ROBERT: in honor of the legendary party-planner Robert Isabel
MAD: short for Museum of Arts & Design
Columbus Circle: thanks to Christopher
“Can you get a window table,” guests ask me when I invite them for lunch..
I don’t blame them. The view from the 9th floor, overlooking Columbus Circle and Central Park, is spectacular! Still, a window table does not define the restaurant. Thanks to the design of the place, a feeling of light and space pervades, no matter where you sit. It took me a while to warm up to the intense colors of the decor: shades of purple, blue, orange, and red. But I had missed the point. These colors are the calling cards of the Museum of Arts & Design, the former American Craft Museum which, in September 2008, moved to the greatly altered former Huntington Hartford building, on 2 Columbus Circle.
The museum blossomed and soon tripled its membership. Robert opened a year later. Although I don’t live in the neighborhood, I probably have had more meals at Robert than at any other museum restaurant.
Quinoa Tuna Niçoise has remained my favorite dish. As I request, the tuna arrives medium rare. It is accompanied by fingerling potato, haricot vert and a quail egg. That quail egg is rather cute. Quinoa, which was cultivated by the Incas thousands of years ago, has once again been hailed as the super-grain of the 21st century. Be that as it may, I always ask for bread and butter.
Endive and Apple Salad is another favorite. It comes with gorgonzola dolce and is dressed with a pomegranate vinaigrette. Vinaigrettes seem to be a favorite of the chef. From Orange to White Balsamic Vinaigrette, I have noticed six different ones.
Salmon Burger, listed under sandwiches, remains on my favorite list. Piled ski-high on a bun, covered with grilled onion and avocado, and seasoned with Jalapeño aïoli, this burger could enter the burger hall of fame.
Although Robert is known for its American fare, it is International in scope. Tiger
Shrimp Stew is a case in point. Since I tasted a lot of Asian-inspired dishes at the Garden Court Café at the Asia Society for my previous blog, I am not in the mood for it. Still, I want to try it. I have the mixed green salad, sample a bit of the stew, and take the rest of the dish home. I’m glad I did this as the accompanying vegetables– lotus root, bok choy, scallion and rice cakes- look and taste amazing. Besides, they are so rich in vitamins, this dish may be just what the doctor ordered.
My latest discovery is Robert’s Cheese Menu. Among the six offered cheeses, I order the pasteurized goat’s milk cheese from Colorado, the raw sheep’s milk cheese from Portugal, and the raw cow’s milk cheddar from England. The cheeses are served on a big plate, accompanied by fresh fruits, candied walnuts, some honey, and a baguette. I remember the five course cheese lunch my husband and I had at Androuët in Paris in the early 70’s. By the third cheese course -an entire Brie- I had enough. The owner would have none of this. Brie was the ultimate French cheese, he said. I forgot what followed, but think we polished off two bottles of wine!
But yes, I’d like a glass of wine. The sommelier is delighted. He suggests either the Grenache based Cotes du Rhone, or a Zinfandel from California. For sentimental reason, I opt for the Cotes du Rhone.
Should you come between lunch and dinner, you’ll be seated at the cocktail lounge, have a drink and look at their Sunset Menu. I fantasize between ordering the Burrata and Jamon Serrano, or the Blue Bay Mussels, Spanish chorizo .The only thing I’ll most likely miss is the sunset, since Robert faces north.
Visiting the museum is almost an afterthought. I’ve read about it but want to get my own impression of it. I go on a Tuesday. Out of habit, I am about to press the elevator button to the 9th floor, when I remember why I am here. Of the four floors with galleries, I start with the 5th, which features ceramics by Coille Hooven: Tell It By Heart and Chris Antemann: Forbidden Fruit.
Except for the guard, there’s no one else around. The exhibit is about to close, he tells me.
An inscription on the wall mentions that, as a child, Hooven loved the fairy tales her father told her. He’d tuck her into bed and would invent stories. No wonder pillows form the background of many of her works. Finished with blue-and-white glazes, childhood stories inspire nearly all of her displayed works from smiling dog-like figures sitting in big slippers to coffee mugs with snake handles. I love all of it. Some make me laugh.
But I don’t have time to linger: Forbidden Fruit is calling.
The frivolity of Antemann’s exhibit surprises me. As a child, Meissen porcelain seemed so precious, it was only used on special occasions. I’ve since learned that things are not necessarily the same once you grow up. If Antemann (in collaboration with the Meissen manufacturers) wants to use their porcelain to portray 18th century carnal extravaganza, more power to her.
I’m overwhelmed by the scale of the tableaux and marvel at the details down to the tiniest piece of fruit. I’m impressed by her imagination; I can’t tear myself away. But time is running out and I am asked to leave.
Meanwhile I haven’t been the 4th floor with an exhibit called Crochet Coral Reef: TOXIC SEAS!
This takes more than another visit! I return to the lobby and sign up for individual membership. The receptionist prepares a temporary membership card and explains that this entitles me to 10% off at the gift shop, and 10% at Robert, the latter between the hours of 3:00 and 5:00 PM.