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New York 2005

Museum Cafes: Making an Art Out of Eating

Sunday, April 17, 2005; Page P06

Stare at a Dutch still life for too long and you'll start craving apples, chunks of cheese, fowl -- or something equally palatable. To rest your aching feet and art-weary eyes, consult the museum floor plan for a place where you can not only touch the creations but can eat them, too. Here are a few of New York's best.

Dahesh Museum. Sigh. Delightful Cafe Opaline has been discovered. After waiting in vain for a lunchtime table at the Dahesh Museum's second-story eatery, we perched at the bar overlooking Madison Avenue with its scurrying New Yorkers and strolling window shoppers. Peering out of the floor-to-ceiling wall of windows satisfied our voyeurism; a mushroom and goat cheese tart ($15), tuna tartare ($16) and Cobb salad ($16) more than sated our appetite. Our check arrived in the cafe's signature inlaid box, with a reminder of the museum's current exhibit ("First Seen: Photographs of the World's Peoples, 1840-1880" closes May 1). The next time we come to see the works of European academy-trained artists, we'll also reserve for afternoon tea, and perhaps bring a young friend for the Teddy Bear Tea.

Rest your feet -- and eyes -- at the Metropolitan Museum's Petrie Court Cafe. () Brooks Walker)

_____New York 2005_____
Tom Sietsema's Picks
NYC Dining Legends
Museum Cafes
Pre-Theater Eats
Family-Friendly Spots
Near Ground Zero
Getting There

580 Madison Ave. between 56th and 57th streets, 212-521-8155, www.daheshmuseum.org. Lunch entrees $12-$19.

Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Met has a lock on panoramic dining: The rooftop cafe (open May through fall) affords a gorgeous Manhattan skyline view, while the indoor balcony bar serves cocktails and appetizers overlooking the museum's Great Hall on weekend evenings. And at the Petrie Court Cafe on a busy afternoon, a captain ushered us past a Rodin torso to a table facing Central Park and Cleopatra's Needle. There's a bustle here that failed to disturb five infants napping in their strollers while their mothers took a respite from the galleries. The butternut squash soup ($7) and garganelli pasta with sun-dried tomatoes and mozzarella ($14) would be delightful anywhere; the park view -- and bittersweet chocolate torte with pistachio ice cream ($8) -- made the meal a classic.

1000 Fifth Ave. at 82nd Street, 212-570-3964, www.metmuseum.org. Lunch entrees $12-$17.

Museum of Modern Art. MoMA's stylish new restaurant, the Modern, and its adjacent Bar Room are justifiably winning accolades (see Tom Sietsema's review on Page P10). But if you have trouble getting in to those hot spots, consider the museum's Terrace 5 cafe. True, it's got its own popularity problems -- "Saturdays are awful," our server confessed when we joined a half-hour queue for a late lunch. But once seated in the spare, white cube of a dining room with its sensational view of the Sculpture Garden, all was forgotten. The limited but creative menu includes savory appetizers, cheeses and desserts, as well as wine and cocktails. Small plates of seared yellowfin tuna with haricots verts and dried tomatoes ($16) and smoked salmon with cucumber, creme fraiche and trout caviar ($15) are artfully presented. Sweets include handmade chocolates by the piece (three for $8, five for $12), cheesecake sundaes ($8) and chocolate hazelnut layer cake with whipped cream ($8). Warning: Don't tip twice. The tip's included in the bill, European-style, but there's also a line for that purpose on the charge slip.

11 W. 53rd St. between Fifth and Sixth avenues, 212-708-9400, www.moma.org. Terrace 5: small plates $12-$16; tasting menu (appetizer, dessert and beverage), $21.

Neue Galerie. Walking into Cafe Sabarsky transports you into not one but two equally vanished worlds. One is the long-gone kaffeehaus world of fin-de-siecle Vienna -- the schlag, the newspapers on long poles, the delicate pastries. The other is the more recently disappeared world of discreet, cultured New York -- the Mittel European emigres, the low voices engaged in hushed conversations.

The dining room, with rich mahogany furniture and banquettes, is a rest stop for art lovers who have come to see the four-year-old mansion-turned-museum's collection of Klimts, Schieles and Klees. If you think of Austrian food as heavy, think again: A salad of peppery watercress, smoked duck and wild mushrooms is a well-choreographed balance of tastes and textures. Butternut squash soup is velvety, and the slice of apple strudel -- the most Viennese of all Viennese pastries -- is wonderfully light. Be sure to investigate the pastry selections; both the refrigerator case and the sideboard hold beauties. One of them, the Klimttorte (which looks like what many Americans know as opera cake), is an artwork unto itself.

1048 Fifth Ave. at 86th Street, 212-288-0665, www.neuegalerie.org. Entrees $10-$25.

Rubin Museum of Art. After admiring the rich art of the Himalayas at this stimulating Chelsea museum, head to the Cafe at RMA for rest and restoration. The cafe is decorated with gloriously colorful photos from the Far East that hang above the delicate tables scattered across the blond wood floor. With hands wrapped around a cup of lemon Verbena tea ($3.25) and monk chants piped in overhead, you'll feel prompted to unleash a long, deep exhale.

Asian spiced almonds ($4) are coated with a surprisingly sweet curry flavor that leaves you wondering if the snacks are best as dessert or appetizer. The chicken noodle soup ($5.50) is rich with herbs for a healthy pan-Asian flavor. The curry shrimp wrap ($9) might have better preserved its freshness in wax paper rather than in plastic. Still, the crisp vegetables and mildly spicy shrimp make a wholesome meal to enjoy while escaping city life.

150 W. 17th St. between Sixth and Seventh avenues, 212-620-5000, www.rmanyc.org. Entrees $8- $12.50.

-- Don McDonough, Michelle Garcia,

Anne Glusker and K.C. Summers

© 2005 The Washington Post Company


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