The Art of The Meal

By Marsha Fottler.

There’s a new international culinary trend out there and it involves art, food and you. Museum administrators are stepping up to the plate, literally. They’ve realized that just as a superior gift shop boosts the museum’s bottom line, so too can a decent restaurant.

Not just a decent restaurant, but a fine one with ambience, views out the windows to something lovely (maybe a sculpture garden), an inspired menu and a creative chef in the kitchen who can lure foodies to his or her culinary canvas as a destination, not just a side trip for the hungry suffering from culture overload. At long last palate meets palette.

Paris is in the forefront. Museum kitchens are being overhauled and dining areas upgraded with artistic endeavor. At the Palais de Tokyo contemporary art museum guests dine on the museum’s roof at Nomiya sleek and minimal with a view of the Seine and Eiffel Tower. The avant-garde restaurant is a translucent glass box designed by Laurent Grasso. The Grand Palais has expanded its restaurant and hired Michelin-anointed chef Eric Frechon to bring high culinary art to a new menu.
In another neighborhood, the postmodern Les Ombres eatery sits atop the Musee de Quai Branly like a glass and metal conservatory and is as visually compelling as anything in the galleries of this museum which houses anthropological oddities. The menu is European and eclectic – foie gras paired with Breton artichoke, cauliflower puree spiked with ginger and hazelnut, fried veal sweetbreads and such. Museum munching is indeed improving.

In New York Danny Meyer is about to open a new cafe at the Whitney Museum of American Art and at the Guggenheim’s ultra-modern eatery (called Wright) the upscale menu is getting good reviews from food critics and art connoisseurs.

Wolfgang Puck is bring his food to the Museum of Science in Boston and at The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, one dines in style on the upper level in the West Wing at Bravo. Displayed on the expertly lit walls are works by Chilean artist Claudio Bravo, while in the kitchen progressive American cuisine is interpreted by Chef Patrick Gilmartin. This smart and chic restaurant offers a weekend brunch and monthly wine tastings.

One of my favorite new museum restaurants that successfully combines visual aesthetics, modern comfort and authentically delicious food is Terzo Piano at the Chicago Institute of Art. This restaurant occupies space in the museum’s Modern Wing designed by the famed Italian architect Renzo Piano.

The light and airy glass room is all white with polished surfaces, light wood floors and gray glass mosaic tiles in the open kitchen area. Eat inside or on the terrace to drink in views of Millennium Park and Michigan Avenue.

The chef is the celebrated Tony Mantuano, whose Chicago landmark Spiaggia is the only four-star Italian restaurant in the city. The menu focuses on organic ingredients and Mantuano is committed to engaging local farmers in partnerships that foster sustainability. Entrees such as roasted trout with fingerling potatoes, squash ravioli, Lake Erie perch, house-made chorizo sausage, and lamb ragout have made the venerable Art Institute the new chic place to eat.

On the dessert menu is a Financier, a soft and springy tea cake made with butter and almonds that can deftly adapt to the seasons by substituting a variety of toppings or sweet puddles of coulis. A piece of Financier is just the thing in the late afternoon with a cup of coffee or tea, but I wouldn’t discount it as a luxurious breakfast or late night snack either.

My good friend Chef Blake Ellis, who owns a gourmet bakery in my town, gave me this easy recipe for his popular variation on a classic Financier. You pour the batter into individual molds usually shaped like a small brick. But, you can use oval muffin molds too. You’ll enjoy this lovely French dessert if you’re in an upscale museum restaurant or at your home kitchen table.

Lavender Financier

(Chef Blake Ellis)

14 ounces egg whites

1 pound powdered sugar

6 ounces all-purpose flour

6 ounces almond flour

1 pound butter

1 ½ ounces Amaretto

Lavender (dried, find in spice aisle of gourmet markets)

Whip the egg whites to medium-stiff peak. Set aside. Cook butter on low heat until it turns light brown and remove from heat. This is called Beurre Noisette; be careful to not overcook.

Sift together the dry ingredients and fold into the egg whites. Slowly incorporate the Beurre Noisette to the egg mixture. Fold in the Amaretto. Chill batter for at least 1 hour.

Lightly spray Financier molds and fill ¾ the way up the side with the batter. Top with a sprinkle of dried lavender. Bake at 325 for 10-15 minutes, depending on the oven. Rotate the pan half-way through the baking for even browning.

Lemon Curd

10 ½ ounces butter, cubed

9 ounces sugar

9 ounces fresh lemon juice

½ ounce lemon zest

9 ounces egg yolks

Combine ½ of the butter with the rest of the ingredients over a double boiler. Be careful not to leave the yolks with the juice or sugar without stirring, as it will curdle.

Whisk the mixture constantly until it thickens significantly. Remove from heat and stir in the remaining butter. Strain the curd into a bowl and cover immediately with plastic so it doesn’t form a skin. Chill and serve with Lavender Financiers.

(If a museum in your town has a great restaurant, let me know at:

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