Thursday, August 30, 2007

Dish on Dining: Caffè Museo

This is the fourth and final post in my special series looking at the cafés at major San Francisco museums.

A space for art, more than food, at this SOMA café
151 Third St., San Francisco
SOMA district in front of the SFMOMA
Café hours: 10 a.m.–6 p.m., daily except Wednesdays; open till 9 p.m. Thursdays.
Access: Separate entrance right off street, no need to enter museum.
Major credit cards accepted

Of all the museum cafés I’ve been visiting this summer, Caffè Museo at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art comes the closest to resembling a true sidewalk café. Anyone who’s walked by the SFMOMA building across from the Yerba Buena Gardens in the South of Market area of the city can attest to the crowds generally found sipping coffee or tea in the café’s outdoor seating.

Not surprisingly, the café has a strong Italian influence but serves up dishes with seasonal California ingredients. The space is operated by Real Restaurants, whose other eateries include Betelnut on Union Street and Caffè Verbena in Downtown Oakland.

I liked how the front counter is organized so that there are clear lines and more than one cashier to help you, which probably is nice at crowded times. The menu includes a variety of panini sandwiches ($9.50), pizza of the day ($8.50), salads ($10.95), pastas and other entrees ($11 to $14). They also serve wine, coffee and cappuccino.

The décor inside is nicely suited to the museum’s modern tones, with contemporary art accenting the blond wood walls. My only gripe was that some of the tables weren’t as clean, which seems to be a problem among museum cafés.

I visited Caffè Museo one day after work, so I got an early dinner. I started with the special soup of the day, Potato Leek ($6), and ordered the Pan-fried Crab Cake on Flat Bread ($12.95).

The soup was served with this huge cornbread stick and was drizzled with truffle oil. I thought the soup was average, maybe slightly bland. I barely made out the added leek or truffle oil flavorings. It seemed to be mostly a potato puree.

The crab cakes came on this large plate of flat bread topped with a green salad with radishes and cherry tomatoes. The crab cakes were nicely done, but again, nothing spectacular. It was filling and had a straight-forward vinaigrette dressing. Although, I did find it hard to eat the crab cake plus salad on top of the flat bread.

Caffè Museo offers a decent selection of food that’s efficiently prepared, but I wouldn’t go as far as describing it as restaurant food like how it does on its own Web site. The space is a nice environment with the jazz music flowing, but the food, while decent, doesn’t match the same sophistication as the art on the walls.

Single Guy’s Museum Food Rating: 3 stars
(note this rating system different than my regular Dish on Dining reviews)

Explanation of this special museum rating:
1 star:
Exhibition should be closed
2 star: Stuck in the permanent collection
3 star: Satisfying like Monet
4 star: Fresh like a special exhibit
5 star: Unique like the Mona Lisa

Caffe Museo in San Francisco

Special tips when visiting:
Admission is free on the first Tuesday of the month and is half-priced after 6 p.m. on Thursday nights.

Now on view:
"Matisse: Painter as Sculptor"—I love the paintings of Matisse, with his whimsical colors and aggressive strokes. So I was surprised to see that he also did many mini sculptures of his work that translated into paintings. The SFMOMA currently has an exhibition exploring this connection between sculptures and paintings in this look at the two sides of Matisse. Exhibit closes on Sept. 16.

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