I find it difficult to do MoMA justice. It has become so huge and crowded, it has lost much of its former appeal. In the mid ‘50’s, when George and I got married, the Museum of Modern Art became our home away from home. We spent our Sundays there, looking at Matisse, Van Gogh, and Picasso. We’d sit in the lovely sculpture garden, and would meet friends who had become members.
Busy with work and later, with our restaurant, we stopped going. When MoMA had an exhibit of particular interest, we went to take a look. Once we ran into George’s cousin, who was there with Dali. Our long-time friends remained members. Primarily for the museum’s extensive movie schedule.
Revisiting MoMA now, I find it hard to get around. Finally finding the elevator I am told to take, of the two, one is out of service. Waiting patiently with me is a young couple with a little girl in the stroller. They don’t seem in a rush. Chances are they are going to spend a good part of the day here.
Getting off on the fifth floor –essentially to look at the Terrace restaurant – I notice Matisse, Klee, Picasso, van Gogh, and Monet, the painters that had me so enthralled. Quite accidentally, I have stumbled on the museum’s 1880 to 1950 collection.
It’s nearly 4 o’clock. I barely have time to look at the restaurant.
“Party of 1?” asks the hostess. “We are open till 5 o’clock. I have a table, right next to the window.”
“No thanks. I am just looking.”
“Maybe some other time?” suggests the hostess.
“Maybe.” I smile.
The Modern–The Bar Room
Talking about Modern, The Modern’s Bar Room is so avant-garde, it took me several visits to figure out the basics. Take the menu: although the server explains it carefully, each dish comes as a surprise. How to describe the intricate flavors of Black Truffle Cavatelli served with Radish and Poached Egg Yolk, or Braised Duck Leg with White Turnips and Rhubarb? Charred Avocado with King Crab and Fennel Confit, as well as Herb Crusted Sea Bass with Roasted Tomato and Lemon Verbena offer a combination of textures that add to the dishes’ charm. Both dishes look so attractive, they could win first price in a beauty contest.
Run by Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group, the place operates like clockwork. My usual eating companions fight to be invited. The clientele seem primarily business people, others are out-of-town visitors. The bar room is always packed. Reservations are in order. Yet, there is no sense of being rushed. The staff is efficient and friendly. Service is included, a fact that is clearly stated on the menu page.
Everything is understated. The name of the Executive chef, Abram Bissell, isn’t mention, nor that the usual 10% courtesy discount only applies to the Snack menu, served between lunch and dinner. No mention either that Fried Chicken served with Giardiniera and English Cucumber, and Mushroom en Croûte with Hen of Woods and Frisée take ½ hour to prepare.
When I return for the Mushroom en Croûte dish a few days later, I am surprised how copious the dish is. In addition to one big “Hen” mushroom –much cherished in the Fall – there are two Croûtes filled with a mashed potato/mushroom stuffing. The mushroom alone is very filling. I cannot possible eat the second Croûte. In fact, I have a stomach ache, which comes as a surprise. Known to have an iron stomach, I later learn that Hen of Woods is one of those mushrooms that might cause gastric distress in some people. The lobster of the Lobster Spaghetti dish that my friend ordered, has been cooked à la minute and, here again, makes an interesting combination
Among the four appetizers, Gougères with Black Pepper and Mornay Sauce is my favorite. It is the essence of an appetizer: tasty, light, without ruining my appetite. My only gripe is the selection of cheese. I realize that the tables at the Bar Room are too close to permit a cheese cart. Still, the selection of 3 cheeses could have been presented on a wooden platter. As it turns out, my three cheeses, including a blue cheese, do not have much flavor, although the fig bread that accompanies it tastes terrific.
The Modern offers a prix fixe menu for lunch and for dinner. I am sure it is the perfect special occasion place that has the added attraction of overlooking the museum’s sculpture garden.
The large and brightly lit kitchen sits right between The Bar and The Modern. It features the same slabs of white marble that can be seen throughout the restaurant. The front and the back of the house enjoy the same privileges and frustrations. “Everyone is working together in a synchronized, cohesive way,” says chef Bissell.
The Modern opened in 2005. It was adjacent to the newly designed Museum of Modern Art, overlooked the museum’s sculpture garden and could be reached without entering the museum.
Museum members have two dining options that function separately: Cafè 2 and Terrace 5, located on the second and fifth floor, respectively. The Café consists of a large cafeteria-style place where you get on line, make your selection, pay, get a number, find a seat at the community tables, and wait for your food to arrive. Terrace 5 has individual tables and a menu, listing snacks, soups, salads and sandwiches, sweets, plus wine, coffee and beverages.