Over Labor Day weekend Jack and I spent a fabulous afternoon at the recently revamped San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), followed by a delicious lunch at In Situ, the museum’s highly acclaimed new restaurant. In Situ’s head chef Corey Lee knows a thing or two about fine dining: he is chef/owner of three star Michelin restaurant Benu, and was previously the head chef at The French Laundry. The concept behind In Situ is as follows: “Like SFMOMA brings together a dynamic collection of artists, we have assembled a display of dishes from chefs and restaurants around the world.” The menu includes standout dishes from some of the best restaurants across the globe; it truly feels like a museum for food. It’s no wonder that a recent New York Times article described In Situ as “America’s Most Original New Restaurant.”
It’s pretty tough to snag a dinner reservation at In Situ these days, but our 1pm lunch reservation worked perfectly with our first visit to the SFMOMA since it reopened in May (the museum was closed for three years while it was expanded to roughly double its size). In preparation for our visit, I reached out to a friend who works at the museum to see if she had any tips. I really appreciated her advice to not try to see everything in one visit; she explained that the new SFMOMA is huge, and if you try to get through each show, you will likely shortchange your experience.
A map of the museum is available when you buy your tickets on the 2nd floor (entrance is $25 for adults). My friend recommended starting at the top (7th floor) and stopping at the specific shows we wanted to see as we made our way down to the 1st floor. She suggested taking the elevator to the 7th floor, then using the stairs to come down, as the stairs highlight the architecture of the building. My friend shared her favorite art exhibits: “the 6th floor Fisher Family galleries, the British sculpture show on 5, the Campaign for Art installation in the “old” galleries on 4 (huge and varied installation), and the Calder gallery on 3.” Jack and I also really enjoyed the two photo shows on 3 (some great old photos of The West). We also enjoyed the living wall and outdoor gallery space on 3. My friend mentioned that the museum has a free smartphone app that has great walkthroughs on it that you can use with your headphones.
In Situ has two different spaces for dining: the Lounge features a selection of snacks, sweets, and beverages, while the Dining Room serves a lengthier menu. We opted for the Dining Room. The menu has a variety of differently sized items, all intended for sharing. Wines are offered by the glass, carafe, and bottle, and the menu has a nice key that tells you which beverages go with each dish (it was quite pricey, though!) We started with the Wasabi Lobster with mango jelly, Thai vinaigrette, and wasabi marshmallow ($24), created by Tim Raue at Restaurant Tim Raue in Berlin, Germany in 2013. This dish was fantastic; we’ve developed a very expensive hobby of ordering lobster lately, and this was definitely up there as one of the better preparations. The lobster was cooked to perfection and encrusted with a wasabi sauce and what appeared to be Rice Krispies. The flavors were a perfect blend of sweet, salty, and spicy, with the delicate crunch of the toasted rice cereal. It was relatively small in size, but it packed a big punch flavor-wise.
We also started with the Octopus and Coral, which consisted of braised octopus and seaweed (described as spicy) ($28) by Virgilio Martinez for Central in Lima Peru in 2014 (currently the 4th Best Restaurant in the World). This was a really fun dish for us to enjoy, as we had just eaten the original version when we visited Central in July of this year. This is a killer dish – octopus cooked perfectly, with a rich umami sauce, crunchy seaweed, served with an octopus broth. It was incredible, though Jack felt like it was missing something when compared to the original; however, it was difficult to compare without eating them side by side. It was definitely delicious.
For our second course we ordered the Umami Soup with miso-marinated wagyu beef, asparagus noodles, and Inaniwa udon noodles by Hisato Nakahigashi at Miyamasou in Kyoto, Japan in 2015. This was one of the pricier dishes ($38) due to the quality of the beef, but it really paid off. Unfortunately the restaurant will not split this dish into two servings, so we opted for passing it back and forth between the two of us (I did not trust myself to transfer noodle soup into a second bowl at the table). This dish was comforting with a flavorful broth, high quality beef (which was served medium-rare, but quickly cooked through in the hot broth), and a nice blend of asparagus and udon noodles. It didn’t feel as heavy as a traditional udon soup, since half the noodles were actually thinly sliced asparagus.
By far my favorite dish of the afternoon was the Spicy Pork Sausage Rice Cakes with sichuan peppercorn and yu choy (rapeseed) ($22) by David Change of Momofuku Ssäm Bar in New York City in 2007. This was one of my favorite dishes that I’ve had so far this year. The “rice cakes” turned out to be gnocchi-like dumplings that were creamy/sticky on the inside and really crispy/chewy on the outside. It was a killer texture. It was topped with spicy pork, sliced scallions, and crispy shallots. I could eat this all day long. I’m already trying to figure out when I can stop by again just to get this dish. Just beware of the Bird’s Eye chili peppers throughout the dish – I picked them out before I started eating, as I’ve accidentally eaten one before and I’m not making that mistake again!
We were torn over what to order for dessert. We were tempted to try the Oops! I Dropped the Lemon Tart by Massimo Bottura at Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy in 2012 (currently the Best Restaurant in the World), as we ate that when we visited Modena last June. But we had seen pictures of the dessert at In Situ called “Interpretation of Vanity” on Yelp and had to try it – it was a moist chocolate cake with cold almond cream, bubbles, and cocoa by Antoni Luis Aduriz at Mugaritz in Errenteria, Spain in 2007 (currently the 7th Best Restaurant in the World). As you may know by this point, I’m not a huge fan of chocolate desserts in fancy restaurants; they tend to be too rich for my taste, not balanced enough. This dish fell into that category for me, but it was so beautiful and unique that I’m glad I tried it anyway. It was creamy, rich, and chocolatey – a chocolate lover’s dream.
As you can tell by reading this blog, Jack and I eat out a lot. It is a hobby, something that brings us pleasure and provides entertainment. The downside to eating out often and trying a lot of new restaurants is that the bar is set very high and there are bound to be a few disappointments. Lately we’ve had a few rather expensive “misses” in the city. However, In Situ was a pleasant surprise: it was pleasing in every way. Everything we ordered was outstanding, and I left dreaming about the Momofuku dish. This is why I eat out, for experiences like this. I look forward to returning and trying the other dishes on the menu; if they come close in taste and quality to the ones we’ve already tried I will not be disappointed.
In Situ: www.insitu.sfmoma.org Phone: (415) 941-6050 Address: 151 Third Street, San Francisco, CA 94103, Floor 1. Hours: Lunch Thursday–Tuesday, 11 a.m.–4 p.m; Dinner Thursday–Sunday, 5–9 p.m; Closed Wednesday. Reservations: Dining Room: parties of 8 or fewer (groups of 5-8 will be seated at the communal table). Lounge: some seats set aside for walk-ins; reservations available for parties of 6 or fewer. Large Groups: contact the restaurant regarding availability for parties of 9 or more guests.