What's missing though is - a kitchen. Literally. In a questionable decision to create a compromise between full-service dining (rarely profitable for museums) and an affordably priced amenity for visitors, the Barnes opted for the lovely decor and table service, but ships in Aramark food to be reheated.
Yes, Aramark's "1st and Fresh" catering division focuses on local ingredients. But if the kale salad has grit, it doesn't matter if it's grown in Lancaster or California. Some basic seasoning would help the squash bisque with lobster, not to mention the lentil salad. And while cedar-planked salmon and crab cakes have travel potential, a heavy reheating in the TurboChef oven did not improve their textures. The chocolate bread pudding was one exception that made for a moist, indulgent post-Matisse snack.
For a more satisfying experience, your lunch money is better spent in some of the many good restaurants nearby.
Stephen Starr knows how to do good Manhattan museum dining, too, having imported Jim Burke (from South Philly's James) to his catering account at the New York Historical Society, where Burke spins ethereal pappardelle with duck ragu at Caffe Storico.
But such an ambitious plan for Granite Hill, the Starr revamp of the Philadelphia Museum of Art's sedate restaurant, has yet to be realized. The longtime regulars, it seems, forever love their crab cakes (still very respectable) and the "Artist's Table," where for $25 guests graze from a buffet of cheeses, meats, and appealing salads. On the menu, smoked salmon cured in crimson beet juice was a highlight, as was the rustic salad with warm shreds of pulled chicken. The pureed lentil soup, however, was overpowered by some oddly pickled onions.
The service is professional, the cooking usually adequate. Still, the whole experience, from concept to decor, could use a bold splash of fresh energy.
"Still in transition," says Starr, who has promised a more modern redo "within the next year."
I hope it's a work of art.
Contact Craig LaBan at email@example.com.