NEW YORK, CHICAGO AND LOS ANGELES – What are the best museum restaurants in the country?
I’m glad you asked. Food and art go well together – this, we know. Fueling the stomach and firing the mind are unalloyed good things, especially when done in close proximity.
The question about which museums have the top spots is even more relevant given the Brooklyn Museum’s recent debut of the 2.0 version of Restaurant Saul. Saul, led by chef Saul Bolton, had been tucked away in Brooklyn’s Boerum Hill neighborhood for years and gained huge acclaim, including a Michelin star. The move to the museum was one of the more surprising announcements this year on the New York eating scene.
I had to try it out right away, and I thought it was terrific. It hasn’t lost any quality in the move, that is for sure. I sat at the bar and ate an incredible leek on a deviled egg-like emulsion, as well as a roast squash salad, and was chatted up by friendly waiters. There was even an amuse-bouche served at lunch (it’s done when the chefs are in a good mood). The room is quite sleek, and, as befits a museum setting, a couple of great murals were on the wall, abstractions by Paul Kelpe.
Saul’s primary competition for best NYC museum eatery is M. Wells Dinette, located at MoMA PS1 in Queens. It opened a year ago, in a similar situation to Saul: The M. Wells crew completely gave up their old independent space in favor of being housed in a museum. Hugue Dufour and Sarah Obraitis have a quirky take on Québécoise food (gravy-laden poutine, veal brains), and the room is similarly odd, done up like a chic school cafeteria, complete with blackboard. But it works.
As far as I can tell, the two other best museum restaurants are well outside of New York: Chicago and Los Angeles, to be precise.
Terzo Piano at the Art Institute of Chicago. Photography by Jeff Kauck.
At the Art Institute of Chicago, Terzo Piano (named for Renzo Piano, the architect who designed the addition it’s housed in) is all white and very chic looking, with major Lake Michigan views. The local-organic-sustainable food is courtesy of Italian master chef Mantuano, of Chicago’s Spiaggia. You can have a beautiful piece of fish there, or do as I did and have a large, juicy burger. It’s a great combination of food and setting.
Terzo Piano Beef burger with raclette and pickled zucchini. Photography by Jeff Kauck.
Then there’s Ray and Stark’s Bar, on the campus of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It’s set off in a separate little building (also by Piano, as it happens) near the entrance to the museum. Chef Kris Morningstar goes to incredible lengths to get the ingredients, including relying on foraged vegetables (some of which he even searches for himself). He’s got a knack for strong flavors, elegantly delivered, and it’s one of L.A.’s better restaurants overall. It’s always a stop for me when I’m in town.
Ray & Stark Bar, Los Angeles County Museum of Art
These four restaurants all have something in common: while you’re dining, you forget that you’re surrounded by a museum.