Eating in museums

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Over the past week, I’ve had the opportunity to eat in 3 different museums: at Puck’s in the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA), the Eiteljorg Museum’s Sky Cafe, and Taste at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM). Circumstantially, all 3 museums had also finished extensive renovations in the past 2 years, with the restaurants all being part of the work.

The exterior of the IMA has been most changed of the 3. I last visited while it was under construction and remembered long strands of hazard tape and a very confused entry, in addition to a long walk from wherever it was we had to park. Now, there’s a free underground garage (which says “FREE” in neon above the entry, just so we are all on the same page). Admission to the museum’s permanent collection is also free; special exhibits charge a fee to non-members. Entry from the garage is through a tunnel bright with muralled words on either side, of which I only remember “ever” and “never” being part of the phrase. We arrived early on a Sunday, 15 minutes before either the museum or the gift shop opened, and our reservations at Puck’s were not until 1 pm. There is a vending machine past the gift shop and near the restrooms, for the desperate and famished, but we were neither. The new lobby is a circular space, lofty and expansive with glass, a 3 or 4 storied atrium. From the exterior, I commented how it echoed elements of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The long series of shallow steps that led from the fountain to the original entrance are no longer a barrier to anyone. The lobby space is webbed with a series of cables and speakers above the polished black floor; whispered conversations surround you as you move through the space. We took an hour to say hello to the permanent collection and peek at a gallery of western art on loan from the Eiteljorg. After ascending an escalator from the lobby, a wall of glass greets you, silently sliding open as you approach.

10 minutes before our reservation, we headed back down to the lobby level and presented ourselves to the hostess. We were seated at the windows, looking out to the fountain. The armchairs are covered in a cream and mustard houndstooth and are comfortable. Our server is sorry, there is only the buffet on Sunday, no menu service, would we like a mimosa? A pomegranate martini? Yes to both, please, mimosa for me, luminescent pink martini for mom. The food is quite good – traditional breakfast items: maple candied bacon, truffled eggs benedict with a mildly chipotle-spiced hollandaise, chicken and apple sausages, vegetable and turkey frittatas are all tasty and have survived well the chafing dish. Roast loin of pork is being carved which I don’t try though it looks juicy. Roasted rosemary potatoes and slices of roast marinated chicken breast served on sweet potato puree round out my plate. And a pile of tiny salad greens, for some vegetable matter. I debate returning for more of the bacon for dessert, but instead harvest a cross-section of the pastry trays – some rich chocolaty things, a layered cake with orange marmalade and something else yummy, a three bite bitter chocolate brownie triangle. All very yummy and the atmosphere in the restaurant was relaxing and uncrowded. Mom picked up the bill (early happy birthday to me! Thanks Mom!), but I had a peek and it was around $35/person including the drinks. The standard menu was posted on a board and also looked tempting.

Mom is in her third year of volunteering as a docent at the Eiteljorg, so I was very excited to be able to have her as my personal guide. The collections are strong, both in western and native art and artifacts from tribes across the continent. My favorite gallery contrasts Frederick Remington and Charlie Russell, both masters of ruggedness captured in bronze. There is a delightful illustrated letter of Russell’s on display, but most telling are the paired photos of the artists: Remington in a stiff formal I-am-a-SERIOUS-artist dignified pose, Russell looking like a great friendly drinking-buddy sort of guy. The museum is part of the huge White River park complex which also houses the Indiana State museum (containing the reconstructed L. S. Ayres tea room of my long-past youth – alas we didn’t eat there this trip), the canal walk, and the zoo. The baseball stadium is across the street, and there’s free surface parking as well as an underground facility (franked for us, maybe due to Mom’s volunteer status – I’m not sure).

The museum has doubled or possibly tripled in size since I first saw it, with the pleasant cafe as part of the most recent renovations. Soups and sandwiches are ordered at the counter and brought to your table. I had a delicious Nogales pork sandwich: layer of roast pork, ham, and bacon, grilled with possibly some cheese (maybe not but something creamy and rich was in there), and dressed with a blueberry chutney. It came with a pile of chipotle barbeque kettle-cooked chips and was exceptionally good. All the sandwiches (there is also a soup + 1/2 sandwich combo and other permutations) were around $8. The space is at the end of a long open arcade and windows overlook the grounds of the park and some of the canal. Due to school groups (which can be seated separately outside the main space), I’d head there for a later lunch, though the tables are well-spaced as well as spacious (mostly 4-tops).

Back in Seattle this weekend, and it’s the last weekend for Ghilberti’s Gates of Paradise. Also, I haven’t seen the Roman art from the Louvre exhibit. We get to SAM as it opens at 10 and scoot up to the top floor for the Romans. The first large gallery is as if Suetonius’ Twelve Caesars or Robert Graves’ I, Claudius had been carved in stone, the major players set square as chess pieces. Nero as a boy looks far too much like my nephew; a bust of Marcus Aurelius could easily have been Richard Thompson during the 1970s. I am mostly reminded that the Romans were excellent engineers, and how they did love massive inscriptions. My favorite piece, a partial frieze from an altarpiece, depicts 4 guys, each with a different style of facial hair, and a docile decorated sacrificial bull. It is one piece that has not been cobbled together by putting different heads on bodies, or patching in a bit of a different frieze behind the foreground figures of another. There is a gallery of women’s heads, illustrating various hairstyles. A gracefully drunken Bacchus supported by fat hairy old Silenius (a portmanteau of 2 different statues someone decided belonged together), an intaglio of lapis lazuli bound in a modern gold setting of a boy sitting on a lotus leaf. Several floor mosaics and a few small fresco-style paintings. A small marble caricature of an obese magistrate. A charmingly simple marble statue of a boy. There is something about smoothly carved marble that invites touch, and it is difficult to only touch with the eyes. Perhaps this is why I still would like to have a large marble reclining lion in our very small flat. I could possibly justify it, if it could work as a massive coffee table.

Since it is the last weekend for the Gates of Paradise, the exhibit is packed. 3 panels from the doors are displayed, and they are marvelous. I’m particularly taken with the panel depicting creation, especially the angel swooping through an archway chasing a chagrined Adam and Eve from paradise. After a few minutes, I’m overwhelmed by the crowd and have to escape, and it’s nearly 11:30 anyway so lunchtime. We’ve eaten several times at Taste and have always enjoyed it. Their soups are delicious and everything is very high quality and fresh. I chose 1/2 a chardonnay chicken salad sandwich with a bowl of roasted tomato soup and Mr. Jaq had a grilled cheese with the same soup. They always offer a seafood chowder and one other seasonal soup beside the roasted tomato. In the past, I had a bowl of rich parsnip puree, and today’s offering, tumeric potato, sounded yummy but too filling if we also wanted dessert. I chose the apple pie and Mr. Jaq took a chance on the hibiscus float. The apple pie was a palm-sized tartlet of puff pastry, filled with cinnamon granny smith bites. Served on a glaze of scotch caramel with a scoop of lovely mascarpone, it was topped with a full crisp slice of candied bacon, coated with crushed pecans. The sweet/salty/tart/buttery/sour flavors all worked so well together, as did the variety of textures – velvety cheese, sticky caramel, crisp pastry and bacon, juicy apples. It was my idea of dessert perfection.

The hibiscus float sounded problematic in the menu description: basil ice cream, boba pearls. Our server highly recommended it though, and it was spicy, cool, delicious, and different. Not terribly sweet, with a lovely fizz of soda, the hibiscus and basil flavors were complemented by a razor thin slice of lime. It was completely beautiful in the glass, a creamy white foam atop a milky pink/green, like you see on some lilies, with a layer of dark purple-brown pearls at the bottom. I swapped Mr. Jaq the final bite of my apple pie for three sips. I hope they continue to offer it through the summer. Lunch + dessert for 2 totals $34 without the member discount. Taste also has a full bar and exceptional wine list and is open until 10 pm.

jaq

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3 Responses to “Eating in museums”

  1. boxofbirds Says:

    Yum!

    I have been a member of SAM for years now and have yet to try out the restaurant. I’ll have to stop by during my next visit.

  2. Jaq Says:

    Oh, you really should! Members get a discount too (10% I think). Their frites are also good, and they have a duck confit/beet thing that I want to try the next time we go.

  3. boxofbirds Says:

    oh, yum….

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