THE ISABELLA STEWART Gardner Museum is unique, eclectic, and highly personal. Now it’s getting a culinary makeover to match. With chef Peter Crowley at the helm, the new Cafe G opens Jan. 19.
Crowley has been at the museum for a decade, but until now, his efforts were curtailed by the kitchen’s limitations: a few small electric burners and one electric convection oven. With new facilities in the Renzo Piano-designed expansion, “it’s like a cloud nine situation every day,’’ he says.
The cafe is enclosed by three glass walls, allowing patrons to look out at the garden. There is also a patio set among lush plantings.
As for the menu, there will be small plates such as deviled eggs with Old Bay; apple salad with lychee, bacon, and sriracha dressing; and the cheesy, creamy French potato dish called tartiflette. Main dishes might include a grilled Comte cheese sandwich with frisee, fennel, and pear salad; caramelized sea scallops with butternut squash puree and salsa verde; or braised pork shoulder with shiitake mushrooms, rutabaga, and pearl onions.
For dessert, there’s caramelized hazelnut meringue with blood orange and hibiscus, banana bread pudding with spiced rum caramel, and warm cinnamon doughnuts with Champagne creme anglaise - a nod to the museum’s history. It is said that when it opened on Jan. 1, 1903, Isabella Stewart Gardner served guests champagne and doughnuts.
Cafe G serves beer and wine, with off-the-list wine selections offered on chalkboards in the dining room, “priced for value,’’ says Crowley.
The restaurant will regularly offer special menus inspired by its history, collection, special exhibits, and horticulture. In the first, Crowley has reinterpreted a Christmas meal Gardner once served, handwritten in the recipe book her mother gave her as a wedding present. Cafe G’s version includes Cape Cod oyster stew, rosemary roasted Vermont quail with kumquat glaze and red wine sauce, and, of course, the cinnamon doughnuts.
“I try to describe this experience as being more personalized,’’ Crowley says, “a level of hospitality and service uncommon in a museum setting. We want to try to really take it to another level.’’