A week ago today, I was on my way to dine with Steven Starr at the art museum. A media dinner. A preview of Starr’s latest project: a makeover of the restaurant inside the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
I happen to be one of those people who likes to eat at museums and often remembers the food as vividly -- if not more so -- than the exhibit (not that I’m proud to admit it). I still dream about the pumpkin waffle I ate at MOMA last October, and I will never forget the perfect cheese sandwich I once devoured at the Guggenheim Museum Balbao as I sat overlooking the reflection pool, jet-lagged and drunk on Richard Serra.
So off I went to the Philadelphia Art Museum on Monday night with high expectations. Would there be pink chandeliers? Booths recessed inside picture frames? Starr venues snap, crackle, and pop. As the concert master of 13 restaurants in Philadelphia (Buddakan, Parc, The Continental, etc.), Starr is known for glamorama – themey spaces with reliable, skillfully prepared food. Camp meets haute cuisine.
If anyone could put the "muse" into museum, Starr could.
How strange then to find myself seated in this room: a surgical space with a Hopper-esque chill. Where was the Renoir-inspired drama that the press release promised?
Ahhh, it was in the food. Soon, rafts of chicken schnitzel sailed into the room, each potato-encrusted slab gleaming with a perfectly poached quail egg. Then came crab cakes placed like costume jewelry on either side of a carrot topiary. I caught a glimpse of Renoir, I did: his ladies in their high hats.
For dessert, a fall fruit crisp brandished a leaf. The butter cookie melted on the tongue, though the compote was a bit sugary. A s’more pots de crème rounded out the culinary theme – French, but not cloyingly so.
A media dinner is a media dinner – who can say how the real menu will hold up? The flavors were bold, the food well-prepared, but the dining room of Granite Hill seemed, well, curiously uninspired. Perhaps Starr is attempting the deeply understated, but oh how a flower on the table (instead of the fancy mustard crocks) would have been a cheering touch.
Oh Steven, how come no rhinestones – not even one?