Dinner and a Show: Our Ten Favorite Museum and Restaurant Pairings


Maybe you can relate — pretty much any intention we make to go out and get some “cultah” requires an accompanying meal plan. How else to fortify the body while stimulating the mind? For your consideration, here are ten of our favorite museum + eating pairings.

Santina + the Whitney
The ever-evolving meatpacking district, barely registering in the city’s collective memory as the zone for the actual packing of meat and more recently associated with debauched nightlife, has received several reputation-improving upgrades of late. First, the Whitney Museum of American Art (99 Gansevoort Street; 212-570-3600), colloquially known as “The Whitney,” has classed up a previously desolate corner of Gansevoort Street. And now locals and tourists alike who’ve descended in droves to appreciate the Whitney’s collection of 20th- and 21st-century art — or, rather, to Instagram themselves feigning to — can relieve their museum backsides over a glass of Ligurian vermentino at nearby Santina. Another hit from the seemingly can’t-miss restaurateur trio of Mario Carbone, Rich Torrisi, and Jeff Zalaznick, Santina (820 Washington Street; 212-254-3000) evokes the Italian seaside with its mood-lifting aqua-and-tangerine awnings, endless service of basil bellinis, and waiters garbed in breezy uniforms. Despite the mobs, the glass-box space manages to lull guests into a semi-relaxed state with its transporting atmosphere and vibrant food. The menu, dominated by seafood and vegetables, draws heavily from Italy’s coastal communities. Highlights include cecina, a thin Tuscan chickpea-flour pancake available with different toppings, and the spaghetti blue crab, a specialty of the “soul” of the boot. (Lauren Mowery)

Read Zachary Feldman’s review of Santina

The Islands + the Brooklyn Museum
A mere hundreds yards from the Brooklyn Museum (200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn; 718-638-5000)The Islands (803 Washington Avenue, Brooklyn; 718-398-3575) serves the best Caribbean food to be found just about anywhere in town. The hole-in-the-wall restaurant serves authentic and downright delicious classics, from fiery jerk chicken to elegant calypso shrimp and fresh curried goat. Open from noon to 11 p.m., it’s a great stop before or after checking out the latest exhibition or show. Pro tip: If the weather gods are making it marvelous, order your food to go and enjoy it while parked upon one of Prospect Park’s many nearby benches. (Kevin Kessler)

Jams + Museum of Arts and Design
A visit to the Museum of Arts and Design could get you thinking about how contemporary artists, crafters, and designers have influenced the way the world looks right now, how their innovations have shaped our perspective and influenced style, form, and function. In much the same way, a visit to Jams by Jonathan Waxman in the 1 Hotel (1414 Avenue of the Americas; 212-703-2001), an homage to Waxman’s Upper East Side restaurant from the Eighties, could stir up a hunger for the craft of cooking.

At the original Jams, Waxman blazed the path to baby vegetables, wood-fire roasting, and oversize white plates. He pioneered the movement in NYC — still going strong —for farm-to-table, Cal-Italian inspired food.

The interior of the restaurant, which opened late this summer, has an earthy-modern vibe, with concrete floors, a neutral color scheme, and textural elements — white oak, natural fibers, clay — in the furniture and dinnerware. The food reflects the organic West Coast–meets-Manhattan mantra of the décor: vegetable salads, short rib tacos, seasonal pastas and risottos, and main courses from the charcoal grill and plancha like duck breast with nectarine and grilled scallions, NY steak with bone marrow and purslane, and a roasted chicken with tarragon butter. Seating at the bar affords a view of the open kitchen and dining room, and access to the full menu. (Karen Tedesco)

The New Amity Restaurant + the Met
The Metropolitan Museum of Art (1000 Fifth Avenue; 212-535-7710), in the midst of the western reaches of the Upper East Side, is both monumental and classically elegant, much like the neighborhood it calls home. To experience the full UES treatment, it’s best to head where the locals do: to one of the many old-school diners that pock the area. The New Amity Restaurant (1134 Madison Avenue; 212-861-3255) is one of the best. At this classic diner, you can order just about anything your heart sings for, from fresh lox-and-onion omelets to juicy medium-rare burgers to double-decker club sandwiches. The place is a trip — whether you sit in one of the many green-leather booths or at the few counter spots in back, chances are you’ll be rubbing shoulders with old ladies in mink coats and their (even older) husbands in Vineyard Vines. Insiders know to eat at the counter, where the service is always better. (Kessler)

Café Sabarsky + Neue Galerie

A Fifth Avenue view overlooking Central Park usually comes with an eight-figure price tag. But Café Sabarsky (1048 Fifth Avenue; 212-288-0665), open six days a week and located inside the Neue Galerie, provides that and more, with a dining experience not to be found elsewhere. Designed like a Viennese café from the early 1900s, the spot serves excellent Bavarian fare for breakfast, lunch, and dinner — from marillenpalatschinken (crepes filled with apricot preserves) in the morning to roasted bratwurst with riesling sauerkraut in the evenings. After experiencing New York’s premier collection of German and Austrian art, there’s nothing like taking in the view while slowly sipping a perfectly made Viennese coffee served on a silver tray. (Kessler)

Freemans + the New Museum
As even a first-time visitor to NYC could surmise, the New Museum (235 Bowery; 212-219-1222) is all about appreciating and experiencing living in the now. New art. New artists. New ideas that may or may not be considered art years later but are pretty cool to look at nevertheless. That’s why one of the best places to eat nearby isn’t so much a hot new joint with more buzz than a beehive, but a neighborhood stalwart that will have you musing that this feels very…familiar. The owners of Freemans (Freeman Alley at Rivington Street; 212-420-0012), who decided in 2004 that a small, graffiti-filled alleyway tucked in the shadows of the Bowery would be the perfect spot for a colonial-style tavern, serve American food at its finest. Ipswich clam fritters, Cobb salad, and classic cocktails designed to be enjoyed at any hour of the day are all a person needs for sustenance whilst engaging in obligatory après-museum dinner conversation (e.g., WTF did I just pay to see?). Though art can be confusing, Freemans is not — save for the occasional patron’s wardrobe choice. You’ll be thankful the restaurant’s idea of interior design is a stuffed animal head and that lively chatter is the modus operandi, as opposed to silent contemplation — though the latter is perfectly acceptable for those who order a skillet of the restaurant’s mac ‘n’ cheese. (Billy Lyons)

Fette Sau + City Reliquary
From photos of Brooklyn Dodgers legend Jackie Robinson to the pre-MetroCard antiquities known as subway tokens, a floor of ancient items at City Reliquary (370 Metropolitan Avenue) has grown to include modern-day student exhibits from nearby P.S.132, not to mention rotating community collections. The mix of old and new is a theme you’ll want to continue after stepping out the door, where nearby barbecue joint Fette Sau (354 Metropolitan Ave, Brooklyn; 718-963-3404) permits you to taste the exhibit behind the glass. Giant cuts of brisket, ribs, and Berkshire pork, piled high on metal trays, reward your patience, while hearty potato salad and baked beans ensure no vegan goes hungry. If you’ve worked up a powerful thirst after a long day of museum squinting, grab a stool at the bar and enjoy a craft beer from taps shaped like butcher knives — they just might make their way down the block one day. (Lyons)

Russ & Daughters Cafe + the Tenement Museum
Take one of the handful of tours offered at the Tenement Museum (108 Orchard Street; 212-982-8420) and prepare to become fully immersed in nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century life on the Lower East Side. From 1863 until the early 1930s, more than 7,000 working-class immigrants lived in the building while working, raising families, and assimilating. The five-story building houses three-room apartments that have been preserved like time capsules, offering a perspective on the origins of present-day New York City and its inhabitants. Just a block away, Russ & Daughters Cafe (127 Orchard Street; 212-475-4881), newly opened in 2014, is a sit-down adjunct to the landmark appetizing shop around the corner on East Houston (Russ & Daughter, which Joel Russ, a Polish immigrant, opened in 1914). It seems to make sense to continue the thread of history on the L.E.S. by finding a table in the café, which is designed to look like a cool, streamlined soda fountain from the art deco era. The café is open weekdays (except Tuesdays) from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and on weekends from 8 a.m. till 10 p.m. Nosh on an open-face smoked-salmon sandwich on toasted shissel rye or pumpernickel; feast on blini with a flight of caviar; or perk up post-tour with “Schmaltz & a Shot”: schmaltz herring with boiled potato, onion, and a shot of vodka. A full cocktail menu is available, as well as a selection of nonalcoholic seltzers with homemade syrups. And authentic egg creams! (Tedesco)

Tacuba Mexican Cantina + Museum of the Moving Image
Last year the neighborhood surrounding the Kaufman Film Studios in Astoria was designated an official arts district. New eateries have been popping up ever since, and the best so far may well be Tacuba Mexican Cantina (35-01 36th Street, Queens; 718-786-2727), located just around the corner from the Museum of the Moving Image (36-01 35th Avenue, Queens; 718-777-6800). Take in a screening or stroll through the fascinating permanent collection of film and television artifacts, then grab lunch. The restaurant is helmed by Julian Medina, who has built a mini-empire in Manhattan with his taqueria, Toloache; the pan-Latin Yerba Buena; and Coppelia, an all-hours upscale diner. Tacuba hews closely to Toloache’s style: Its capacious casual dining room is outfitted with Día de Muertos décor, and the menu covers cantina classics, plus a few surprises. There’s street food like elote (an ear of corn slathered with mayo and cotija cheese) and a variety of tacos served in soft corn tortillas. A standout is the pulpo y chorizo, a satisfying melding of tender octopus and savory Mexican sausage enlivened by pickled red onions. For something more unusual (to American palates), order tacos filled with chapulines — those would be grasshoppers. The dish, a specialty of Oaxaca, comes topped with guacamole to modulate the crunch. Wash it down with a beverage from the extensive tequila list. (Alanna Schubach)

Mozzarella & Vino + MoMA
Midtown Manhattan seems like a canyon of culture and shopping, but dining options in the neighborhood tend to skew toward the polished (and pricey) or the Irish-pub-like. And post-brunch on a Sunday afternoon is especially limited — many places are closed. Recently, looking for a bite to eat and a glass of wine before a film screening at the museum and coming up empty, we took the advice of a MoMA security guard and headed to Mozzarella & Vino (33 West 54th Street; 646-692-8849), an enoteca tucked into the lower floor of a townhouse just out the back entrance of the museum. We found a refreshingly spare interior with whitewashed brick walls, a compact bar area, and hospitable servers. The menu options revolve around casual charcuterie and cheese plates, salads, antipasti, and uncomplicated desserts, while the wine list features pours from small, independent Italian winemakers. (Tedesco)