Forget about that cheeseburger and iceberg lettuce salad when plotting your next art outing; museum cafés have gone upscale in San Francisco. “The city’s museums now are culinary destinations, offering visitors world-class menus along with their collections,” says Tanya Houseman, media manager for the San Francisco Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.
Celebrity chefs are collaborating with museum kitchens to reinvent menus. Among them, Charles Phan of The Slanted Door offers his spring rolls and steamed buns at the California Academy of Sciences Academy Café, the less formal of that museum’s three restaurants. Wolfgang Puck, whose Postrio restaurant helped usher in San Francisco’s modern era of California cuisine, oversees the fare at the Walt Disney Family Museum, in the Presidio National Park.
Often, dishes are crafted to reflect the museums’ ever-changing exhibits. When the de Young Museum had its King Tut show, the team at the sought after McCalls Catering and Events crafted Middle Eastern fare. At the Museum of Modern Art’s Caffé Museo, specialty Mexican food was the focus during the Frida Kahlo show. Pastry chef Caitlin Freeman’s whimsical desserts pay homage to artists in the permanent collection there, too, such as the Jeff Koons white hot chocolate with gold leaf (inspired by Koons’ Michael Jackson and Bubbles sculpture), the Wayne Thiebaud cake and Richard Diebenkorn trifle.
Museum wine lists also reflect the increasing quality of the food. At the Boudin Sourdough Museum’s Bistro Boudin—a sort of restaurant within a museum, or vice versa—the wine list is wide-ranging and upscale, to wash down fancy comfort food, like fish tacos, filet mignon and beef stew, in this fun attraction at Fisherman’s Wharf. In most cases, paid admission to the museum is not required to dine, and not all museum restaurants are open for dinner seven nights a week.