The Morgan Library's Pineapple Upside-down Cake
Chef and owner Kurt Gutenbrunne in Café Sabarsky
The Modern's Dining Room
View from The Metropolitan's Roof Garden
All images and text © Nina Roberts
Hungry for More Than Just Art
Published in The Boston Globe, July 8, 20007
After hours of Manhattan museum - going, spotting a gallery's
empty bench might inspire a higher state of exaltation than any piece
of art on the walls. When fatigued visitors start to wonder if they are
looking at a stuffed rabbit tethered to long rods or a hanging snow shovel,
it's time to refuel. Fortunately, most museums in the city have radically
revamped their dining. From fresh food in their cafeterias to exquisite
restaurants run by some of the city's finest restaurateurs, dining options
When the Museum of Modern Art moved back into its space on 53d
Street in 2004, the renovated building included three new dining spaces.
Restaurateur Danny Meyer, most notably of Union Square Cafe and Gramercy
Tavern, was chosen to create and run MoMA's Cafe 2, Terrace 5, and The
Modern. The restaurants have contributed to changing attitudes toward
"Most people come in, look around, and they're kind of in shock --
pleasantly surprised," says Anton Nocito, executive sous chef at
Cafe 2, the Italian eatery that functions as the museum's cafeteria. Cafe
2 is a sleek, modern room of stainless steel, glass, matte black, and
wood. Behind the lengthy glass case of offerings such as artisanal cheeses,
stuffed artichokes, panini, salads, tiramisu, and ricotta cheesecake,
the staff quickly prepares orders, which are brought to customers seated
at long, narrow communal tables. The popular salumi board, a choice of
three, six, or nine kinds of locally cured meats -- from wild boar cacciatorini
to hot sopressata -- is served with olives, parmigiano, and olive oil
drizzled flatbread and runs $15-$26.
The delightful Terrace 5 is an airy, open space, part of which is a dining
balcony. It overlooks MoMA's courtyard from five flights up, dwarfing
the usually imposing sculptures of Richard Serra and pleasantly reducing
the city's noise to a distant hum. Terrace 5 is a full-service restaurant,
offering salads and light fare such as house-marinated tuna, mixed radish
salad, and soy-marinated duck breast served over soba noodle salad and
pickled lotus root. The rather innocuous sounding MoMA sundae is a decadent
yet refreshing mix of raspberry and sorbets fromage blanc, pieces of cheese
cake, crumble, and fresh berries. Artisanal chocolates made in house range
from coffee to jasmine. Desserts are $6 to $12, wines $7 to $13 by the
glass, and are also served by the half bottle, bottle, and a trio of three-ounce
The Modern is the most extravagant and independent of MoMA's eateries.
The minimalist street entrance tube doesn't prepare first-time visitors
for the dazzling Bar Room, the intimate and lively area crowded with diners
in leather chairs, unruly flower constructions, and reflective surfaces
of chrome, glass, and enamel. The hints of jungle in the giant photo by
German artist Thomas Demand that spans the back wall are the perfect backdrop
for what unfolds in the Bar Room, which has become a popular "power
lunch" spot. Plates range from $10 to $28. Beyond a frosted glass
wall is the bright, white, formal Dining Room, reservations required.
Dinner is a three-course prix fixe for $85, as well as tasting menus,
with or without wine pairings, from $125 to $243.
Executive chef Gabriel Kreuther, a native of the Alsace region of France,
has created a wildly innovative, yet earthy menu for the Bar and Dining
rooms: succulent Alsatian country sausage served with whole grain mustard
and turnip choucroute, liverwurst with pickled vegetables, 28-day dry-aged
ribeye, roasted duck breast, and Arctic char tartare with basil and trout
For diners who are left cold by state-of-the-art, 21st-century eateries,
a visit to the Neue Galerie 's phenomenal Café Sabarsky is a must. The
gallery specializing in German and Austrian art opened in 2001, and is
housed in a renovated mansion on the corner of 86th Street and 5th Avenue.
Walking into Café Sabarsky is a disorienting delight. A piano player discreetly
plays Strauss among other composers, and German and Austrian dailies hang
on a wooden rack. The walls are rich, dark, carved wood, with old mirrors
and a row of windows looking out onto Central Park. The Adolf Loos -designed
chairs and tables are always full, and waiters in white shirts, black
vests, and ties gallantly carry trays of Viennese coffees and ornate chocolate
cakes, strudels, and fruit tarts.
"This is a classic Viennese cafe," says Kurt Gutenbrunner, its
chef and owner. Sporting a white chef's shirt, he plows through two pieces
of Van Gogh Torte (rhubarb mousse, elderflower Bavarian cream) in rapid
succession and takes great delight in pointing out that his cafe is full
of people casually sipping coffee, eating, talking, and reading. "Nobody
is in a rush. Where do you see this in New York? It's very unusual."
Besides afternoon sweets and coffees, Café Sabarsky offers savory
Austrian fare for breakfast, lunch, and an occasional dinner such as Hungarian
beef goulash with herbed quark sp¹tzle, crepes with smoked trout and horseradish
cr²me fraÓche, various sausages, salads, and sandwiches. Entrees run $11
to $27. The menu lists more than 25 wines sold by the glass or half bottle,
primarily from Gutenbrunner's homeland, Austria. There is usually a line
to get into Café Sabarsky, which does not take reservations, but
museum admission is not required for entry.
Just as Renzo Piano 's gorgeous year-old expansion of The Morgan Library
& Musuem seamlessly integrates the antique with the modern, so do the
Morgan Dining Room and the Morgan Café. Executive chef Charlene
Shade-Walker was given access to Morgan family recipes for inspiration:
mutton chops ö l'Anglaise, calf's head, crab flakes with cream, Aunt Lucy's
pumpkin pie, and the repeatedly listed terrapin. "Oh," Shade-Walker
laughs, "the turtle. That was very popular."
"It's creatively challenging," Shade-Walker says, sitting in
the tranquil, glassed-in dining room among the ladies who lunch set. "The
dishes from the old family menus were heavy, creamy, and that's not what
people want to eat today." Skipping turtle and other undesirables,
Shade-Walker and her staff have successfully made the two menus a whimsical
mix of old and new, such as peekytoe crab salad, fricassee of organic
chicken, beef Wellington served with seared foie gras and mushroom duxelles
One of Shade-Walker's favorite creations is the dainty, scrumptious pineapple
upside-down cake with coconut ice cream. The casual cafe is open only
to ticketed visitors, while the dining room has its own entrance. The
museum is known primarily for its lunches, with entrees running $11 to
$24, although brunch and occasionally dinner are also served.
Brunch and afternoon tea One of the most popular museum brunches is at
the Whitney Museum of American Art. The dining area can easily be overlooked,
perhaps due to the rather lackluster view of a concrete courtyard with
several struggling vines and water stains along the wall. Save for a few
jars of jam for sale and logos on the napkins, one might never know the
restaurant is the superb Sarabeth's, created by the restaurateur and marmalade
diva, Sarabeth Levine. An egg or sweet brunch plate, such as the not-to-be-missed
cheese blintzes, range from $8.50 to $14.75. The line can be long, but
Sarabeth's will accept reservations for large parties and those who order
the prix fixe brunch for $25. Sarabeth's is also open for lunch, serving
creations such as poached salmon cobb salad and the "hat" wearing
chicken pot pie.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art is so colossal that even native New Yorkers
who grew up with the Met find new rooms, wings even, with each visit.
Hungry visitors make their way to the Petrie Court Café, a full-service
restaurant with three rows of 15 tables in the middle of a relaxing, spacious
hall. Central Park is visible through the wall of windows. The cafe offers
breakfast, lunch, dinner, brunch, and a splendid afternoon tea from 2:30-4:30
p.m. for $24 per person.
The Met's newly renovated subterranean cafeteria has grill, pasta, and
salad stations, trays, and cashiers. The food is surprisingly high quality
and reasonably priced. The many antipasti salads, including cedar-grilled
salmon, couscous, and pickled beets, are $.65 an ounce. Hot main courses
run from $7.50-$10.50. Entry to the museum is required for all dining,
but the Met's suggested fee of $20 is just that. Museum goers can pay
what they like.
Although Scandinavia House's AQ Café looks like nothing more than a Scandinavian
cafeteria, the food is outstanding. The lunchtime spot at Scandinavia
House, The Nordic Center in America, is an offshoot of the highly acclaimed
restaurant Aquavit, where the award-winning Marcus Samuelsson is executive
chef. Diners should feel no shame in ordering Swedish meatballs as the
plate is divine, only $9.95, and served with generous amounts of cream
sauce, lingonberries, pickled cucumbers, and rye bread.
Asia Society and the Rubin Museum of Art, dedicated to the art of the
Himalayas and the surrounding region, serve Asian fusion cuisine. The
Garden Court Café at Asia Society is a full-service restaurant housed
in a sunny atrium with weeping podocarpus trees. Chef Nima Khansari changes
the menu frequently, and recently added the phenomenal pizzetta appetizer
of yellow fin tuna, avocado mousse, sriracha aoli, topped with wasabi
tobiko and scallions for $12. The most expensive item for lunch is the
bento box for $21, which has a selection of four items, including curry
chicken salad and two sauces. The Cafe at RMA has more of a stark cafe
feel, but offers dishes such as roasted red chile salmon with soba noodles
and miso grilled vegetables on naan, priced around $12.
"It's not Jewish food -- knishes, corned beef, gefilte fish,"
says Benjamin Lang, the affable manager and mashgiach (kosher supervisor)
of The Jewish Museum's Café Weissman. "It's just good food
done kosher. It's not like we serve everything with a pickle."
Some of the glatt kosher offerings are fresh soups, salads, a delicious
vegetable/pesto panino, and items never exceed $10.50. Lang has used previous
exhibits to complement the menu, "but that doesn't work with Louise
Nevelson," he says about the current exhibit of the sculptor's work.
"It would taste like wood." Café Weissman, located in
the museum's basement with the feel of a nicely designed submarine, is
popular with neighbors seeking kosher food, since no entry fee is required.
Outdoor snacking spots
Snacks -- albeit prewrapped, such as sandwiches, chips, salads, yogurt
with fruit, and cookies -- are sold in some of the most peaceful places
around, or on top of, the city's museums. Cooper-Hewitt, National Design
Museum has a secluded lawn with looming trees, gardens, and tables on
the periphery for enjoying lunch from the tiny cafe where no sandwich
or salad costs more than $10.
The Met 's Roof Garden Café is a delightful refuge with a breathtaking
treetop view of Central Park. During extended hours on Friday and Saturday
nights, patrons can sip $11 lychee martinis among other cocktails from
the martini bar as the sun sets.
If museumgoers find themselves at Fort Tyron Park in upper Manhattan,
the Trie Café at The Cloisters offers one of the most serene lunch settings
on the island. Gourmet turkey, ham, or portobello mushroom sandwiches
are $8 to $9, and diners can eat at one of the many tables surrounding
the gurgling fountain, garden, and wildly chirping birds.
If You Go
The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53d St.
9 West 53d St.
The Bar Room
The Dining Room
5th Avenue at 86th Street
The Morgan Library & Museum
225 Madison Ave. at 36th Street
The Morgan Cafe
The Morgan Dining Room
The Whitney Museum of American Art
945 Madison Ave. at 75th Street
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Ave. at 82d Street
Petrie Court Cafe
Roof Garden Cafe
58 Park Ave. between 37th and 38th streets
725 Park Ave. at 70th Street
Garden Court Cafe
Rubin Museum of Art
150 West 17th St.
Cafe at RMA
212-620-5000, Ext. 347
The Jewish Museum
1109 Fifth Ave. at 92d Street
212-423-3200 (-3307, cafe)
Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
91st Street at 5th Avenue
Fort Tryon Park