Vivian's Corner
Adventure & Sports
About Us
Yearly Index
Contact Us

Café Modern

Fine Dining on the Old Chisholm Trail

Since 2002, the cattle capital of Texas has been a world-class art destination. That’s right: Fort Worth, formerly the best rest stop for cowboys herding cattle to Abilene, Kansas, is now a must-see for contemporary art and architecture cognoscenti. Now, I like art as much as the next culture vulture, so when my husband, Peter, was working in Dallas this year we regularly made our way to Big D’s twin city to see the offerings. But what of the dining? Can any eatery established on the path of the old Chisholm Trail satisfy a couple of high-maintenance New Yorkers while bowing to these cholesterol-phobic times? For us, the answer was an emphatic yes. Best of all, we didn’t even have to leave the latest jewel in Fort Worth’s art crown, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.

Café Modern atthe Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth

I’ve come to agree with critics who say that the Modern, as locals call it, is one of the world’s best venues for modern art. Japanese architect Tadao Ando’s glass-steel-and-concrete masterpiece offers brutally stark surroundings and operatic scale for the oversized, often conceptual works of such artists as Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock and Gerhard Richter. To see a book on a podium with 13-foot lead wings (Anselm Kiefer’s Book with Wings) is one thing; to see it placed in its own circular concrete room makes the sculpture an object of almost spiritual contemplation.

Café Modern shares the modernist lines of the prize-winning museum. Like the Kiefer, it’s also set in a circular room, but half of its walls are curved glass—massive panes that neatly abut the two-acre reflecting pool outside. To enter the room is to move into a realm of simplicity, air and water: another opportunity for contemplation, this time of food. A soft blue carpet adds to the instantaneous relaxation that descended upon us each time (there were three) we took our seats. Window tables are best but not imperative, because the pond spreads well out into the grounds and all seats have a view of the three pavilions like glass boxes that seem to float atop the water while being reflected in it. (Apparently the large white tablets dotting the shoreline are chlorine-infused to prevent algae from interrupting that mirror.) Too, there is an outdoor patio where one can listen to the gentle lapping of the water while eating.

And what about the food? Fortunately, there’s nothing conceptual or austere about the fare at Café Modern. It’s more like comfort food served with a dash of politically correct. As the menu reminds us, most dishes are locally sourced and sustainably served. Even the wines adhere to their “Low Carbon Footprint Program.” Never fear: it’s still good. Chef Dena Peterson, a Fort Worth native, went to the Culinary Institute of America only to come home and do her roots proud. The grilled kobe burgers are her nod to Fort Worth’s history. They are juicy and tasty—you wouldn’t even guess that they get vegetarian feed and eschew antibiotics. And yes, you might as well have it with the apple-wood-smoked bacon.

Burger aside, not one of our half-dozen other options made us question Gourmet Magazine’s appraisal of Café Modern as one of America’s best restaurants. We twice enjoyed the Poblano Corn Chowder, a chile-infused bowl of corn, cream, and potatoes that was somehow light and refreshing. The summer salad was another surprise: for just $7 we had a massive mound of local lettuce and tomatoes topped with toasted pumpkin seeds, avocado, and a generous sprinkling of tortilla strips. Other flavorings were still more creative. Peterson has said that she wants to honor the global provenance of the art in the museum, and most items come with a good dose of international spice. We tried the Mediterranean Tuna Sandwich, served on a luscious rosemary bread with roasted peppers, greens, olives and one other interesting ingredient that turned out to be fennel. I could also recommend the bay scallops served with fettucine and the ratatouille galette, but this menu changes so frequently that they’re no longer offered. In fact, as of this writing nothing remains of the summer menu. Peterson has turned her sights to lamb, beet carpaccio, eggplant curry, roasted butternut squash with bosc pears and pepitas.

Just don’t forget the iced tea, especially if you’re from out of state. Perhaps we were overly enthused; both having lived in Texas, we respect the fine art of iced tea (a not remotely conceptual art) and are repeatedly disappointed by the swill they pass off in rest of the country—and for which refills are charged! But I don’t think so. This iced tea was never cloudy and always served with wedges of fresh juicy lemon. In short, it was a perfect beverage to fortify us for wandering over to the museums next door, the Kimball, designed by the architect’s architect Louis Kahn, and the Amon Carter Museum, designed by Phillip Johnson. Happy trails, indeed.

Café Modern, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, 3200 Darnell Street, Ft. Worth, TX 817.840.2157. http://www.thecafemodern.com/
Lunch Tuesday-Friday 11:00 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. and Saturday 11:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. Brunch Sundays 11:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.

Alexis Quinlan

Summer 2009