Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Dish on Dining: Legion of Honor Café

This is the second in a series of special posts this week looking at cafés at some of San Francisco’s major museums.

Food is No Match for the Picturesque Settings
Lincoln Park near 34th Avenue and Clement Street, San Francisco
Café hours: Tue.–Sun., 9:30 a.m.–4 p.m.
Access: Enter main museum entrance and pay $10 deposit (same price as an adult admission) and you get 40 minutes to eat in the café downstairs. Then return to the front to get your $10 back.
Major credit cards accepted

When I went to the Legion of Honor’s Web site to find out more about its café, the page said to come to the café and enjoy “a coffee break, lunch, or afternoon tea” with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge. The idea of afternoon tea on a beautiful weekend day was enough to convince me to catch the BART and transfer to two MUNI buses to get to the Legion—one of my favorite and probably most photographed museum in the city.

After paying my admission (you can also just leave a deposit if you’re only going to the café), I headed downstairs to the café. Ironically, I noticed that the menu was printed on the same paper as the menu I found at the de Young café at Golden Gate Park. And as I read the menu, it was very similar if not identical to what the de Young served. So basically, whatever I said yesterday about the food at the de Young will probably apply to the Legion.

Turns out the Legion of Honor is in the same family of museums as the de Young. (The group is called the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.) So it’s probably no surprise that the group hired the same catering company to operate its museum cafés, the Bon Appétit Management Co.

As I tried to decide what I was going to order, I was really disappointed to see that there weren’t any special items for “afternoon tea.” I was expecting a nice assortment of teas and maybe some scones or tea sandwiches. Instead, it was the typical salads, soups, sandwiches and entrees like the de Young and a box of tea bags from Peet’s Coffee and Tea.

While I was standing in line, the person in front of me ordered a Caprese salad, which is made at the counter as you wait. I wasn’t in the mood for salad, but I have to say the heirloom tomatoes looked so brilliantly red that I had to sneak a photo of it.

For myself, I ended up ordering the Summer Pasta entrée, which wasn’t on the de Young café menu. I got a cup of hot water for my peppermint tea from Peet’s, took my number and found a seat by the window. (It was too cold to sit outside, and I wasn’t the only one who avoided the garden terrace with a very minimal view of the Golden Gate Bridge past the wall and tall trees.)

The café itself is tastefully decorated with a contemporary vibe. But it had this tired feel to it, like the bus boys weren’t really wiping down the tables very well. To top it off, I realized my cup was surrounded with grime after I had already dunked my tea bag into the hot water. (It wasn’t just one lipstick mark; it was several spots all over the cup!)

After getting another cup of tea, I waited for my pasta. When it arrived, it came in the same tilting bowl as my soup at the de Young. The Summer Pasta was linguine topped with toybox squash, cherry tomatoes, sweet corn and some herbs in a light extra virgin olive oil sauce. It came with three slices of French baguette that had very slight smudges of what looked like cheddar cheese.

The pasta was conflicted—the linguine was overcooked to the point of being plump and soggy while the vegetable blend was a refreshing taste of summer. I was so angry that they couldn’t cook the pasta right in order for me to enjoy the freshness of the vegetables, which provided a natural juice as the sauce for the dish. I envied the guy who was smart to just order the Caprese salad. I mean, how wrong can you go with brilliantly red heirloom tomatoes, mozzarella and basil with just a drizzle of olive oil?

The Legion of Honor café, obviously, offers the same menu as the de Young. How it differs, IMHO, is in the execution and the overall tired feeling of the room, which unfortunately could be a sign of the times for this older museum. The museum itself is still one of my favorites for its art collection and beautiful surroundings, but the café can only be counted on for its salads or sandwiches. That’s unfortunate since the museum is up a hill and you’re far from any other alternatives for food.

You’d think I would give the Legion the same rating as the de Young since it’s run by the same catering company. But I’m dinging it a notch because of the overall lack in execution. If you’re looking for a Fine Arts Museum café, just stick with the de Young.

Single Guy’s Museum Food Rating: 2.5 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

Legion of Honor Cafe in San Francisco

Special tips when visiting:
For the summer, the Legion of Honor is offering “Summer Sunday Brunch” and the month of September will feature live jazz performances from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. It’s a prix fixe menu for a steep $48 for nonmembers (but that includes admission to the galleries after brunch). After my experience, I can’t say I would recommend it. But if Sunday brunch with jazz at a museum sounds fun to you, check out the calendar.

Now on view:
“Rembrandt to Thiebaud: A Decade of Collecting Works on Paper” is a special exhibition of the museum’s vast graphics collection that’s part of the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts. The exhibit is currently running until Oct. 7. My favorite piece of the collection is this one by pop artist Wayne Thiebaud called “Watermelon Slice and Knife.” Isn’t it perfect for foodies?

1 comment:

Chubbypanda said...

Sad pasta makes for sad pandas.