BY BARBARA PALMER
The freezer is almost empty at LINX, the newly opened Clark Center restaurant. That's because executive chef Gary Arthur insists on using fresh ingredients for nearly everything: Those are fresh tomatoes in the tomato-and-potato stew and freshly roasted ginger root in the orange-ginger dressing, meant to be drizzled over grilled salmon. For the Vietnamese pho soup, Arthur charbroils ginger and onion to add to cinnamon-spiced beef stock that's ladled over meatballs, more fresh vegetables and rice noodles that are made daily in San Francisco. Creamy corn risotto is stirred up a few minutes before the lunch crowd arrives.
And in less than a month, there already is a crowd. The kitchen regularly serves about 600 lunches a day, including "an incredible repeat business," said Arthur, who formerly presided over the kitchens of luxury hotels including the Ritz-Carlton in Chicago and the Fairmont in San Francisco. One diner shows up every day at 11 a.m. and orders eight take-out meals for himself and his colleagues. (The restaurant is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and serves lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.)
But at LINX, the quality of the food is only part of the story. The prices are low enough for the average graduate student budget. The pho is $4.25, and even though the rotating menu sometimes includes such items as Hawaiian tombo tuna, the highest-priced item is $6.95.
"We're not talking $30 a plate," says Arthur, as he spoons cranberry and papaya chutney over roast turkey and dishes up a golden mound of roasted pumpkin and butternut squash. "But it's still an artsy plate of food."
LINX, set in the middle of the Clark Center laboratories, is itself a kind of experiment in the role social interaction plays in scientific collaboration. During the early stage of planning for Bio-X, the idea to devote a chunk of building space to a restaurant was sparked at a visit to Cambridge University. There, executive planning committee members noted the fruitful conversations between scientists who gathered in a science building every afternoon for tea, said Channing Robertson, a chemical engineering professor and committee member. "We expanded that concept and took it up another level -- that of having a full-service restaurant to serve as a social magnet to enable the serendipity that often is associated with discovery," he said.
There was resistance to devoting so much square-footage that otherwise could have been used for lab space to a dining facility, Robertson said. "I am pleased it survived, because anyone who goes there now can see the value it brings."
At LINX, diners sit at long, lab-coat white tables -- ideal for breaking down social barriers between people, said Beth Kane, director of operations at Bio-X. In restaurants furnished with many smaller tables, people tend to sit alone and are isolated from each other, she said. "At a long table, diners are more likely to strike up a conversation."
With its phosphorescence-green walls and the long glass wall opening up in the courtyard, the restaurant is nearly impossible to miss. "That was extremely intentional," Kane said. "We wanted every facet of this building and this program to be welcoming and to expose people to new ways of thinking, eating and doing."
The restaurant is divided into three cooking platforms: "Main Street," featuring American regional cuisine; "Mosaic," featuring Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine; and "Pao!" featuring Asian cuisine. "We wanted customers to experience something new, delicious and stimulating to whet their palate and excite their senses," said Shirley Everett, associate vice provost and director for Residential and Dining Enterprises, who oversaw the development of the restaurant's concept.
When LINX opened, Arthur was ready with an eight-week cycle of menus, but he has had to rethink his original plan of changing menus weekly, since customers already have become attached to certain dishes. In the future, the restaurant probably will have some staples that don't change and other rotating dishes, he said.
The chef's ease with multiple cuisines comes naturally to Arthur, who spent his early years in Trinidad and Tobago, where exposure to international foods was part of daily life. Arthur was living in the Bronx, however, when he entered the world of cooking. "I was 14 years old and sitting in the principal's office being reprimanded for some infraction," Arthur recalls. "I stole a work permit from his desk."
Arthur got a job as a dishwasher at the United Nations and, after three days, was invited into a chef's apprentice program. The U.N. apprenticeship launched Arthur's career: He has worked as an executive chef in kitchens in the United States, Canada and Hong Kong, including St. Barth's Market and Grill in Los Angeles (Arthur was working there in 1988 when Esquire magazine named the restaurant one of the top 10 new restaurants in the country). Recently, Arthur was chef de cuisine for the luxe Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group in Hong Kong.
Giving up plush hotels for LINX, where linen tablecloths have been replaced with a chrome rack where diners return their trays, was a wonderful decision, Arthur said.
"Campus life offers me a place to belong. I like seeing the same faces every day," he said. At Stanford, "I feel like we all treat each other as equals. I love serving the human need for food and I love the fact that at the university, people don't make me feel like I'm a servant." (The egalitarian ethic extends to his staff: Everybody gets a chance to cook, including the dishwashers.)
It's exciting, too, to work among so many people who are as passionate about their work as he is about food, he said. The faculty and students in the surrounding labs "all have projects they are nurturing and caring about. This is my little project. I want to see how up there can I get with what I've got to work with."
Associate Vice Provost Shirley Everett of Residential & Dining Enterprises, presides at the opening of LINX. Photo: L.A. Cicero
Stanford Report, October 22, 2003