The curtain is down, the lights are dark, and one of the world’s most famous concert halls won’t be hosting in-person performances anytime soon because of the pandemic.
But Boston’s Symphony Hall, which has hosted the likes of renowned cellist Yo Yo Ma and Italian opera great Andrea Bocelli, isn’t exactly quiet this fall, after striking a deal with Northeastern to rent out its dining area.
The Cohen Wing on Huntington Avenue, which typically hosts black-tie affairs and receptions, is now providing Northeastern students another sit-down indoor dining option, with properly distanced seating for up to 68 people.
The safety precautions are the same as at any other campus space: hand sanitizer stations, tables wiped down regularly, and floor decals to remind students of proper spacing. But as the menu makes clear, this isn’t your typical campus dining hall.
There are plenty of choices elsewhere if the mood strikes for fried chicken, burgers, or pizza. This is not that place.
Symphony Hall, managed by the dining service Chartwells, offers higher-end fare—including a vegan cranberry quinoa salad, pear and walnut salad, and a variety of warm, pressed chicken or veggie panini. That’s just the lunch menu.
Dinner, served from 4 to 7 p.m., offers warm entrees such as roast beef with steamed asparagus and potatoes or chicken parmigiana sandwiches, as well as a variety of sides such as steamed green beans and long grain wild rice, says chef Nick Frohne. He wears a white chef jacket, black face mask, and a black head covering.
The most popular salads, sandwiches, and snacks include: Greek salad with champagne dressing, roast beef and cheddar cheese on a pretzel roll, chicken bacon club sandwich, baked zucchini bites, and fresh vegetables with yogurt dip.
All the food is packaged to grab-and-go, but why venture out when students can enjoy the unique experience of being surrounded by more than 100 classical instruments, some of them 200 years old?
A small sign in a glass display case informs visitors that the majority of the instruments were collected by French musician Henri Casadesus, a virtuoso viola player and founder of the Society of Ancient Instruments.
Among the highlights are five early bassoons made by the most renowned French makers of the period. Of particular significance to the history of Symphony Hall is a group of four violas played in a 1918 concert by the Society, an ensemble directed by Casadesus and devoted to performing 18th-century music.
“It’s definitely not your typical dining experience,” says Viktorija Abolina, Northeastern’s associate vice president for campus planning and real estate who describes herself as a “food lover.”
Julia Finocchiaro agrees. The freshman from Pepperell, Massachusetts, who typically eats at Stetson West, decided to give Symphony Hall a try on a recent day after seeing the menu on the Dine On Campus App.
“I saw that they had panini, and that’s not something that other places usually have,” she says.
The computer science major bought a chicken panini, a turkey sandwich to keep in the refrigerator, and two drinks.
Nataly Kaldawy, an N.U.in student from Massachusetts, was also making her first visit to Symphony Hall, which is close to her residence at the nearby Westin Hotel. The neuroscience major—who usually eats at International Village, Stetson West, or anyplace else that takes meal swipes—had a buffalo cauliflower wrap, vegetables, corn flakes, and orange juice spread out in front of her in the dining room.
“I think the hall is really pretty. I think it’s a nice space.”
When Northeastern’s campus planning and dining services officials scoped out more eating venues at the start of the semester, Symphony Hall checked all the boxes, Abolina says.
It has a kitchen and WiFi, is conveniently located near student residences at the Westin and Midtown hotels, and the wood walls and carpeted floors block out the busy hustle-bustle of Huntington Avenue.
“It’s a quiet little sanctuary and offers a different atmosphere than Curry Center,” says Abolina. “It’s a nice refuge when you want to sit and concentrate.”
Zoe Iorizzo has eaten at Symphony Hall and Curry, but when it comes to convenience, there’s only one spot for her.
“Usually I go to Curry and I choose Popeye’s or something. But sometimes I have a lot of work, so I just come here. It’s convenient and close to the Midtown,” says the freshman marketing major from Chatham, New Jersey.
“It’s a very nice setting. It’s got good views outside. It’s cool. I like it.”
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