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Museums with good food.

I spent some quality time Monday at the National Gallery and stopped in at the Garden Cafe Italia for lunch. In short, it was a very pleasant experience.

Prosecco to start followed by a buffet of decent breads, quality salumi, good olives, pollo in potacchio, an outstanding buccatini e pancetta, baked eggplant, watermelon salad with Pecorino Romano and balsamic. A vanilla with honey custard was the sweet. A little Parmigiano Reggiano before my espresso. The buffet ran $19.75, prosecco was $7, espresso $2.85.

This was a serviceable meal in a wonderful setting at an extremely good price point. Staff was both engaging and efficient.

What other museums offer a similar/better experience?

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  1. None. Forget it. The 'fanciest' next one people talk about is Mitsitam Cafe (really a cafeteria) at Museum of the American Indian, which does have an extensive and very interesting offering of Native American food. I don't like the museum, and I think all the food is tremendously disappointing. If it were a restaurant, it would be out of business in two weeks. Though others seem to be impressed.

    1. Nearly $30 for a lunch buffet of salad is a "good" price point? Ouch! I'll agree that the setting is nice and most reports about the quality of the food have been quite positive, but most people who visit our museums are there for what's on display, not what's to eat.

      While the cafeteria in the Native American museum isn't cheap (you can fill up for half what you spent at the NGA Garden Cafe), they have an interesting variety of foods, mostly simple, that are nicely prepared given what they are and that it's a cafeteria.

      3 Replies
      1. re: MikeR

        The pollo in potacchio (chicken with rosemary, garlic and tomato sauce) was very good. The buccatini e pancetta (long, hollow pasta with pancetta and Parmgiano Reggiano) was outstanding.

        I was there for the From Impressionism to Modernism exhibition (from the Chester Dale collection).

        Price was quite reasonable given the quality. I staged the courses the same way I do in Rome. All-in-all, it was a very enjoyable meal in one of the most beautiful buildings in North America.

        1. re: steve h.

          it is a very reasonable price. we love that garden cafe as a treat every year. haven't yet tried the trabocchi-designed menu, but do note that they change out "seasonal' elements on the buffet. it is very pleasant to sit there in the cafe atmpsphere…with the statuary and fountain.

          the all you can eat buffet is 20 bucks; one doesn't have to buy booze or coffee.

          as to the cafeteria at the american indian museum… it is a NIGHTMARE! although i did have one tasty thing: sunchoke garlic salad. the rest of the food was poorly prepared and otherwise tasteless. dry as grass cornbread, watery wild rice "soup." something else… MEH!!! also, the logistics are really thoroughly aggravating. poor design and organization. very expensive. just thinking about navigating that place with even a modest crowd is raising my blood pressure.

          i can tell you my "secret spot" for earl gray tea is at the castle. good deal, lucille! (make sure you use the "hot" cups and not the cups closest to the tea. haha, learned that one fine day!)

          we like to get coffee at the cascades cafe (NGA) and people watch. (by the way, have they fixed the villareal light exhibit in the moving walkway area?)

          1. re: alkapal

            Ah, The Castle. Haven't been there in decades. I used to be a member. Maybe it's time to renew an old friendship.
            Thanks for jogging my memory.

      2. Of course there is the American Indian Museum with their stellar cafeteria. Sometimes I go here just for the food. I really like their cedar plank salmon, wild rice salad and fry bread.

        I haven't tried it yet but the Corcoran is now featuring cafe cuisine by Chef Todd Gray (of Equinox and Watershed). I imagine it is quite good.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Elyssa

          I have to put the Corcoran on the list.
          Thanks.

        2. I told my nephew the food court at the Air and Space Museum is an exact replica of the one at NASA and he said it was the best he'd ever been to!

          2 Replies
          1. re: katecm

            You are so evil.
            McDonalds, Boston Market and some pizza joint comprise the food court at the Air and Space Museum.
            AND the nephew bought into it.
            <evil laughter>

            1. re: steve h.

              Hey, if it makes a 4-year-old eat chicken nuggets, I'm going for it!

          2. Since it is a museum, it is worth noting that the Newseum's restaurant, The Source is quite good though not cheap, and there is Zola, which I think is attached to the Spy Museum. And if you are willing to walk a block or two away from The Mall there are lots of options from low end Philips Sandwiches (at 13th and E) or Pauls Patissarie (at 7th and Penn) to fancy.

            1 Reply
            1. re: ClevelandDave

              Thanks, CD.
              Newseum sounds interesting.

            2. A couple days ago a CH posted a review of America Eats at the National Archives. It runs through 2011.

              http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/a...

              -----
              Cafe Atlantico
              405 8th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004

              3 Replies
              1. re: GraydonCarter

                Sunday brunch at the "old" Cafe Atlantico was a hoot. It was a goofy concept (Spanish dim sum?) but I loved it.

                -----
                Cafe Atlantico
                405 8th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004

                1. re: steve h.

                  Museum of American History has a GREAT salad bar downstairs. I loved their jicama w/ orange segments. Interesting selections.

                  1. re: chicken kabob

                    It's a great museum. Other than salads, what else does the cafe offer?

              2. Zola is in the Spy Museum - very different atmosphere and I've not eaten lunch there but it meets the criteria :)

                But I agree- the National Gallery has a fantastic lunch.

                2 Replies
                1. re: DCLindsey

                  Steve H,

                  The salads were the only thing I tried. Everything else looked like typical cafeteria food. I love a good salad for lunch, which is what the museum is open for. Try it and let me know what you think!

                  1. re: chicken kabob

                    Recently at the Museum of American History and had one of the best mac and cheeses ever: a collection of several strong cheeses, slightly spicy, moist and gooey, with crispy edges. At the same barbeque stand was a lightly smoked barbeque chicken. to drink I had watermelon mint juice. Pricy but well worth a visit.