Friday, May 10, 2013
First look: Cafe 43 at Bush library eviscerates all notions of “museum dining”
If you were thinking stale pastries and lukewarm coffee, you're in for a gleeful surprise.
UNIVERSITY PARK Set upon some of the city's most controversial real estate, Cafe 43 may well become better known as an epicenter of peaceful, easy feelings. One of three dining options at the George W. Bush Presidential Center -- the others are quick-service cafes with light fare -- the full-service, sit-down Cafe 43 serves locally-sourced, organic dishes appointed by master hostess, SMU alumna, and former First Lady Laura Bush.
With an emphasis on freshness, the entrees will change seasonally. But, whatever the menu presents will reflect collaboration between Mrs. Bush, Executive Chef John Maas, and Chef de Cuisine Jason Wade in an effort to present what Maas called "sophisticated, but non-pretentious" varieties. The cafe is open seven days a week -- for lunch on weekdays and brunch on weekends only -- and will also provide space for private events and receptions. Hours are 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily.
During a media preview Thursday, we sampled generous portions of house-made ricotta with tapenade and crostini; hummus with sweet peppers and grilled flat bread; the Texas bibb lettuce salad; hand-cut pappardelle; house-made chocolate ice; and griddled carrot cake. The quality of ingredients and emphasis on freshness seem to ensure that virtually any dish's conception, while perhaps prompted by a changing season, will remain true to Mrs. Bush's vision. And, while the dishes indeed register as sophisticated, or better stated "international" -- one would not envision ricotta and tapenade on a homey dinner table in Midland, Texas, for instance -- the diversity offered is such that few, if any, diners would be unable to find a satisfactory choice. Chef Maas noted that while there are not always vegan entrees, the Cafe was sure to prepare some when President Bill Clinton was in town for the dedication ceremonies recently, and the kitchen will maintain an openness to alternative dining possibilities.
Of the dishes sampled, we stuck with vegetarian options, so we cannot at this time comment on dishes containing meat. A few dishes stood out: The ricotta especially left an impression, right down to the crostini's salty crunch. The griddled carrot cake's spiced aroma preceded it from across the table: Topped with an orange icing colored with carrot puree, the cake is pressed on a panini griddle to create a crisp top and bottom. Fresh ice cream and sorbets are made in-house daily, and Chef Maas said that President Bush is known to regularly enjoy his favorite flavor, vanilla.
As for the dining room, it was larger than expected; Cafe 43 is not what one might expect from a museum "cafe." Immense, floor-to-ceiling glass windows cover three walls, overlooking the plush prairie landscape containing all native Texan grasses, flowers, and plants. The effect is an open-air, "outside" dining experience indoors. Guests can also opt to actually sit outside on its terrace.
If you're interested in dining at Cafe 43, reservations are recommended.
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