Let’s face it: museum food isn’t exactly held in high regard. It tends to be overpriced and just plain bad, but all that exploring and museum wandering often leaves us hungry and desperate. I find great pleasure in finding museums with good quality when I travel, which is one of the reasons why I adore Seattle's Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum.
Located in the Seattle Center (home of the Space Needle and Experience Music Project), this two-year-old museum is a bright addition to the campus. It houses the work of acclaimed glass artist Dale Chihuly—who creates whimsical, renowned glass creations. A short walk through the museum reveals Washington-native Chihuly’s work in stages—from his days as a young artist in Venice to intricate pieces that complement the colors in the flower garden. And Chihuly’s life spills into the on-site restaurant The Collections Cafe too. The Tacoma-native artist’s nick knack “collections” are everywhere throughout the restaurant. Think bottle openers, vintage radios, old cameras and even accordions hanging from the ceiling. But even with the variety of items decorating the museum, it doesn’t feel cluttered. It feels welcoming and homey.
Additionally, the menu is also designed to reflect Chihuly's life. Chihuly spent his early years in Italy learning his craft, so diners can expect to see Italian influences on their plates.
“It has a little bit of a Mediterranean influence and flavors from the East as well, but really kind of inspired by travel as well,” says April Matson, public relations manager for the museum.
Yet the food also has plenty of local flair with the most obvious contribution being seared salmon. Salmon is a staple of the Pacific Northwest region and never fails to be an incredible dish. Another local menu highlight is the Tillamook burger—made with Oregon-based Tillamook cheese. According to Matson, it’s a product many Pacific Northwest residents miss when they leave the area. Although I didn’t get to sample the Tillamook burger, I loved the restaurant’s signature burger called The Burger. It was juicy and tender and just how I like my burgers. I also enjoyed the hearty and dynamic pear and brie ravioli.
Must-try appetizers include the cheese curds. Made with Seattle’s notable Beecher’s Flagship cheese, these are crispy, but not greasy at all—a common cheese curd flaw. The Mediterranean influence is apparent in the gambas small plate, seared prawns topped with smoked paprika, chili flakes and sherry resting on top of grilled sourdough. This savory and lightly spiced dish even reminded me of my summer spent in Spain it tasted so authentic.
The drink menu also keeps it local. Most of the beer and wine hails from either Washington or Oregon—reminding patrons of the region’s strong craft beer and wine cultures. If you’re looking for a non-alcoholic drink with a twist, try one the lemonade infusions. The strawberry lavender and honey cucumber are sure to delight your senses, and maybe even remind you of a spa.
If you’d rather not pay museum admission fees (although you should go), you can just visit the restaurant on its own. And this is one museum restaurant that I’d recommend you visit.
Teresa K. Tobat is a travel writer and editor based out of the Washington, D.C. area. View her website at teresaktobat.com. Follow her tweets @ttobat88.