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Careme Room

by Caroline Carter

(at the California Culinary Academy)
625 Polk Street
San Francisco, CA
(415) 216-4329

Cuisine: California

Pluses: Beautiful room; Enormous buffets; Earnest, young culinary students prepare and serve the food

Minuses: Varying levels of quality in food and service

Don’t Miss: The hot line in the eponymous “Careme Room” during the buffet

Prices: Table Service Lunch $20 per person; Buffet Lunch $25 per person;

Table Service Dinner $24 per person; Buffet Dinner $36-40 per person

Hours: Tues – Fri 11:30 am – 1 pm, 6 - 8 pm when the Academy is in session

Reservations recommended
American Express, Visa, MasterCard
Street parking
Completely non-smoking

Walking into the Careme Room at the California Culinary Academy, one is immediately reminded that this is a school as well as a public restaurant. Windows on one side of the bright, two-story dining room reveal large kitchens where students clad in chef’s whites hastily prepare their day’s assignment. Another set of windows expose a more traditional classroom arrangement, where rows of students face the dining room as they focus on a chef instructor performing a demonstration.

The Careme Room offers two types of service: a buffet on Thursdays and Fridays, and a more traditional table service on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. During the buffet, dozens of tables in the center of the dining room are loaded with mirrored platters of cold meats, salads, pate a choux, assorted vegetable appetizers, sushi, and desserts, often with whimsical marzipan figures created by the advanced pastry arts classes on display. Each buffet also features a hot line in the namesake “Careme Room” that showcases a different type of cuisine each day (Mexican, French, etc). Patrons of the buffet can easily eat a whole meal where no two bites are the same, and attentive students are ready to explain how everything was prepared in as much detail as you care to hear.

During the more traditional table service meals, you choose items off a three-course prix-fixe menu and wait for the food to arrive at your table. Dishes on the constantly changing seasonal menu might include items such as classic Caesar Salad or Medallions du Veau au Foie Gras (Veal Medallions with Foie Gras).

Both types of service feature student waiters who are being graded on their performance. Since each wait service class only lasts three weeks, service can be incredibly inconsistent, depending on whether the current class is in their first, second, or third week of service, and whether your waiter has had any experience before entering Academy. On one night you might luck out with a star student who can easily handle his or her three tables, and on another you might need to flag down your harried server just to get a glass of water. 

In many ways, the inconsistency of the service is a large part of the charm of eating at the Careme Room. The students are so bright-faced and earnest that it’s hard to get too upset, especially since any egregious errors are gracefully smoothed-over by the chef instructors who oversee the dining room. Leaving the restaurant, you’ll most-likely only be thinking about the surprisingly high quality of the food you just ate (and maybe reminiscing about your own school days, too).


Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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