Tuesday, June 26, 2012

University of California, Irvine: Pippin Commons- Irvine, CA

UC Irvine Pippin Commons- Irvine, CA: UCI Watermelon (picture of a picture)

Four years ago, I used a camera phone and a point and shoot. One of the most memorable pictures was this picture of an engraved watermelon with an UCI anteater, taken when my friend was just entering the university.

The food then at Pippin Commons was decent, but there were definitely some setbacks, even at move-in day, where Pippin was trying to demonstrate its quality offerings to parents. For example, the chicken tortilla soup was barely passable; some other items I shrugged about.

UC Irvine- Irvine, CA: Aldrich Park Panorama
UC Irvine- Irvine, CA: Computer Science/ Engineering Building Tree Area
UC Irvine- Irvine, CA: Anteater Express
UC Irvine- Irvine, CA: Computer Science Lab
UC Irvine- Irvine, CA: Engineering Hall
(Pictures taken during Celebrate UCI, 2012)

In between the four years, I got samples from Pippin, such as some chocolate chip cookies (delicious, crisp on the outside and chewy in the middle) or fruit, but I never really got to thoroughly visit Pippin, or UCI itself again.

With that said, my companions and I really were in for a surprise when we visited Pippin for the first time again in four years. In comparison to some restaurant reviews that I've written here on the blog that still pretty much stand true today, my perspective on Pippin has certainly skyrocketed in comparison to that of four years ago.

UC Irvine Pippin Commons- Irvine, CA: Entrance

There is a slight catch: these visits were on the weekend, and it so happened to be each visit occurred on an event where parents would be present. My friend's postulate of four years eating at Pippin states that food usually becomes better during large events or when parents would most likely be on campus; also, he acknowledges that the food this last quarter has been improving due in response to the awards that some of the chefs have been receiving.

UC Irvine Pippin Commons- Irvine, CA: Cream of Potato with Clams (Clam Chowder)

The options at Pippin vary, with plenty of options (like any other college dining hall) offered during each service. What enticed my friend and I to try Pippin during Celebrate UCI were two things: clam chowder and red curry chicken on rice. I thought the clam chowder would not be decent, having experienced the mediocre tortilla soup several years ago, but this soup was a very strong rendition. It was slightly gritty as the base of the soup came from a cream of potato soup, but otherwise, the clam chowder had tons of clams and plenty of clam flavor.

UC Irvine Pippin Commons- Irvine, CA: Thai Red Chicken Curry on Steamed Rice

I guess I can't expect much for Asian-style food at Pippin; this was more like a spicy chicken on rice rather than red curry on rice. For some weird reason, this dish seemed to allude more to Mexican food, not Thai food; it was more "hot" than it was "spice." The rice was fluffy though.

UC Irvine Pippin Commons- Irvine, CA: French Fries

French fries were decent: tender in the middle, and lightly crunchy (and somewhat limp) on the outside. I would have preferred them to be warmer though, although I did leave them off from the hot plate about five minutes before eating them.

UC Irvine Pippin Commons- Irvine, CA:  Chicken Salad

The chicken salad was decent, with a supposed correspondence to Mexican food with the sprinkling of grated cheese. The chicken, interestingly enough, reminded me of the same chicken that was in the red curry; perhaps the chicken was precooked and utilized in different areas.

UC Irvine Pippin Commons- Irvine, CA: Stir Fried Tofu and Bok Choy

Food from the Chinese station was similarly decent. The stir fry tofu dish was essentially the same as what I had four years ago; the tofu was not crisp, but rather firm, chewy nuggets. I do approve that Pippin uses organic tofu for this dish though! The bok choy was decent as well; not very crisp, but yet not overcooked either.

UC Irvine Pippin Commons- Irvine, CA: Watermelon and Cantoloupe

Fruit fared well, however. All the fruit was fresh: the watermelon crisp, the cantaloupe sweet. I went back for seconds.

UC Irvine Pippin Commons- Irvine, CA: Sugar Cookie and Pumpkin Cheesecake

Desserts were quite delicious as well. I really enjoyed the pumpkin cheesecake, which was smooth and creamy. The cookies, as usual with Pippin, were delectable, and I made sure to bring some (within the limits) home from Pippin.

UC Irvine Pippin Commons- Irvine, CA: Stuffed Bell Pepper and Steamed Broccoli

It always seems at buffets that I go in opposite directions. I'll return to main menu items after eating dessert, and this visit was no different. This change in direction was worth it though: the stuffed bell pepper had plenty of flavorful tomato rice which I enjoyed, while the steamed broccoli served alongside was a nice palate cleanser to the bell pepper.

UC Irvine Pippin Commons- Irvine, CA: Signage

The second time we visited Pippin this year was lunch during UCI commencement so that we could finish off our companion's remaining meal tickets!

UC Irvine Pippin Commons- Irvine, CA: Lunch Menu

Looking at the menu, the selections seemed decent, but there was a slight decrease in options. Oh well! 

UC Irvine Pippin Commons- Irvine, CA: Bacon Corn Bisque

We did see more turnover this time around (notably fruits), but even the foods that stayed put throughout the visit were pretty good. The Bacon Corn Bisque, like the clam chowder, had a cream of potato base, and likewise was filled with lots of ingredients. Instead of the clam flavor experienced in the clam chowder, this soup had some smoky notes from the bacon and sweetness from the corn.

UC Irvine Pippin Commons- Irvine, CA: Fish & Chips, Mixed Vegetables

Fish & chips actually was a slight revisit to another college dorm hall dish that I tried on the East Coast, only this time the fish was in strips rather than nicely formed triangles. The breading was crisp and somewhat thick, but the fish (most likely pollock) was decent and flavorful. The side of roasted vegetables, on the other hand, was an improvement compared to past Pippin offerings. Instead of one roasted vegetable, this plate had a medley. I found the addition of roasted beets to be somewhat out of the ordinary yet appetizing.

UC Irvine Pippin Commons- Irvine, CA: Pork Taquitos

The other main dish available was pork taquitos, which had thick, crunchy tortilla exteriors and shredded pork filling. The fluffy rice, along with other toppings (I added these myself), helped balance out the crunchiness. I give a plus to Pippin for actually serving freshly made salsa rather than ones with gloopy dressings.

UC Irvine Pippin Commons- Irvine, CA: Baked Yam and Roasted Corn

Baked (or steamed) yams are one of our household staples, and so it was comforting to see baked yams on the menu. On the other hand, the roasted corn kernels were somewhat dry and chewy, and certainly needed toppings such as butter and sugar to make it more palatable.

UC Irvine Pippin Commons- Irvine, CA: Vanilla Frozen Yogurt Cone

Having eaten plenty of food, I moved onto dessert with a soft serve frozen yogurt cone. The frozen yogurt here certainly isn't as creamy as that of Costco's, and veers slightly on the icy side; nevertheless, it's an enjoyable treat.

UC Irvine Pippin Commons- Irvine, CA: Cantaloupe, Pineapple, Chocolate Chip Cookie, Carrot Cake

This plate of food, on the other hand, was quite spectacular for a college dorm hall food. Typical American style cakes are exceedingly sweet, but Pippin's carrot cake was on the mark. The limited spread of frosting was just the right amount for the cake, which was filled with grated carrot and raisins. Cantaloupe and pineapple were both freshly cut and sweet, while the chocolate chip cookie was typical Pippin. In actuality, I like these cookies more than I do of the Fresh and Easy fresh baked variety.

Another special dessert was coconut rice pudding, which my companion shared among the rest of the party and so I did not take a picture of. This item, yet again, is a step up in comparison to the typical puddings served.

UC Irvine Pippin Commons- Irvine, CA: Mushroom and Onion Pizza, Honeydew

Since another plate of honeydew came out and my companion gave praise to Pippin's pizza, I had to grab both of those items to provide some closure to the meal. Like the cantaloupe and pineapple, the honeydew was fresh and sweet. The pizza, unlike a piece of UCLA pizza that I ate recently, was crisp and not burnt. I liked how the pizza was devoid of grease, but didn't care so much about the generous spread of peppers.

Besides foods on the menu, one should also be aware that cereals and bread are available all day, and that a wide selection of drinks (several types of coffee, milk, soymilk, soft drinks, slushies, and juices) are available.

Having taken a great turnaround with plenty of pleasing and improved options, Pippin is competitive  with its variety and decent to great tasting food. You won't be seeing me doing too many school-related blog posts and reviews, but UCI has been the primary reason I have been able to visit the OC so frequently over these four years, and this is just a token of thanks! (haha) Don't worry, I'll still have plenty of incentive to visit Orange County in the years to come.


Pippin Commons
100 E Peltason Dr
Irvine, CA 92612
Tel: (949) 824-2523

Pippin Commons  on Urbanspoon

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