Art de Cuisine!
Caution: This post will make you hungry.
Art is a three-letter word with countless interpretations. To each individual, the definition is different, both amorphous and concrete, but, always, subjective. Food and culinary visionaries have often been considered an art form all of their own. Food applies to all the senses---a feast for the eyes, taste buds, and nostrils. A great dining experience also includes atmosphere, from the decorative elements to the table linens and the subtle noises of a bustling restaurant. With its full sensory experience, museums nationwide are finding new ways of merging the culinary arts with the traditional museum experience.
Over at Art Works, we've explored the art of museum dining with Chef Richard Hetzler of the Mitsitam Café at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). Hetzler and other museum-based chefs are turning heads and overhauling the cafeteria dining of yesterday's museums to the fine, locally sourced dining of tomorrow. As in most things, the cream rises to the top, even with museum dining. These few Blue Star Museum restaurants are getting it right, so grab your appetite and bon appétit!
The museum's namesake, Isabella Stewart Gardner, was among the earliest female art patrons that helped transform America's cultural collections. Honoring Isabella's legacy, Café G features monthly menus inspired by the museum, its collection and gardens, and even Isabella's own recipes. The most recent menu celebrates the nasturtiums found in the museum's courtyard and incorporates the flower in traditional and surprising ways: nasturtium petals garnish a baby beet salad but also transform a pesto drizzled over salmon filets and lemon gnocchi. Café G doesn't stop at the savory. Chef/Owner Peter Crowley has turned heads with award-winning desserts, including a bread pudding named “Boston’s Best Indulgence” by The Improper Bostonian. After dessert, check out the museum's more than 2,500 carefully collected objects, including paintings, sculpture, furniture, textiles, ceramics, illuminated manuscripts, rare books, photographs, and letters that span from Ancient Rome to 19th-century America.
Known for its collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist art, the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles opened their restaurant, Ammo at the Hammer, in the museum's serene courtyard for an intimate dining experience. The restaurant offers seasonal paninis, soups, and salads---all made from locally-supplied ingredients. Ammo offers both lunch and weekend brunch and is great for the vegetarian in your troop. They could opt for the vegetable panini on olive bread with avocado, tomato, cucumber, sprouts, feta, and lemon, or the french lentil salad with roasted beets, mustard greens, radicchio and sherry vinaigrette.
Halcyon describes their menus as "farmhouse chic" and sports a "flavors from the earth" tagline. Located at the Mint Museum Uptown, Halcyon offers special events such as the upcoming Taste of the Mint where visitors participate in a tasting tour and drink pairings, followed by a customized one-hour talk and tour of the Mint's collections. Their regular menu offers some adventurous fare such as spicy duck meatballs topped with a Guinea hen egg yolk as well as clever seasonal options such as their Stone Soup, an ever-changing hodgepodge of farm-fresh ingredients that inspire a new soup daily. And their drinks are just as much a part of the farm-to-table experience. Their resident mixologist, Maggie Ruppert, crafted the Sparkle n'Shine, a local moonshine libation with strawberry-coriander syrup, sparkling wine, and a squeeze of lemon. Cheers!
The 76-seat fine dining restaurant and lounge, Provenance, merges local foods with the historical narrative of the nearly 45,000 objects that make up the collection at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Named from the French word provenir or "to come from," Provenance's Curator of Food Doug Katz transforms locally sourced food into menus inspired by the museum's changing exhibitions. In addition to their regular menu, the current prix-fixe menu celebrates the Tantra in Buddhist Art exhibition and offers three food items corresponding to the show. Diners can begin their culinary journeys with a tandoori chicken skewer served with cucumber raita, local farm goat curry with lentils and flaky wheat flatbread, and for dessert, a frozen saffron cream with spiced pistachio cookies. Provenance also offers a more casual café with seating in the museum's atrium for a laid-back alternative.
Palette at the Phoenix Art Museum features a spacious dining room as well as a beautiful patio among the museum's sculpture garden. The restaurant's alfresco Sunday brunch has become a local favorite among Phoenix natives looking for a farmer's market omelet or meat shop bacon. The locally inspired menu specializes in handcrafted cheeses, organic vegetables, and craft Arizona beers and wines. Fare from Arizona farmers and culinary producers are showcased in seasonal tarts and soups, roasted pulled-pork sliders, and a focaccia grilled cheese. After your meal, visit the museum's collection of more than 17,000 works from the Americas, Asia, and Europe, including modern and contemporary art and fashion design. On the first Friday of the month, the museum offers free admission and special events such as Salsa y Salsa, featuring salsa tasting from local restaurants and live salsa music.