Boston: MFA's New American Café

Let's Eat by Kitty Kaufman

mfa rotunda We're in the rotunda of Boston's Museum of Fine Arts courtesy of Highland Street Foundation's free Fridays, a 10-week summer program that pays your admission to museums and cultural venues. Julie and I can't thank them enough. What's it like at open house? Busy, lots of children and everyone's using their inside voices. The MFA choses their best docents, who are stationed everywhere, to answer questions. We ask a 'where is' question. Our helper takes us to the Monet exhibition. We are thrilled. Even he is smiling. He likes Monet too.

shapiro atrium One good thing about being at the MFA not too often is getting lost. Which we do later but not before we eat. We're at the New American Café, named "one of the best museum restaurants" by Food & Wine in 2014, four years after it opened. On the museum's website they list the restaurants but not the menus. Not even for Bravo, where you spend a pack. Not even when they bring in a new chef, Brian Flagg. Your only clue is dollar signs: the Café has three, Bravo four. This is annoying. Those of us who write about food, and some professional eaters, have been known to read menus first. At home. You could call it an obsession. It's what we do: What will we have, what did you have? Okay, let's eat.

bicycles shapiro atrium

We sit at the bar in the Shapiro Family courtyard, an atrium worth the price of admission. The green installation is glass, though from across the room it could be a tree raised on compost. And MegaCities Asia bicycles, it's spectacular. It's a 2003 Ai Weiwei with 64 Forever brand bikes. Yes, take pictures, I asked and it's fine. (I'm not sure why, but I'm the only one.) You think it will be noisy, but it's not. Sound floats up with jazz; one of the few places meals don't come paired with tunes. And if it was, do you think they'd match it to art or food?

muscles Julie's having Mionetto Prosecco, to cozy with mussels steamed in beer, tomatoes and shallots with garlic toast. Steamy broth with a beer base is more simpatico than wine. (I do shrimp in beer, best thing at a raunch bar in Pittsburgh before I was old enough to drink. Peel, dunk, salt, pepper.) MFA's wine maestro has high-price mystery drinks: a 'special white' and 'special red.' I pocket the wine list.

Hamburger is termed Black Angus, but I'm not sure. It's okay, faintly institutional. Ketchup comes in tiny cups; you know, so you feel weird asking for more. What, are bottles traife? Fear of carbs so no roll or chips. Service is prompt and you could, if you want, be in and out in no time. We linger though it's clear they want our seats. I'm not sure why, no one is waiting.

burger venus We started with food, which we recommend, to avoid a bad case of museum-itis. Now, it's art. As we leave the atrium, who do we find? Someone with no fear of carbs (right) in an alcove on the stairs. We see Monet, why we're here, in a room smaller than you might guess, but still great. Mostly, we wander and it turns out we like the same stuff. Just as Julie says 'let's go,' I see an arrow pointing to contemporary. Five more minutes? It's here we find the pièce de résistance. It's an exhibit called TechStyle that explores the synergy and outer banks between fashion and technology. Until today tech style only meant hoodies and denim. Not any more.

suit on steroids needles The MFA calls it "clothing that interacts with the wearer in conceptual and practical ways." If you ever wanted to light up a room, walk this way. Here's a suit on steroids beautifully cut (left) with a rose scarf. The twinkles, those are lights. The white dress, not sure what the shiny is. What's sticking out is not tinsel or plastic, it's needles. I imagine it's hard to sit, and I imagine I'll be too busy to worry about sitting. (by Ying Gao, Incertitudes Ensemble, 2014)

chiffon chiffon a la mod How about black chiffon? I want it. It's the "CuteCircuit MFA Dress, by Francesca Rosella and Ryan Genz commissioned for the museum and made from “Magic Fabric” with more than 10,000 LEDs." We both want it and I think it would fit me. Maybe Julie will let me borrow it after her recital. Just because someone's in tee shirts and jeans, that would be me, doesn't mean we don't know haute couture.

petal dress Nervous System’s Kinematic Petal Dress (in pink) "is the first flexible 3D-printed garment, ready to wear right out of the printer." It beckons for a touch or a squeeze. Thanks to Haley ED Houseman for her story in for clothing notes and artist credit.

We find John Singer Sargent to visit Mrs. Fiske Warren and her daughter Rachel, 1903. It turns out Sargent had set them up in Fenway Court at the Gardner palace, her home at the time, before it became the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

ms warren There is still free admission to the MFA Wednesdays after 4 pm. They work at making it hard to find. Well, that and the menus. Other times, Bank of America will pay your admission if you're one of its customers, the first full weekend of every month. A real bank perk through its Museums on Us ® program. Go.

Museum of Fine Arts
New American Café
465 Huntington Ave
Boston, MA 02115
617. 267. 9300

© August 15, 2016 Kitty Kaufman is a writer in Boston. More adventures at Corporate Edge: Let's eat and follow Kitty on Twitter
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