One Traveler's Opinion: Lunch at the Met

Feb 19th, 2008, 11:21 AM
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One Traveler's Opinion: Lunch at the Met

There was a time – back when the Euro was at rough parity with the dollar – when my wife and I used to spend long weekends in New York. We would peruse the internet for bargain hotel rooms and pounce on a good deal for a Friday and Saturday night stay. We often snagged a suite for under $150.

But then came the falling dollar and a crush of European and Asian tourists. Hotels took note and raised rates. Three years ago, we had a one-bedroom suite at the Excelsior for $170. This coming weekend, the same room is $376 plus tax. Au revoir New York hotels.

Instead, we’ve developed a pattern of day trips into the city from our home near Boston. We leave at 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning and can be in Manhattan by 9:30. From there, we have the day in New York. We build days around museums, shopping, and whatever else appeals to us. We leave the city around five.

But such trips can get you into a rut, and a luncheon rut was exactly what was developing. No matter where we were and what we were doing, some time between noon and 2 p.m., we’d somehow find ourselves on the upper west side of Manhattan where we’d make a bee-line for a certain inexpensive Chinese restaurant. The food was good and the prices were very fair… but we never seemed to eat anyplace else (well, once or twice we’d find ourselves in Chinatown and head for a terrific dim sum palace, but you get the idea).

Anyway, when my wife asked me what I wanted for my birthday last year I told her: I wanted to have a full day at the Met…. including lunch.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is not your average museum. It has four restaurants ranging from the Trustees Dining Room to several very nice sit-down establishments. (There was once a cafeteria. It was mercifully gutted and now houses the newly restored Greek, Roman and Etruscan galleries. It is a more than fair exchange.) My wife asked me to choose the restaurant inside this palace of culture.

On a Sunday morning, we set off for New York. The parking gods smiled on us and we found an on-street space just a block from the museum entrance (this is akin to winning the lottery). I spent the morning enjoying ancient Egypt, colonial America and rooms of Baroque pottery I didn’t know exist.

At noon, we presented ourselves at the Petrie Court Café, an airy, glassed-in space at the back of the European Sculpture and Decorative Arts wing of the museum, with a spiffy view of Central Park and Cleopatra’s Needle. We were seated immediately and handed menus. There were very lengthy descriptions for what turned out to be fairly ordinary salads and luncheon dishes. In fact – and I will be blunt here – the view was the best thing about the meal.

The saddest part of the meal was the price. With the dollar as Monopoly money to Europeans, all menu prices were rounded up to the nearest dart board number. Our modest luncheon for two was $62 (that’s Euro 40 to anyone keeping tabs). Had we chosen to have wine with out meal, the price would have topped out over $100. For that we could have eaten eight times at our favorite upper west side Chinese restaurant.

We continued our day at the museum after lunch, seeing the special exhibits and wandering into areas we’d normally never visit. I finally said I was ready to call it quits around 5 p.m. We stopped in at Zabars on our way out of the city and picked up a gourmet repast that we enjoyed at a wayside stop in Connecticut.

We couldn’t help but note that our over-the-top collection of appetizers, entrees, breads and desserts from Zabars had set us back substantially less than our luncheon. My wife asked me if I was disappointed by my birthday at the museum.

Not at all, I told her. It was an education.
Neal_Sanders is offline  
Feb 19th, 2008, 11:38 AM
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Good to know Neal!

Oh we loved the trips to Manhattan, booking an extra room for my Mom, seeing a show, strolling.

Guilty admission: One year we got rooms at the Michelangelo for $190 and brought our Moms to the Producers during Tony Week! After theatre dessert next door in which they met Broderick and Lane we headed back to the lovely lobby. Leaving them chatting into the night in the lobby, we feigned sleep and then snuck out the emergency exit to do the late night Manhattan stroll....

Now we stay at Mom's in Bronxville and either train in for dinner or cocktails, or score on street parking on weekends!

Zabars and a picnic in the park is always a good idea!
Feb 19th, 2008, 01:00 PM
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Hi Neal-
Thank you for the report! I went to the MET this past Sunday too---did you have a chance to see the Jasper Johns exhibit?

I haven't dined at the MET before; I've only grabbed a latte in the cafe on the north side (I think). I think in terms of NYC museums I've heard the best things about the Modern at MOMA. I did have lunch at the Frick a year or two ago and enjoyed the experience but I can't remember much about the food (except that I wasn't disappointed).

I'd be curious to know what other day trips you've taken into the city.

Katie_H is offline  
Feb 19th, 2008, 01:06 PM
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The best museum lunch is at the Neue Gallery---Cafe Sabarsky. Sacher torte to die for.
bugswife1 is offline  
Feb 19th, 2008, 01:46 PM
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We thought lunch at the Ptetie Court cafe was ho hum and overpriced, too, wouldn't willingly do that again. But lunch at MOMA was great--hearty, delicious, fairly priced and in a cool atmosphere.
NewbE is offline  
Feb 19th, 2008, 02:10 PM
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The Frick does not have anyplace to eat in that I am aware of. There is a nice restaurant at the Asia Society which is just East of the Frick at 70th and Park. You can eat there without paying the admission price. I've eaten there several times following a visit to the Frick.
Liz5959 is offline  
Feb 19th, 2008, 03:46 PM
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The Morgan Library also has a very good cafe and a more formal restaurant - but I'm with bugswife and Newbe - Cafe Sabarsky at the Neue Gallery and The Modern (the restaurant in MOMA and even the cafeteria at MOMA are terrific spots to know about.
mp is offline  
Feb 20th, 2008, 03:28 AM
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eeks..Liz you are right. I was thinking of the Morgan Library.
Katie_H is offline  
Feb 20th, 2008, 05:08 AM
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When at the Met we always eat in the cafeteria downstairs. They have a selection of hot and cold dishes -- pasta, panini, salads and a grill. Not saying it's gourmet but it is way more than adequate. (It actually got very good reviews when it opened a few years back.) You can save another $3 a person by drinking the free ice water beyond the registers rather than buying Fuji.
Fra_Diavolo is offline  
Feb 20th, 2008, 06:01 AM
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I like the basement cafeteria, too. After a couple of hours of Art, I need a sensory reprieve.

Anonymous is offline  
Feb 20th, 2008, 06:24 AM
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I fondly remember my sister and I taking a break from playing hosts to relatives in the cafe at MOMA. I love MOMA, but we both thought that our sanity would be better preserved sharing a quick pint there.
Katie_H is offline  
Feb 20th, 2008, 06:42 AM
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Thanks for the report.

As a member of the Met, I visit there quite often (have to make the membership pay for itself), and have not yet eaten there.

Nearby, on Madison Avenue, a couple of short blocks away, is a plethora of great places to eat, not the least of which is Pastrami Queen, which has one of the top ten pastrami sandwiches in Manhattan.

Of course, it's different when you are coming from across the pond, but every euro counts.
gb944 is offline  
Feb 22nd, 2008, 07:30 AM
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Katie, my apology for replying through my post rather than directly, but the Fodors' website doesn't provide a means of getting messages to editors.

You inquired about other day trips to New York City. Here are a couple:

1) The New York Botanical Garden and Wave Hill. They're only a couple of miles from one another in the Bronx and they comprise a very pleasurable day. For those who don't know Wave Hill, it's a park at the Hudson River at 242nd Street, a roughly ten acre one-time private estate maintained through a private foundation but operated by the city. The gardens are stunning and the views would lead you to believe you're somewhere far from any city.

NYBG should be a stop on any tour of New York. It show what can be done with a garden (200+ acres) when Money Is No Object. The Enid Haupt Conservatory is worth a visit all by itself, but the grounds are magnificent. (And, the Orchid Show opens this weekend.)

2) The Brooklyn Museum of Art and Brooklyn Botanic Garden. They're adjacent to one another just off Grand Army Plaza and the main parking lot for the museum is just steps from one of the entrances to the garden.

BMA gets short shrift as a museum because of its proximity to the Met, but in any other city it would shine. The Egyptian collection is one of the best in the world as is the American art, especially late 19th and early 20th century. The Brooklyn Botanical Garden is a delight any time of the year, but especially in the spring. We top off visits with a walk through Park Slope and lunch there or in Brooklyn Heights.

3) Chinatown and Tribeca. A great place for walking and, for anyone either not from New York or there after a long absence, a visit to another world.

4) Greenwich Village, SOHO and the West Village. More walking. That fact that it's still there is the wonderful part. Yeah, I know, SOHO is rapidly getting Starbucked, but you can look past that. A New Yorker can't appreciate how special it is to have block after block of foot traffic, small (non-chain) shops and places to sit and watch the passing parade.

Driving into New York for any of the above four day trips on a Saturday or Sunday should necessarily entail a final stop on the way out of the city at the Holy Grail of food, the trifecta of Zabars, H&H Bagels, and Fairway. They don't have stuff like this, not even in Boston, Chicago or LA. We find a meter, feed it for an hour, and walk from one store to another, lugging back bags of everything from Dr. Browns Diet Black Cherry to luscious mangos to sourdough bagels to apricot strudel.

Does that help?
Neal_Sanders is offline  
Feb 22nd, 2008, 07:42 AM
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One of my favorite places in the area of the Metropolitan Museum is Cafe Grazie on 84th b/t 5th and Madison:

Another good choice is Serafina at 79th & Madison. Good wood-grilled pizzas, pastas and salads.

Can you tell I like Italian food??
lisettemac is offline  
Feb 22nd, 2008, 07:56 AM
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It does Neal---thank you! I was curious and assumed others would be too.

I've done your Brooklyn recommendations; you really summed up the Brooklyn Museum in a nice fashion. Have you seen Judy Chicago's "Dinner Party" yet? I think it will remain there permanently.

Soho on a Saturday? You're a brave man. Kidding really, as long as you stay off that bustling stretch of Broadway of big name brand clothing shops. Though I would recommend stopping into the newish UNIQLO store; great place to pick up some affordable basic. The building is neat too:

Alright... sorry to take your thread a little off the subject.

Katie_H is offline  
Feb 22nd, 2008, 08:05 AM
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I would add that, for the budget conscious, both the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and Wave Hill are free on Saturday mornings. Normal admission to BBG is $8, Wave Hill is $6. More information about Wave Hill is available at
Neal_Sanders is offline  
Feb 22nd, 2008, 08:21 AM
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There was an article in yesterdays NY Post about gas going to $4.00 a gallon by Summer. Those day trips are going to get even more expensive.

I agree wholeheartedly that the prices in Manhattan are out of sight. Living here, we experience it on a daily basis, from restaurants, to museums, to department stores, etc.

The only plus regarding the collapse of the Dollar is that our real estate continues to appreciate as it gets snapped up by Europeans and others. Luckily we made our real estate investments in the 1980's and 90's. Probably couldn't afford it today.
Frank is offline  
Feb 22nd, 2008, 09:12 AM
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The Neue cafe is just delightful. We once had fresh pea soup there that we still talk about as if it were the only soup in the world.
cabovacation is offline  
Feb 22nd, 2008, 09:37 AM
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Bugswife had told me to go to the Neue Cafe, but we ended up at the wrong time for lunch -- even then, desserts were wonderful -- and simply spectacular coffee, ala Vienna!

But my splurge museum meal would be at Bar Modern at MOMA. Expensive, but simply great.

I've eaten at the Met a couple of times, and have to say too, nothing has wowed me except the prices.
NeoPatrick is online now  
Feb 24th, 2008, 12:41 PM
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Good timing on this, thanks Neal Sanders. We'll be going to NYC in 2 weeks and it seems that the Met is so large, we thought we'd have to do lunch.

The Brooklyn Museum is high on my list, I'd seen Judy Chicago's Dinner Party in San Francisco way back when and glad to read it has a home.
It will be interesting to see it after so many years.
L84SKY is offline  

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