Monday, June 04, 2007

Museum Restaurants

I would say that ten to fifteen years ago, the idea of having good food in a museum was almost inconceivable. There's been an increasing appreciation by museum directors and boards that having good food is a real benefit to the museum.
Museum visitors with grumbling stomachs are more likely to find themselves taking a break and dining on delicious food in a great setting-without having to leave the building. Major museums often offer both a casual, quick service option and a fine dining restaurant. It's no longer unusual to find celebrity chefs at the kitchen helm, white tablecloth service and stunning décor.
Top-notch restaurant paired with museum seems to be a winning combination for all. A great restaurant can attract museum attendance and keep visitors there longer while making them happy with the possibility of a delicious (and convenient) pre- or post-exhibit diversion. But museums are also acutely aware that dining is not their primary focus. While the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York opened a café in response to frequent visitor requests at the Cloisters , administrators are careful not to put too much emphasis on its food service.
Still, some of the best museum restaurants have become so popular that they've culled a following in their own right.

Here's a list of some of them in the US:

Café Sabarsky, Neue Galerie New York, New York, NY

Likely the best place outside of Austria for authentic Viennese coffee and apple strudel is Café Sabarsky, located inside the Beaux-Arts mansion that houses Ronald Lauder's Neue Galerie New York, a new museum of early twentieth-century Austrian and German art in Manhattan. It opened to instant success with ladies who lunch and New Yorkers who like to check out what's in.

Zola, International Spy Museum, Washington, DC

Scheduled to open in mid-July, the International Spy Museum, dedicated to exploring the history and practice of espionage, will offer Zola, a 175-seat, upscale restaurant and bar. Named for French novelist Emile Zola, best known for defending Alfred Dreyfus, and created and operated by the group that owns D.C.'s popular Red Sage restaurant, chef Phillip Carroll will offer Modern American cuisine "with a comforting twist."

Hip, local design team Adamstein & Demetriou helped create Zola's sleek look, which subtly embraces the spirit of espionage. A long, tectonic metal-topped bar (lit from beneath) and large, clear "floor portals" (they can be looked through, revealing the museum's shop below) set the tone. Six dining booths contain whimsical spy holes that allow one to catch a glimpse into an adjacent booth and a mirror with a hidden window in its center that offers a peek into the kitchen. At first glance, it even appears that one can spy in the women's room, but rest assured-the bathroom portals don't actually reveal anything. Even the art, acrylic panels with encoded text by Washington artist Jim Sanborn, relates to espionage. At the CIA headquarters in McLean, Virginia is a Sanborn sculpture in which a secret message is encoded.

The Restaurant, The Getty Center, Los Angeles, CA

No doubt, the stunning, panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean and Santa Monica mountains from the Restaurant, the Getty's 150-seat fine dining establishment, is one of the finest in LA (floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides of the establishment take full advantage of it).

Puck's at the MCA, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL

Wolfgang Puck has teamed with Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art to create Puck's at the MCA, a 120-seat restaurant with a view (and an outdoor terrace) overlooking the museum's sculpture garden and Lake Michigan beyond. Some consider Puck's to be one of Chicago's hidden gems (the entrance to it is inside the museum, although museum admission is not required).

A well-rounded, worldly menu offers dishes such as an Asian-inspired chinois chicken salad with daikon radishes, spicy sesame vinaigrette and fried wonton "croutons" and an Austrian-inspired schnitzel (pounded crispy pork tenderloin) on grilled sourdough with lemon aioli. American classics like Cobb salad and a good old burger are also on the menu. Spago Chicago's chef François Kwaku-Dongo oversees the kitchen, which also puts out a few Spago signature dishes. To top it off, an impressive wine list with selections by the glass is available.

Fraser Garden Court Terrace, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA

At the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the 110-seat Fraser Garden Court Terrace offers a classy, modern and peaceful setting with a dramatic, 25-foot floor to ceiling wall of windows that overlooks an outdoor courtyard (complete with fountains and 75-year old Linden trees).

Seventeen Seventeen, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX

The minimalist chic yet comfortable, 140-seat sun-filled Sevnteen Seventeen lures the local lunch crowd and business professionals as well as museum patrons. Beyond great service is an inventive menu with spectacular culinary creations.

Joy America Café, American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore, MD

The offbeat, whimsical and alternative American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, which houses "outsider art" or incredible creations made by ordinary people, offers bliss at the Joy America Café. The restaurant combines white tablecloth dining with a fabulous view of the Baltimore harbor and a creative menu inspired by Latin American and Caribbean cuisines.

Café Sebastienne, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, MO

Colorful and bold, the colossal work The History of Art by American artist Frederick J. Brown is actually 110 individual paintings, on permanent display at the Kemper's Café Sebastienne (replicas of different famous paintings, such as Van Gogh's The Starry Night and Edvard Munch's The Scream, each representing an important movement or figure in the history of art, are stacked one above another, covering almost every inch of the café's wall space). Commissioned for the museum, the installation is a perfect backdrop for the funky and eclectic 120-seat café, which draws artists and musicians as well as business professionals.

Pavilion Café, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

The newest dining option at the National Gallery of Art is a remarkable oasis of tranquility in the heart of Washington, D.C. The 120-seat Sculpture Garden's Pavilion Café offers panoramic views through floor-to-ceiling windows of great sculpture and a beautifully landscaped garden. Two outdoor terraces offer additional dining and, in the summer, a special tapas menu (along with two full bars on the terraces) available for "Jazz in the Garden,".
Also in the National Gallery:
Cascade Café:
The Cascade Café, with a view of the cascade waterfall.
Garden Café:
The Garden Café provides a serene spot for lunch in the West Building next to the Ground Floor galleries.

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