Wed 21 May 2008
NEW YORK –
The Modern is the fine dining restaurant at the Museum of Modern Art. It’s operated by Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group; Meyer is the well-known owner of Union Square, Gramercy Tavern, Tabla and a host of other diverse restaurants in New York. Now appetizers at The Modern — at lunch — range from $17 to $42 and main courses go from $24 to $45. So most of us in the real world won’t be eating lunch there.
Fortunately, The Modern offers The Bar Room, a far more casual restaurant where patrons, hungry and thirsty after hours of looking at modern and contemporary art, can rest their weary bones and perk up with food and drink. There’s a small lounge waiting area, a bar appropriate for dining as well as imbibing, and an open dining area with tables and chairs. It’s all quite welcoming and attractive in a sleek modern fashion.
Chef at The Modern is Gabriel Kreuther, whose roots in Alsace are revealed in many dishes of the menus for The Bar Room and The modern.
The small menu in The Bar Room consists of three pages: The 18 items listed on the first two pages are served in appetizer portions; prices are $11 to $24. The 10 items found on the third page are served in “half-entree” portions; prices are $15 to $28. Now I didn’t say the The Bar Room menu was cheap; we’re not talking about $7.99 for meat ‘n’ three, including a refillable glass of sweet tea, but we are talking about delicious food that gratifyingly balances tradition with invention, lovely presentation, a waiter who knows the menu and wine list backwards and forwards and terrific wine selections.
So, perched at the bar, LL started with the shaved spring salad ($15), while I chose the veal and goat cheese terrine with watercress ($14). She followed with a fascinating item, a traditional “leftovers” dish from Alsace that featured lamb, conch and tripe is a spicy, savory ragout ($16). This baekeoffe, said our waiter, is the least-ordered dish on the menu, but it holds a special place in the chef’s heart. My second course was squid wrapped in pancetta with a black rice cake and Parmesan foam ($20).
So, how to tie these dishes together with one wine? Well, that wasn’t quite going to work. I suggested a riesling from Alsace, the Dirler Belzebrunem 2004 ($11), and while the waiter acknowledged that as a good idea, he offered to pour LL two half-glasses of wine so she could have a different experience with each of her two courses; when they came, they were generous “half-pours.” For her, he chose a gruner veltliner from Austria, the Prager Federspiel 2007, Wachau ($16) — a lovely gruner, clean, vibrant, floral and minerally — and for the red, the Umathum Zweigelt 2006, from Austria’s Bergenland region ($12). The zweigelt grape was propagated in 1922 as a cross between blaufrankisch and St. Laurent; it makes a deeply colored, spicy wine, hearty but not heavy.
The beautifully composed salad consisted of baby arugula, baby frisee, sections of grapefruit, slivers of cucumber and, according to the menu, Sicilian pistachios. The richness of my veal and goat cheese terrine was balanced by the slight bitterness of the watercress; all of this was draped by a light green sauce made of parsley pureed with a bit of garlic and olive oil.
More diners ought to order the baekeoffe, though I understand that many people are put off by the idea of tripe. Our waiter told us that chef Kreuther treats the tripe in three different processes over three days to ensure its tenderness and almost custardy texture. The dish is presented in a ramekin with a crust of breadcrumbs; the sauce that encloses the lamb, conch and tripe is deeply flavorful. It was a great dish for a chilly, rainy day.
My squid wrapped in pancetta like neatly tied presents were skewered on a shaft of rosemary. I’m not a true believer in the cuisine of foams and gels, and in relation to the grilled squid and the rice cake under them, the Parmesan foam was largely superfluous; better just to have shaved a few slivers of Parmesan onto the squid.
Still, that’s a quibble. This was a terrific lunch, capped off with two cups of excellent espresso. We would definitely go back, and since we visit MOMA every time we’re in NYC, we’ll probably eat there again soon.
The Museum of Modern Art is at 9 West 53rd Street. The number of The Modern’s Bar Room is (212) 333-1220. The Bar Room opens at 11:30 a.m. daily and closes at 10:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday, and 9:30 p.m., Sunday. Menus and wine list are available at themodernnyc.com.