The oughts saw the demise of countless institutions (books, newspapers, network news anchors), but there's one most folks are not likely to miss: the ossified museum cafeteria, with its plastic trays, bounteous fluorescent lighting and grim metal counters stocked with stale egg salad sandwiches and Sanka.
In 2003, the Met replaced its single musty cafeteria with a brightly-lit new space and a number of glossy eateries around the museum, some of which are equipped with gallery views, Argentinean Malbecs and artisanal cheeses.
When the Museum of Modern Art re-opened in 2004, it was armed with a trio of Danny Meyer-run eateries, including The Modern whose high-end Alsatian-influenced menu has since earned its chef, Gabriel Kreuther, a James Beard Foundation award and a Michelin star. Now the Guggenheim enters the foodie fray with the debut, in December, of its hyper-contemporary new restaurant, The Wright. (The restaurant debuted a regular Sunday brunch at the end of December; starting January 14th, it will be open for dinner.)
Tucked into a 1,600-square-foot slice of the museum's Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building, the Jetsons-esque eatery, designed by New York architect Andre Kikosi, meets all the requisites for of-the-moment dining: locally-sourced foods (such as the caramelized apples served with the braised pork belly), classic cocktails (the Sidecars are outstanding) and natty ladies sporting extremely large handbags. There's art, too: a horizontal aluminum screen, painted in various '70s-era earth tones, that was crafted especially for the space by contemporary British sculptor Liam Gillick, and which bears the not-at-all-pretentious title of "The horizon produced by a factory once it had stopped producing views." (Expect to find knock-offs at Design Within Reach within six months.)
The kitchen is headed up by executive chef Rodolfo Contreras, a protégé of David Bouley (at Danube) and Rick Moonen (Oceana), who has produced an unfussy, recession-conscious menu strong on farmers' market favorites — roasted beet salad, parsnip soup and winter squash risotto. A stand-out, in a stick-to-your-ribs way: the thick slab of crispy, flaky cod with chanterelles and cauliflower sauce. But this is the Upper East Side and no menu would be complete without a few dashes of luxe (fresh Kumamoto oysters, lobster salad). The star of the show here is Contreras's namesake Wright Salad, a design-conscious assemblage of warm green-market vegetables bathed in a bright watercress sauce and topped with a soft-cooked egg, truffles and shaved parmesan — the sort of dish that induces a sensual tingling in the brain (and the arteries).
Being a lover of high camp, I was disappointed not to see any art-inspired dishes on the menu. (No Kandinsky pasta or Pollock pot pie.) But thankfully The Wright came through on dessert: the mango mousse comes topped with a decorative meringue that evokes the curves of Wright's Guggenheim ziggurat. If you have to settle on a single dessert, however, make sure it's the Grand Marnier ice cream: creamy-alcoholic goodness that the museum should seriously consider stocking in the gift shop...by the gallon. It'd be worth the price of admission alone.
Want to see what else I devoured during my intrepid reporting at The Wright? Check out the slideshow below.