Museum restaurants used to conjure up thoughts of lukewarm cafeteria food. Recently, however, eateries at museums have won positive reviews from the press. For example, a May 2013Departures Magazine blog post says, “With more establishments utilizing fresh local ingredients and offering housemade and innovative menu items, it should come as no surprise that foodies are flocking to savor something other than art or history.”
And a 2012 New York Magazine story describes a museum-restaurant boom in New York City. “Unlike many other culinary trends, this one shows no signs of abating,” The article’s author explains. “Cash-strapped cultural institutions need the income, and restaurateurs love the exposure.”
Staff members and tour directors at Academic Arrangements Abroad agree that a growing number of museum restaurants in New York City and beyond are worth a visit. Here’s a roundup of some of their favorites around the globe.
“I’d have to say that the lunch that I had on tour at the Bistro Guggenheim Bilbao 13 years ago is one of the ten best meals of my life,” says Richard Barcham, Vice President of Development and Sales. “I described the dessert as being “like eating clouds.” Visitors to the Guggenheim Museum can still enjoy amazing meals at the bistro. The regular menu includes a starter (such as seafood soup), main course (such as roasted lamb or grilled tuna), homemade bread, desert (pineapple ravioli, anyone?) and drink for about 26 euros plus tax.
In Spain, tour director Clive Porter says he had “good coffee and pastries in the Picasso Museum in Málaga.” He mentions that there was a pleasant little garden. Café MPM also serves breakfast, fresh juices, milkshakes, sandwiches, salads and hot entrees.
Clive also recommends a museum restaurant in London. “There is a good view over the roof tops from the National Portrait Gallery in London – where the food is served and quite good.” The Portrait Restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and pre-theater dinner. There’s also a “champagne afternoon tea” available during the afternoon (for £10 more than regular tea).
Elizabeth Maricic loved eating at L’Institut du Monde Arabe (Arab World Institut) in Paris. “The museum has a rooftop café and restaurant overlooking the city,” she says. “My friends and I grabbed falafels and mint tea at a cafeteria-style cafe, but restaurant Le Zyriab offers an elegant sit-down dining experience at modern white-clothed tables that match the museum’s minimalist design. The menu for both restaurants is Middle Eastern and North African cuisine. Everything looked so delicious, it was hard not to try everything on the menu!”
President Jim Friedlander recommends Alain Ducasse’s new restaurant on the top of the I.M. Pei-designed Museum of Islamic Art in Doha. The restaurant, IDAM, is Ducasse’s first restaurant in the Middle East and serves delicacies such as foie gras with truffles, tender octopus, potatoes infused with saffron, marinated bonito and roasted blue lobster.
“Having a glass of wine on the terrace at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas was exceptionally pleasant,” says Richard. Overlooking the garden, the Nasher Café by Wolfgang Puck also offers seasonal soups, salads and sandwiches.
“On the second floor balcony overlooking the Great Hall of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, is also a beautiful spot to meet for a glass of wine before or after seeing a new exhibition,” says Vice President of Communications Gloria De Luca. “The bar is open on Thursday and Friday evenings and features live classical music.”
Editor Sara Welch recently dined at the café at the Morgan Library. “It’s a beautiful modern space in the new building designed by Renzo Piano: high ceilings, drenched in sunlight, etc. The food was decent and not horribly overpriced, either!”
Ingrid Ahlgren, a writer for the firm, recommends Mitsitam Café at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. “The restaurant serves indigenous foods found throughout the Western Hemisphere,” she explains. “There are five stations: Mesoamerica, Northern Woodlands, South America, Northwest Coast and Great Plains.” Selections include traditional Native American dishes such as fry bread as well as more contemporary items like buffalo burgers.