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Can a museum restaurant ever live up to its surroundings? We decided to find out. In our ongoing series, Fine Food, Fine Art, we go in search of the best restaurants in art museums in glittering cosmopolitan cities all around the world. In this edition, we explore The Modern at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. It’s definitely one of the best restaurants in any art museum we’ve visited.

fine food and fine art

Are fine art and fine dining the new power couple? Like luxury retailers, the important art museums of Manhattan seem to realize that having an exclusive, buzzed-about restaurant is mission-critical to their success. How else to explain that some of the most exciting restaurants in New York City right now happen to be housed in museums?

Art and food can separately serve as comfort and inspiration. Especially when you’re traveling or on vacation. So we figured that the two together should be a little slice of heaven. And maybe even the perfect gift for the foodie in your life. Or for you!

It turns out that’s true: fine art + fine dining = fine time.

the Modern restaurant at the MoMA

Our Boston Bureau Chief came to town, and we met up for lunch at The Modern at the MoMA. Long one of our favorites, it’s as splendid as ever. This shouldn’t be a surprise, as the restaurant has been recognized with two Michelin stars, a Three Star review in the New York Times, four James Beard Awards, and the Grand Award from Wine Spectator.

The location

The Modern is located in a wonderful spot overlooking the museum’s Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden. The dining room decor is austere and minimalist, all the better to bask in the sunlight splashing through the two-story windows that look out onto the Sculpture Garden. The windows are lined with tables for two; larger parties are seated at tables nicely spaced though out the rest of the room.

The Dining Room at the Modern at the MoMA

The table decor

The table-settings are coolly elegant: sleek gunmetal grey spiral napkin rings, snow white chargers and linens. The only color on the table came from a small spray of birds of paradise.

The service

The service is swift, attentive and knowledgeable – our captain asked what time we needed to be back at the office before we ordered. Nice.

Because The Modern is part of Danny Meyer’s restaurant group, there’s a strict no-tipping policy. Gratuities are already included in the final tab.

The menu

What to order? Chef Abram Bissell’s menu changes with the seasons, but if you go before winter ends, you cannot go wrong with what we had.

The amuse-bouche that day was beet chips and goat cheese dip, served with a “tea” made of dried beet strips and chicken consommé.

Our bread options were pretzel, whole wheat, and cranberry pumpkin seed rolls (seriously, who could decide among them? We each had two out of the three).

As a starter, we both chose the roasted cauliflower, served with crab, tarragon puree and almonds – it was so buttery-good that our conversation stopped dead for a couple of reverential moments.

Cauliflower and Crab by Chef Abram Bissell

For entrees, I opted for pork tenderloin, served with a pear poached in olive oil, pear puree, and Cipollini onions with buttermilk cream. The Bureau Chief went for crispy duck with sweet potato puree, cabbage and ginger.

Pork Lettuce and Tomato by Chef Abram Bissell

These were both extremely delicious. I truly meant to share mine, but somehow that didn’t happen. My bad.

The desserts

The desserts were, appropriately, miniature works of art. Pastry Chef Jiho Kim must have a wonderful time designing these whimsical delicious treats.

My apple-themed choice had a dramatic spiral of honey crisp apple tuile atop a meringue shell filled with panna cotta and Chantilly cream; on the side were muscat grape jelly, angelica (a sweet herb) ice cream and a brunoise of diced apple.

My companion had something involving pears and Poire William sauce, but the concept of sharing was completely gone by then and I have no idea what else was involved.

Dessert at The Modern at MoMA Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier

The vibe

The day that we visited, the patrons at The Modern looked cheerful and chic. And for the most part, they seemed to be native New Yorkers, not tourists (not that there’s anything wrong with that). The noise level is quite low, making it a perfect spot for a conversation. Be forewarned: the bathrooms are unisex, so there’s no escaping if you’re on a date or trying to close a big business deal.

Suffice it to say, a merry time was had by all, and we suspect you’d have one, too.

We’ll be continuing our series on the best restaurants in museums in New York City and in the world. It’s a tough job, visiting the great museums of the world and sampling their dining options. But someone has to do it, dear reader. We’ll report back. In the meantime, bon appetit!

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Pamela Thomas-Graham

Pamela Thomas-Graham is the Founder & CEO of Dandelion Chandelier. She serves on the boards of several tech companies, and was previously a senior executive in finance, media and fashion, and a partner at McKinsey & Co.