Artful Dining

Lately, dining at art museums has become as enticing as seeing the exhibits.

By: Laura Daily | Source: | Date Posted: 2008-07-20

Starved for great art? Just plain starved? Lately dining at art museums has become as
enticing as seeing the exhibits. The cafeteria chow, wilted salads, or soggy sandwiches
have made way for white-linen, full-service gourmet fare. It’s a win-win-win. Top chefs
and innovative restaurateurs set up shop in a dynamic setting with a guaranteed
clientele. Museums get a chic amenity that can boost traffic at new and ongoing
exhibitions. You get a good meal.

Not a card-carrying museum member? There are no promises you won’t join after
finding plate presentations that could rival some masterpieces, but no worries about
getting a table. Most of these restaurants have separate entrances. And although
many still shadow their landlords' days and hours of operation, it’s a good idea to call
and verify when the cafés are open.
TASTE RESTAURANT (www.tastesam.
Seattle Art Museum, Seattle; (206) 903-5291
“Contemporary yet inviting” is how Taste
describes its space within the newly expanded
Seattle Art Museum. The same can be said for the
menu under the watchful eye of executive chef
Craig Hetherington, who has forged relationships
with regional cheese makers, farmers, ranchers,
and fishermen. Lunch might include a
Chardonnay poached chicken salad or mini
organic beef burgers with gouda, Dijon aioli, and
pickled jalapeno, while dinner might feature slow-
roasted organic short ribs. Washington state’s
short growing season keeps Hetherington on his
toes, and he constantly changes offerings to
reflect local availability. “My favorite items tend to
be the ones that we can only get for two months
or in small amounts. For example, Jones Creek
Farms sells us heirloom tomatoes, but we only get
them for about six weeks. But it’s worth it,” he says
Denver Art Museum, Denver; (303) 534-1455
When the Denver Art Museum—with its chic new building by architect Daniel
Libeskind—opted to offer patrons more than just a cute café, it called on celebrity chef
Kevin Taylor and his partner Denise Mease. Collaborating with the museum, they
decided to fill the sleek, glass-and-steel dining room with artwork—all original and for
sale—from a local gallery.

And patrons do buy—not just signature dishes like Colorado lamb chops with goat-
cheese mashed potatoes or crispy potato-crushed diver scallops with cauliflower and
caper-raisin emulsion, but oils, collages, mosaics, and other pieces ranging from
$4,000 to $25,000. But perhaps what really draws diners is the artistry of the Cobb
salad, a nine-year menu tradition, which is presented to resemble a painter’s palette.
In fact the only complaint about this sleek spot, famed for its ever-evolving
“contemporary American” cuisine, is that it’s only open for dinner on Friday nights.
Madison Museum of Contemporary Art; Madison, Wisconsin, (608) 663-7374
Whether guests come for the sculptures and stay for the food or come to eat and
discover an unexpected world of art, neither Fresco nor the Madison Museum of
Contemporary Art disappoints. Perched on the rooftop, Fresco boasts panoramic
views of the Wisconsin state capitol and its surroundings. Dine indoors, or in warmer
months, “al fresco.” In fact, that phrase’s literal translation, "fresh," is the watchword
for executive chef John Jerabek, a Saturday regular at the famed Dane County Farmer’
s Market, one of the largest in the country. Menus change bi-weekly based on
seasonal ingredients, such as Kodiak Island halibut or sashimi-grade scallops served
with mascarpone polenta and applewood-smoked bacon. Jerabek is so in tune with
local farmers that he hosts a monthly five-course Farmers’ Market Dinner, with local
suppliers on hand to talk about their products. Your only distraction may be the wall of
floor-to-ceiling windows that front the museum’s Sculpture Garden, which showcase
works by such artists as Claes Oldenburg, Coosje van Bruggen, and Tony Cragg.
Museum of Modern Art, New York City; (212) 333-1220
This four-star restaurant proves that art doesn’t just live on walls. Under the skillful
watch of executive chef Gabriel Kreuther, The Modern has set a new standard for art-
museum dining. To accommodate a variety of budgets, moods, and dining schedules,
The Modern encompasses two areas, each with distinctive menus. The Bar Room is
inspired by Kreuther’s Alsatian roots, with casual and rustic offerings, like beer-
braised pork belly with sauerkraut and ginger jus. The dining room favors French-
American cuisine with chorizo-crusted codfish, a favorite for East Coast diners. Both
prix-fixé and tasting menus are offered at dinner, while lunch is à la carte. Everything
from the artwork to the Danish furniture and tableware by modernist designers reflects
the MoMA style. The dining room overlooks the famed Abby Aldrich Rockefeller
Sculpture Garden; while the Bar Room boasts a single, huge photograph called
“Clearing,” by artist Thomas Demand.

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