review the dining hall’s new offerings, resulting in mixed reviews.

Clara Duhon | Culture Editor

Shenkman, which became the third residence hall to open an all-you-can-eat dining experience after West and Thurston halls, drops off the hardest in its limited labeling of dishes and the ingredients within. Only a few dishes were identified at the physical stations, so diners must search for the ingredients in the dishes online. But for those with food allergies, restrictions and other requirements, detailed, upfront labeling is crucial to their dining experience.

I loaded my plate with sides like broccoli and beans, which surrounded a rice patty and a hefty serving of warm noodles with a nutty-like sauce. But the food itself was not quite up to par. The broccoli was boiled with little-to-no seasoning, while the kidney beans, mixed with shredded kale and pieces of tomato, offered a slightly more hearty bite. Their rice pilaf was a bare-bones affair – with not much to complement the rice other than a few shreds of carrots here and there – also lacking any semblance of flavor.

What was shaping up to be an evening of diminished expectations took a turn with a rice patty from the “Performance Kitchen” at the back of the hall that seemed to be cooked with cheese and other grains like farro, making for a savory dish.

But the best bite of the night came from the “Teaching Kitchen” – a large serving of noodles doused in a peanut-like sauce. The sauce’s moderate level of spice and creaminess propped up the dish but not so much that the noodles became too heavy. While the flavors held up, the “teaching” element of the kitchen seemed nowhere to be found – a chef behind the counter served the noodles but didn’t lead any sort of instruction the University has vaguely advertised while I was there.

Shenkman’s wide variety of options make the hall a solid choice if you’re looking for a night to skip cooking, but for a $16.50 dinner, if you include tax, for students on the legacy plan, I didn’t find the best bang for my buck.

Ethan Benn | Opinions Editor

I visited Shenkman’s dining hall for the first time Sunday night, which was also my first experience eating at any of GW’s dining halls. Though the atmosphere, convenience and warm welcome from the staff might lure me back in the future, I’ll stick with my home-cooked meals for now. 

The buzz of students and attentive staff made Shenkman instantly welcoming, especially on a cold and rainy night. I loaded up my plate with a tasty combination of quinoa, roasted sweet potatoes, chicken and pasta salad, then went back for dessert. Shenkman is a choose-your-own culinary adventure, but the warm sweet potatoes contrasted wonderfully with the slightly acidic crunch of the pasta salad.

Unfortunately, finding what to eat at Shenkman felt like a scavenger hunt. The station model sounds efficient in theory, but a lack of clear signage both at each station and next to each food item had me running back and forth to fill my plate. For diners with dietary needs, or just those curious about what they’re consuming, meal time shouldn’t be a mystery.

The staff who keep Shenkman running through wave after wave of hungry students deserve praise as they – and we – adjust to a new dining plan. Go to Shenkman for the experience. But at $16.50 for dinner, and with a few problems still to sort out, look elsewhere if value is your bottom line.

Zach Blackburn | Senior News Editor

Sunday was my second time visiting Shenkman’s dining hall, and while I wish it were enjoyable or worthwhile, it fails to meet the standards of a good meal, falling short of its older sister at Thurston Hall.

Most of the issues with the experience are easily fixable but still dampened both my meals. The Coke Freestyle machines – where you can mix or match dozens of flavors of soda – stood almost completely empty. I ended up opting for the only soda available, a cold glass of Fanta. The Shenkman dining hall also starts a leg below Thurston’s – while Thurston has a tasty soft-serve ice cream machine, Shenkman has no such contraption.

I also generally enjoy knowing what type of food I’m eating. So I was disappointed when the majority of food completely lacked labeling. I had no idea what type of rice I was about to eat or which vegetables were shredded into the cheesesteak. For me, it’s a complaint borne of curiosity and hunger – for some of my allergic friends, it’s a need borne of safety.

I grabbed food from nearly every station –  a total of 11 items – and it mostly tasted mediocre, oftentimes not tasty enough to warrant eating. The aforementioned mystery rice – it was spiced with something, who knows what – was bland despite its spices.

The meal wasn’t a complete failure – the pork loin filled me up with limited flavor, though dry, and the moist and rich chocolate cake exceeded my expectations. The loaded potato soup was a creamy and hearty surprise, with bacon bits mixed in. A cheesesteak with cheese goop hit the spot, complete with a soft bun and well-seasoned beef.

If officials fulfill the potential of the dining hall, it could be deserving of regular meals. Until then, the $16.50 isn’t worth the absence of some of the most important features of the meal.

Nick Pasion | Senior News Editor

On Sunday night, during the advertised Lunar New Year celebration, I hoped to get an assortment of Chinese food to celebrate my heritage and the Year of The Rabbit, but the options were not just poorly thought out, they were palatably disappointing. Shenkman’s Lunar New Year food included some nutty noodles, roasted pork loin and steamed broccoli. The food was room temperature and had none of the garlicky, five spice and szechuan pepper flavors I grew up with. While I understand that GW may not produce the Chinese food I am accustomed to at home, I expected a stronger attempt. 

That being said, I have visited Shenkman a handful of times over the past week and have quietly enjoyed each visit prior to Sunday. Each time I’ve been, Shenkman has offered a variety of options including pastrami sandwiches, jerk chicken, plantains and pasta for me to munch. The unlimited food also allowed me to camp out – laptop in tow – to do hours of work with free coffee and snacks. I appreciated the calm side room, where I got to chat with workers on break and other students chipping away at their first week of assignments.

The atmosphere at Shenkman has also been refreshing. After District House closed, there has been nowhere on campus where students can run into their friends, roommates and campus nemeses. Unlike the Thurston dining hall, which is brimming with loud freshmen, Shenkman can become that hub. Students, like officials hoped, are building community and once again finding new and old friends in the Shenkman basement, which is what the student body needs.

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