The Modern, NYC
August 14, 2007
Linda and I went to a “Saturday Members Night” at The Museum of Modern Art on August 11, 2007. There was a big crowd, mostly young, in the garden and the lobby, where music was blasting. There were four or five free bars scattered about. We took the elevator right up to the fifth floor, where we were alone among the familiar Cézanne, van Gogh, Picasso and Matisse paintings. Eventually some other viewers came by. We went down to the garden and had a glass of pinot grigio as we wandered through the crowd around the huge Richard Serra curved metal “sculptures.”
Then we went into the museum’s restaurant, Danny Meyer’s The Modern, for our 7:30 reservation. We had to wait a few minutes in the bar in front and ordered a glass of Billecart-Salmon, Champagne Brut and a glass of Chasselas, Domaine Paul Blanck, Alsace 2006, which was delicious. We were quickly seated at a table by the window looking onto the sculpture garden. The dining room is much quieter than the bar with well-spaced tables and big flower arrangements.
Our aperitifs were brought in; a plate of hors d’oeuvres (arugula quiche, pineapple balls and radish mint ravioli) arrived with a glass of roasted fava beans.
For $85 one gets a three course menu with a lot of little extras. There are also two tasting menus: the Chef’s Tasting Menu at $125 (+$95 with wine pairings;) or the Early Summer Tasting Menu at $138 (+$105 with wine pairings.) The latter looked very interesting, but we had been dining out a lot during my birthday week and decided to try it another time.
The wine list is extensive, varied and quite expensive. We ordered a bottle of 2000 Talley Vineyard (Arroyo Grande Valley) Rincon Pinot Noir. It was a big flavorful wine in the California style and went well with the fairly robust food which followed.
The amuse-gueule was fluke tartare with a buckwheat crisp.
Linda started with the Sweetbread, Rock Shrimp and Scallion Potato “Gâteau” with Banyuls Vinaigrette. It was an intriguing dish, but she would have liked fewer potato slices and more sweetbreads.
My first course was Ravioli of Escargot with Slow Poached Quail Eggs and Florida Frog Legs. This was really excellent with fresh flavors that are not unknown, but which we do not get very often.
Linda continued with the Squab and Foie Gras “Croustillant” with Caramelized Ginger Jus and Farm Vegetables. The meats were nicely done, but the croustillant pastry was chewy.
My main course was the Colorado Lamb Loin Roast Lightly Flavored with Curry, Heirloom Shell Beans, Escarole and Onion Rings, Natural Jus. The lamb loin was wrapped around lamb sweetbreads with small pieces of lamb loin and a spinach layer. The sauce, which was spooned on just after I took the photo, had overpowering curry; it was accentuated and made bitter by an inexplicable dose of lemon juice or vinegar.
The pre-dessert was soothing spoonsful of lime gelée with a sorbet and strawberries.
Linda finished with a warm fig tarte and sorbet. She thought it was delicious.
A tray of mignardises, a box of chocolates and a cone with fromage blanc and strawberry ended the meal. As we left, the receptionist handed us a little cake in cellophane for our breakfast, a Danny Meyer signature.
Gary and Varian ate here almost two years ago and their blog post was favorable. The Modern has a star in the NYC Michelin Guide and is the sixteenth most popular restaurant in the city in Zagats. We did not think this meal measured up to these ratings. My first course, both the desserts and most of the little extras were one-star quality, but the other three courses were not. The ambiance and service were nice. Our bill, tax and tip included, was just over $200 each. Linda put it: “The Modern seems to be more of a destination than a fine restaurant.”
I couldn’t help but be annoyed by the Richard Serra invasion of the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden. She was a driving force behind the establishment of The Museum of Modern Art to exhibit what was then known as “Modern Art.” MoMA’s first exhibition was in November 1929, displaying paintings by Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cezanne, and Seurat. MoMA went on to establish a great collection of their successors, particularly Matisse and Picasso; it followed the great movements of the first third of the twentieth century, such as Cubist and Futurist art, depicting real forms in a simplified or reduced way, sometimes only keeping an allusion to the object. The idea was to capture something of the depicted objects’ intrinsic qualities rather than just their appearance.
The ultimate piece of Modern Art, Brancusi’s Fish, which portays the essence of a fish in total simplification, is now in its own space on the fifth floor, the ghetto into which the art which MoMA was founded to display is now confined.
Fashionable art moved on, but the change was not an evolution. Abstract Expressionism, which dominated the New York art scene after the Second World War, was not at all a continuation of prewar trends. By omitting the object it rejected the whole point of Modern Art. It did pick up from older decorative art traditions, which may explain its popularity. But the obvious consequence for the MoMA was ignored. With non-objective art dominating galleries, the auctions and the art press, it was clear that if the MoMA tried to have a definitive collection of postwar art, its original mission would be submerged. That is what has happened. If the trustees preferred contemporary art, that is their taste, but they should have started a new museum instead of destroying what had already been built up.
Recently the destruction has become worse. For example, in 2005 when MoMA “deaccessioned” one of the finest works by Théo van Rysselberghe, a key painter of its seminal period, it announced: “The van Rysselberghe is very good, but that early part of our collection we don’t wish to develop.” And so the art which the museum was founded to display sits in the basement in New York, or is sold off. We think it is really an outrage. Abby Rockefeller would be furious.