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Anyone try the Michel Richard menu at the National Gallery of Art?

  • d

It runs until 2/10, and includes a $19.75 buffet option.


I'm curious to try it but it's a bit of a hike for me so I'd appreciate any feedback (so I can adjust my expectations accordingly).

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  1. hey doh, like you, i read that it was to be there until feb. 10, 2010. (it was oddly a very short run for the menu, i thought at the time). i was soooo sad that i was not going to get down there because of the back to back blizzards.

    i thought, "well, maybe they extended the special richard menu just a week or so because of the blizzards."


    look!!!! the site now shows the michel richard menu is there at the cafe until february **2011***!!! http://www.nga.gov/ginfo/cafes.shtm


    1. Interesting how the menu downplays the Michel Richard angle.

      I wonder how they do the buffet, AYCE? I also wonder how gougeres turn out when they are not made to order.

      But it's great that the NGA is interested in providing an enhanced menu.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Steve

        I'm interested too. If anyone goes please report back.

        1. re: beauxgoris

          I just went, it was awesome! It is all-you-can-eat, which is pretty incredible. It's not a huge selection, but it really doesn't need to be, since the food is so great. The best dishes, in my opinion, were the pommes de terre (tiny potatoes w/ caramelized onions), the ratatouille, and coq au vin. They regularly replenished all the dishes (except the faux gras! I was so sad, the lady before me took the last one and they never filled it back up, I think they ran out. Either that or the lady took the entire portion meant for the whole buffet). Honestly, it was the best buffet I've ever had in my life- so far above usual "buffet" food.

          We did make one mistake, I hate, hate Valentine's Day, and didn't want anything to do with any Valentine's special, but I tried to have my husband just order a bottle of champagne (reasonably priced at $24), but I guess the waitress asked if he wanted "the special". He didn't know what the heck I wanted and pointed to the champagne I'd ask for, but that was probably the champagne that was part of the special so we ended up with "the special". Not even really sure what was in the special, because husband just grabbed the normal chocolate mousse that was part of the buffet- which he said was awesome. Waitress said we should have gotten the "special" dessert, not sure what that was, but she implied it was just a bigger, more "special" mousse. Anyway, I ended up getting the vanilla creme brulee which was great- could see the vanilla seeds throughout. And, a yellow rose, which I promptly forgot at the table when we left.

          So, unless you go today you probably won't have the "special" confusion we did, it is awesome. I would highly recommend it, such a good option when you're on the mall looking for some good food. And, even though I didn't get the faux gras- they gave complementary recipe cards at the end w/ the recipe, so I'm planning on making it myself tomorrow. All in all, a great option for the area.

      2. Thanks for the correction, alkapal, and for the report, mjhals! Sounds like it's definitely worth a visit.

        1. i can't wait to get there, once the snow clears (july?).

          3 Replies
          1. re: alkapal

            Yeah, tell me about it, the snow on the ground was still awful on Sunday, and my husband and I had the brilliant idea to walk there from Rosslyn. Pretty slow going, and I fell on my butt several times. The upside is that we were STARVING by the time we got there, so really got the most out of the buffet. We weren't sure if it was AYCE until my husband cleaned his plate in about 7 min (literally sparklying clean, mopped uo by a piece of bread) and a kindly buslady cleared his plate and told him to go get more! We were so excited!

            Also, just want to point out that it's in the Garden Cafe, the little cafe in the West Wing, not in the bigger cafeteria in the East Wing. Which is actually a lot nicer as you get table service for drinks and they clear your plates. It's certainly not the same experience as dinner at Central, but I think it's a good plan b if someone can't get reservations or doesn't want to spend $50+ for a meal. If you think about it $23 for all you can eat of Michel Richards foods is an incredible deal.

            1. re: mjhals

              Thanks for the review! I just might stop by sometime this weekend and have a nice lunch by myself after checking out the current temporary exhibits. Probably won't do the buffet, but after looking at the menu, the braised short ribs and creme brulee are calling me...

              1. re: mjhals

                the garden café is quite a charming location for a nice little lunch! you feel like you're in another "place" entirely -- a fantasy city, where life is slower, and people are nicer, and birds sing, water splashes, and the sculpture and foliage beckon <er, uh uh... back to business now>.

            2. I did manage to make it to the Garden Cafe this weekend. I got there right at opening (actually, before opening, while they were setting up the buffet) and it was nice and quiet. Since it was just me, I didn't try the buffet even though everything looked absolutely delicious. Will have to come back with someone so I can stuff my face accordingly. :o)

              I did try the braised short ribs with mashed potatoes and the creme brulee, both of which were great. Obviously pricey, since it's a museum cafe, but worth the splurge if you want a nice treat. The braised short ribs were so tender, but still had some bite to them (but not stringy at all). Mashed potatoes were average, but obviously made with real potatoes and a great compliment to the ribs. The bordelaise sauce on both the ribs and mashed potatoes was outstanding, and there was just enough to make the whole dish wonderful.

              The creme brulee was perfect. You know how some crappy ones are about the texture of jello? Not this one. Smooth and creamy throughout, tons of vanilla seeds, perfect caramelized sugar crust (not too burned, not just melted sugar, not too thick, not too thin)...I wanted more!

              Can't wait to go back and try the buffet offerings. My mouth was watering watching everyone else dig in while I waited for my dish!

              1. This deal is like something out of a dream. Astonishing. Of course, any buffet has its limitations, but this is an instant classic, the perfect choice for a combination foodie/ tourist.

                Faux Gras, a touch salty, but the parsley gelee brings it up a notch.
                Saucisson - exceptional, soft, and a bit spicy. Just as at Central, about the best you are ever likely to eat.
                Ham - cured jambon de Bayonne, quite good.

                French Onion. Ok, thank goodness it is not too salty.

                Endive with bacon and walnuts. Crisp and delicious
                Puy Lentil Salad - the only disappointment. Served too cold, will make you wonder what all the fuss over le Puy lentils is about.

                Main Course
                Coq au vin - lacquered skin AND fall apart meat - a great accomplishment. Huge button mushroms cooked perfectly and pearl onions
                Mushroom Quiche - lots of mushrooms, but not worth the calories
                Potatoes Lyonnaise - tons of onions, very nice.

                Comte, Livarot, Camembet , and Roquefort. The Roquefort was exceptional. The others bland.

                Dessert - a perfect chocolate mousse.

                4 Replies
                1. re: Steve

                  There was also a ratatouille on the buffet, which was fine. And gougeres came out at some point, but they were really cold when I sampled them.

                  I took two visiting friends to the buffet yesterday (Saturday) and I made sure we got there on the earlyish side: 11:45. It really was a lovely experience, I echo Steve's recs in general. My friends and I had a leisurely chatting lunch, in a spot nice and quiet where we could here each other easily, and with a lovely spread to enjoy. A real treat.

                  1. re: hamster

                    Does anyone know how long this runs for?

                      1. re: beauxgoris

                        I beleive it is now long term, maybe until the Fall? But nothing like this is ever guaranteed.

                  2. For those who have been, a question: I'm thinking of going there with a friend, however, she is vegetarian - she does eat fish and she is not vegan. Would she be able to find enough to eat?

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: foodtrip

                      If it's just a question of getting enough, then I guess the potatoes, ratatouille, quiche (eggs, though), bread, cheese, salads, and dessert are certainly enough for one meal.

                      I believe there is an a la carte option... maybe with other choices?

                      1. re: Steve

                        The leek salad had bacon in it...She/he could also eat the onion soup - though that likely has beef broth in it. The buffet probably wouldn't be a ton of fun for the vegetarian, though the a la carte is a good suggestion.

                        1. re: hamster

                          My two favorite dishes were the ratatoille and the potatoes lyonese (both vegetarian, I assume, unless someone hid some beef broth in there). I don't think the lentil salad had meat, but the endive salad did (which is what I think hamster referred to as the leek salad). Those three dishes would have been enough to make it an great buffet for me (I really loved the potato dish), but I think with the quiche and the cheese assortment it would really be a great spread for a vegetarian.

                    2. Just a reminder this is scheduled to run until 2/10. Also they posted recipes on the NGA site for the faux gras, the daube, and a genoise (which is an a la carte dessert).

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: Doh

                        the daube was the best dish on the buffet. i didn't care for the faux gras, but mr. alka liked it alright.

                        1. re: Doh

                          Daube provencal was excellent. Best beef stew I've ever had, anywhere. And I wish they would post the recipe for their ratatouille because I am in love with it.

                          I'll definitely miss having this as a lunch option! I wonder if the Garden Cafe has something good planned after the Michel Richard menu ends? This will be hard to top.

                          1. re: yfunk3

                            the ratatouille was indeed outstanding.

                            after looking at the daube recipe online (thanks for the tip), i'm reminded of the great amount of macaroni (!) in the daube -- which i felt was added as "filler." mr. alka liked it, but then he loves pasta. i just felt it was out of place, but understood why it was added for the buffet table dish.

                            the english buffet a few years back had the best cold bean salad with bacon. different beans in a great vinaigrette with excellent bacon. i wish that i had asked for the recipe then, because i've searched for it since and even emailed the chef there to no avail. <sigh>

                            1. re: alkapal

                              I don't know what time you went, but I usually go right when it opens and I see most of the people going up to the daube and just picking out the beef chunks. Within a half hour of the place opening when I went, the daube's macaroni-to-beef ratio went up significantly. Such is the problem when faced with the hungry masses allowed to serve themselves. :o)

                              1. re: yfunk3

                                yes, that is true! it reminds me of a birthday party recently where a lady <ahem> was standing there at the vegetable chips bowl, picking out all the best sweet potato chips. i asked her, "so are those the best chips?" and she replied "yes" and kept on picking. great. i've seen it done with the salads with nice toppings, too -- there at the national gallery buffet, too.

                              2. re: alkapal

                                look at the buffet from 2002 -- re the goya exhibit:

                                "The buffet includes grilled salmon with romesco (a traditional Spanish sauce made of roasted ground almonds, peppers, and olive oil) and tortilla espagnole (a classic baked omelette made with sautéed potatoes and roasted onions). The buffet also features a wide assortment of cheeses, among them a tangy Manchego, smoky Idiazábal, savory Majon with paprika-scented rind, and robust Cabrales, one of the world's heartiest blue-veined cheeses. The selections are accompanied by membrillo, a traditional quince paste.""""
                                i'm still on the lookout for the "beans" recipe! ;-)). one thing, no matter the buffet, they ALWAYS have good cheeses!

                          2. I went today, and while it was worth the $20 + tip (because it was quiet and I lingered, so this was basically my one meal for the day! :o), I found it much blander than when I last went in October.

                            I was there right when they opened (hey, I was hungry and skipped breakfast!) and they did really go nuts with the macaroni in the Daube! And the ratatouille wasn't as flavorful as last time. Probably another chef cooked everything. Even the faux gras was blander than the previous times I went.

                            Everything else was delicious, though. Spinach quiche was great, both salads on the table (especially the spinach and egg with bleu cheese and honey dressing)...and what's not to love about the chocolate mousse?

                            My server was basically absent, so I didn't have a chance to ask for the ratatouille recipe. Doh.

                            1. Can you make reservations or is it first come first served? I think this might be a good way to finish up an ice skating outing on Saturday.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Flaxen_Vixen

                                No reservation needed, though it might be a bit crowded on a Saturday afternoon. There's someone who comes out to check on the food levels at the buffet every now and then, so they keep the food stocked pretty well except for the bread/gougères. The bread/gougères are essential for enjoying the faux gras!

                                It might look like a small number of tables in the front by the fountain, but there are way more tables in the back behind the wall, which hopefully won't be closed off for some reason (private event?) when you go. Shouldn't be hard to get a seat for anywhere from 1 to 4 people. I've never had a problem, but I always go right when it opens, impatient soul that I am. :o)

                              2. next menu: ITALIAN! (according to the hostess).

                                i asked the hostess for the ratatouille recipe to be posted on their site. let's see if it happens.

                                10 Replies
                                1. re: alkapal

                                  from experience, the printed recipe for the faux gras, is not what is served (they all keep a few tricks up their sleeves y'know) but it's easily doctored into more along he lines IMHO and that's covered over on Home Cooking.

                                  1. re: alkapal

                                    Sounds interesting. Will Richard be doing that menu too - or a new chef?

                                    1. re: beauxgoris

                                      i have no idea, but doubt it.

                                      edit: i just emailed the address used to reserve for large parties ("restaurant associates") to request the ratatouille recipe and inquire as to who is creating the italian menu. i hope that they don't ignore me like the last time i requested a recipe....

                                      1. re: alkapal

                                        Carlos de Souza of the National Gallery of Art emailed me back promptly with the recipe! I'll post it over on home cooking. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/759615

                                        Thanks to Chef de Souza!!! Class act!

                                        1. re: alkapal

                                          Alkapal, you are my hero(ine)!!! Can't wait to make the recipe!

                                    2. re: alkapal

                                      When does the Italian menu start? i still haven't made it to the Michel Richard French menu. I really hope I still have time!

                                      1. re: foodtrip

                                        the richard menu ends on february 9 or thereabouts. check the nga.gov site or upthread. the italian menu begins (i presume) right after that.

                                        1. re: alkapal

                                          Here is the press release from the NGA:

                                          Garden Café Italia

                                          In honor of the exhibitions Venice: Canaletto and His Rivals and Italian Master Drawings from the Wolfgang Ratjen Collection, 1525–1835 (May 8–November 27, 2011), as well as the Gallery's renowned collection of Italian masterpieces, Chef Fabio Trabocchi will transform the menu in the Garden Café from February 12, 2011 to March 20, 2012. Returning from New York to DC in 2011 to open the highly anticipated restaurant Fiola in Penn Quarter, Chef Trabocchi will create a menu of signature Italian dishes for the Garden Café, including a buffet as well as à la carte selections.

                                          Located in the West Building near the 6th Street and Constitution Avenue entrance, the Garden Café is open for lunch Monday to Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 4:00 p.m. It offers a special preconcert menu on performance Sundays, October to May, 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. For more information or to make reservations, please call (202) 712-7454 or visit www.nga.gov/dining.

                                          Garden Café Italia is presented in partnership with Restaurant Associates and Executive Chef David Rogers at the National Gallery of Art.


                                          So, the answer is February 12 through March 20, 2012 and Chef Fabio Trabocchi. Fortunately for me, my wife and I finally managed to get down to the French café before it was gone. It was very pleasant, and a nice prelude to the Pre-Raphaelite Lens (not to mention the exhibition of 19th and early 20th century French paintings). Some folks have complained about the lackadaisical service--that wasn't our experience. We found them appropriately attentive.

                                          This is the sort of thing that makes a person glad to live in the Washington metropolitan area.

                                          1. re: pgreen

                                            yes, the chester dale collection adjacent to the café is outstanding. the "pre-raphaelite lens" was interesting, esp. as we've traveled in north england and wales, where much of the photography was done. this photo exhibit ends JAN 30.


                                            """Fabio Trabocchi won a Best Chef award from the James Beard Foundation in 2006 for his work at the McLean, Virginia restaurant Maestro, and also won a Best New Chef award from Food & Wine in 2002. """" http://gothamist.com/2008/07/14/fabio...


                                            in 2008, chef trabocchi went to NYC for "fiamma's" (closed 2009), http://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.co... then to the four seasons, from which he was let go last year this time: http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/bl...

                                            so, i'm guessing that he is probably opening a restaurant here in the dc-area again. let's wish him success!
                                            i hope that he puts some unusual items on the NGA buffet. it will HAVE to be venetian cuisine, with canaletto and his city being the exhibit's focus. i look forward to it, especially after reading this insightful article on the foods of venice: http://www.veneziasi.it/en/cuisine-ve...
                                            i know the venetians were master spice traders, so that brings an element of the east. this should be fun!
                                            oooh oooh oooh: look at a SLIDESHOW of the exhibit in advance! (it is traveling from the UK) http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/wha...

                                            1. re: alkapal

                                              i wish to clarify (and couldn't do it timely enough to edit the original post from yesterday at 7:27 am) that i do NOT know the circumstances in which chef trabocchi parted ways with the four seasons. i apologize to chef if i inferred incorrectly the gist of the article i cited regarding his stint there, and thus may've given a wrong impression in my post. i'm sorry chef. i hope that you have great success back here in dc, as i said above.

                                    3. """""""National Gallery of Art
                                      Sunday is the opening day for "Venice: Canaletto and His Rivals"--a stunning exhibition of 18th-century view paintings of Venice. A day of festivities is planned, including an "Italian Pantry" demonstration by Chef Fabio Trabocchi, a lecture on the exhibition, an Italian film screening, a concert by The Vivaldi Project, and much more.""""""

                                      here's the press release: http://www.nga.gov/press/2011/cafe_it...

                                      in a cursory review, i don't see info there on the chef's demo.....
                                      here's the buffet menu:
                                      $19.75 per person
                                      Panetteria italiana
                                      Selection of Italian breads: focaccia, pane pugliese, grissini, pane carasau
                                      Salumeria e formaggeria
                                      Gourmet Italian cured meats: prosciutto San Daniele and sopressata Gourmet Italian cheese: Parmigiano-Reggiano
                                      Olive Castelvetrano
                                      Marinated Castelvetrano olives
                                      Brodetto di pesce alla Veneta* Venetian seafood soup with green tomatoes,
                                      peppers, and saffron
                                      Insalata di rucola, Parmigiano-Reggiano, limone
                                      Arugula, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and lemon salad
                                      Carpaccio di bue
                                      Roast beef carpaccio, radicchio, Pecorino Romano, balsamic vinegar
                                      Paccheri alla vaccinara
                                      Maccheroni, tomato-braised beef oxtail, Pecorino Romano
                                      Melanzane alla Parmigiana* Baked eggplant with tomato, Parmigiano-
                                      Reggiano, and mozzarella
                                      Lattarolo* Vanilla and honey custard

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: alkapal

                                        mr. alka and i attended the chef's demo, met chef fabio trabocchi, and also met the executive chef david rogers of the smithsonian NGA restaurants. the two chefs could not have been more helpful, informative and charming.

                                        chef trabocchi talked about his new cookbook, italian food and the diffusion of ingredients due to the spice trade in venice (after my question) and the style of food that his new restaurant, "fiola," will be offering. <more on that in a separate thread; location is the old "bice," where chef trabocchi actually got his start in america in 1995! neat, huh?>

                                        chef rogers told me that he had scoured the archives to find the answer to my query for a recipe of the "heirloom beans salad with bacon" offered during the english exhibition a while back. alas, no recipe was found, but he did find that the beans (dried) were heirloom beans from a producer in the mid-west. ok, so any hounds know who produces heirloom beans in the mid-west?

                                        finally, fyi, chef rogers said that there are some seasonal (mostly produce) changes that happen in the garden café's buffet menu over the course of the year.
                                        finally, over near the arboretum, my energy was waning and i needed to get some food. as it was closest, i made the mistake of having to get some food in the museum of the american indian -- the "mitsitam cafe." http://americanindian.si.edu/subpage....
                                        what a nightmare (and this wasn't even peak eating time -- more like 1:45). a bowl of progesso-quality "wild rice" soup, a sunchoke salad, absolutely flavorless cornbread and a coke set me back $17! mr. alka truculently reminded me that we could've had the buffet at NGA for $20. dang it, of course he was right.

                                        (only the delicious "roasted sunchoke salad with ginger vinaigrette" rescued that experience from being a totally unsettling, chaotic disaster! please, if you have any love for humanity, do NOT recommend this american indian cafeteria place to anyone -- including hapless tourists looking to eat near the mall).