The University of Southern California has undergone many hefty changes within the past few months: new head football coach, president, athletic director and a majestic campus center to rival the Gryffindor commons. Most tasty of these developments is the creation of Moreton Fig, the Ronald Tutor Campus Center’s fine dining restaurant.

Kris Klinger, Director of USC Hospitality, says that bringing a restaurant like Moreton Fig to the campus center was a decision based on student surveys taken the year before the center opened. Students claimed they wanted a “nice restaurant” with fresh, local and organic foods. Klinger partnered with Lark Creek Restaurant Group (whose president happens to be a Trojan alumnus) to brainstorm ideas for a new on-campus dining venue. What was born was a place where students, faculty and staff can dine together. While Klinger and Creek began to create a menu, they left it to Chef Todd Koenigsberg to complete it.

“It’s as if I was given the title of the book, and was asked to put in the story,” says the chef.

Koenigsberg’s story is one of the best I have ever experienced in the genre of campus dining.

To begin, it is important to note that most of the food on the menu is seasonal, meaning that the items will change with the weather (ha!). When you are seated, a plate of hand-selected bread is brought to you, including the always-welcome pretzel bread with a slice of French butter.

For appetizers, the stonefruit bruschetta is an excellent blend of sweet and rich to prepare the palette for the experience it is about to encounter. Although there are only three items under appetizers, ask the server if there are any specials. I happened to go on a day that stuffed mushrooms were being served, and I’m glad I tried them.

As a main course, the crispy skin lemon and garlic roasted organic chicken breast, pumpernickel spaetzle and green tomato is perfectly moist and tender, but most importantly, well portioned. The grilled flat iron steak, béarnaise sauce and big duckfat fries are also a strong recommendation.

To wrap up my food journey, I try Bombay Chai tea with a Valrhona chocolate tart – vanilla ice cream, hazelnut praline – and the roasted O’Henry peach dumplings with peach sauce, vanilla ice cream and gingerbread streusel. Both are fantastic, however, no trip to Moreton Fig could be complete without trying the Lark Creek butterscotch pudding with Chantilly cream and pecan wedding cookie. This last item is by far the best happily-ever-after ending I have come across in a pudding.

With all of this exquisite food, one big challenge will be to get the students to show up. “We need to build clientele. Heck, we don’t even have a sign,” comments Koenigsberg. The signage might not be the only problem, as prices might be a little out of range for the starving student’s budget.

“Yes, prices are higher than other campus food, but they’re competitive with restaurants downtown,” he assures. “What you pay for is the experience. Everything is so well thought out; the food matches the beauty of the interior.”

Moreton Fig is decorated in a simple elegance with stone and orchid centerpieces and bamboo lining, cozy high-top booths, a seated lounge and even a bar. Such a nice and elegant venue might intimidate the student in jeans and T-shirt, but the head chef pleads otherwise.

“We are a part of this campus. It is important to feel welcome here and not make it exclusive. We are treating everyone exactly the same, no matter who they are or how they’re dressed.”

Hats off to the excellent customer service!

“Exuberant Joe” did an excellent job of exuding the warmth that is USC hospitality. He even encourages students to stop by in between classes during happy hour (3 p.m. to 7 p.m.) to grab some barbecue chicken sliders or their homemade lollipop chicken wings and head to the patio to study.

He’s amazed people have already started to: “I’ve never seen anything like it, but it’s so cool to see people just out there, relaxing.”

Also, the outdoor patio is reserved for customers only, so one needn’t worry about overcrowding.

Koenigsberg comments, “We’re trying to do something very different here.” I’d say they’re succeeding.