There's Never Been a Better Time to Eat at the Museum Restaurant
Plus, nine museums across the country that are worthy of your dinner reservations.
When I visited museums as a child, food was the last thing on my mind, simply serving as fuel between exhibitions. After winding through a few floors, we’d arrive at the cafeteria famished, presented with a spread of sandwiches and soups, pastas and salads—maybe a dessert, if I could squeeze it in before moving on to the next gallery upstairs. But now it can be argued that dining at a museum is just as dazzling as going to a Michelin-starred restaurant. And, indeed, there's quite a bit of overlap: a Michelin-starred chef now creates tasting menus for The Dining Room at The Met, and The Modern at New York’s MoMA currently holds two stars. While the museum fine-dining trend has been steadily expanding over the years, 2019 marks a moment. Last week alone, news broke that Jen Jasinski—the James Beard Award winner behind Denver hits including Rioja, Stoic & Genuine, and Ultreia—had signed on as the consulting chef at the Ponti, a new restaurant slated for the Denver Art Museum.
According to the New York Times, some of the recent buzz can be credited to Restaurant Associates, a restaurant management firm that’s one of the largest museum cafe operators in the country. As a push to turn their restaurants into destinations, they’ve signed on several big name chefs, including Tom Colicchio, who’s now overseeing the dining program at The Morgan Library & Museum, and John Fraser, the chef behind The Met’s tasting menus. Also on the horizon? A restaurant at the new Gilder Center for Science, Education and Innovation at the American Museum of Natural History, and a renovated Café 3 at the Guggenheim. (Details for both are scarce at the moment.) But the momentum goes far beyond Restaurant Associates, too—restaurateur Stephen Starr has a café slated to open this fall at a new photography museum in New York, while Le Bernardin alum Soa Davis Forrest and seasoned chef Lisa Giffen opened a new restaurant at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles this past February.
These developments make for a dining experience that’s unfamiliar to me—and granted, significantly more expensive than what I grew up with. But since cooking is an art form, it only makes sense that a museum’s cuisine is just as inspired as what’s on display. Here’s a taste of this year’s museum dining news:
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
In February, The Met announced its collaboration with Michelin-starred chef John Fraser, of Nix and The Loyal. Fraser now develops seasonal tasting menus to supplement the current menu at The Dining Room, run by executive chef Fred Sabo. Fraser kicked off the partnership with a mushroom-focused menu for winter, featuring dishes such as Royal Trumpet Mushroom Carpaccio and Chanterelle Polenta (even a pavlova, shaped like a porcini mushroom)—currently, he’s offering a tomato-themed menu, fitting for summer. Guests can enjoy heirloom tomato gazpacho; house-made pappardelle with corn pudding, heirloom cherry tomato, and cured squash; a tomato and strawberry tart for dessert, and more. Reservations can be made via OpenTable.
As an added bonus, The Met also ran a (sadly, temporary) Katz’s Deli pop-up at the cafeteria this summer.
The Hammer Museum
The L.A. museum, which is affiliated with UCLA, gained a new restaurant in Audrey this past February. The concept comes from restaurateur Soa Davis Forrest (a Le Bernardin alum) and chef Lisa Giffen, who’s worked at Daniel, Maison Premiere ,and Sauvage. As part of the museum’s multi-phase renovation and expansion, the restaurant looks sleek and contemporary, with plush green banquettes and artistic, sculptural light fixtures hovering overhead. As for the food? It skews European, and is described as “elevated and soulful cooking with a contemporary Southern California feel rooted in the region’s growing seasons.” Expect everything from Carta di Musica and oysters in the “something to nibble on” section of the menu, to ricotta cavatelli and “eggplant steak” in the main course roster.
The Anchorage Museum
Laura Cole, a four-time James Beard Award nominee for Best Chef: Northwest and Top Chef alum, started managing Muse restaurant at the Anchorage Museum in April. True to the fresh, local ingredients she highlights at 229 Parks Restaurant and Tavern, where she still serves as executive chef and owner, Muse’s menu sources from small-scale farmers, ranchers, and fishermen, according to the website. In the initial announcement, the museum teased some of Cole’s signature dishes on the menu, including Alaska bouillabaisse with saffron aioli and reindeer ragu with mint and house goat ricotta. Cole also designed the menu for the Atrium Café, which focuses on small bites like salads and “hand-crafted sweet treats.”
The Morgan Library & Museum
This fall, Tom Colicchio will take over the two on-site dining facilities at New York’s Morgan Library & Museum—the Morgan Café, and the Morgan Dining Room. Both will offer “approachable, modern American dishes,” according to the announcement, with Colicchio’s menus updating seasonally to highlight fresh ingredients. The full menu hasn’t been released yet; however, we do know we can expect arugula-hanger steak salad, steamed PEI mussels, chicken paillard, and a wagyu burger (shown above) so far.
The Denver Art Museum
The Ponti is slated to open in June 2020, alongside Café Gio, the other restaurant opening at the Denver Art Museum’s new Anna and John J. Sie Welcome Center. Jasinski told 5280 magazine that guests can expect a similar vibe to Rioja at The Ponti, with a vegetable-forward menu featuring “sustainable seafood and ancient grains.” It’s going to focus on lunch service, with light dishes that guests can grab in the midst of their tour.
The Wall Street Journal reported in April that Stephen Starr—the celebrated restaurateur behind Le Coucou, Upland, and Pastis—will be opening a European café at the new Fotografiska museum, scheduled to open in New York this fall. Robert Aikens will serve as executive chef, helming a menu that draws from Viennese, Hungarian, and French cuisine.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
To offer guests fine dining, Boston’s MFA opened 465 Bar and Restaurant back in July, which took the place of the museum’s old restaurant, Bravo. Brian Flagg came on as executive chef, and serves a menu that feature ingredients from local farms and producers, per Eater—think sous vide watermelon with whipped feta, pickled jalapeno, cucumber, and boquerones, as well as a native fluke crudo.
MoMA PS1 announced in February that it will be partnering with chef Mina Stone and artist Alex Eagleton to open a new restaurant this year, Mina’s, to take over the old restaurant. The menu will be seasonal, featuring “simple but creative Mediterranean-inspired cuisine designed to serve museum visitors, artists, and the vibrant community in Long Island City.”
The Whitney Museum of American Art
Untitled, Danny Meyer's restaurant at The Whitney, is scheduled to turn into a casual cafe this fall.