Verde at PAMM: Art Enthusiast or Not, You Will Be Lured by the New Café
At Pérez Art Museum Miami, it's not important to appreciate or know anything about art.
billwisserphoto.com Verde's salmon crudo with beets, citrus and picked kumquats.
A dozen menacing bronze animal heads startle visitors emerging from the parking garage onto the museum's raised patio. A dragon readies to bellow a vaporizing fireball onto unsuspecting passersby. A bear snarls, lips pulled back, revealing a seemingly endless row of razor-sharp teeth. It's irrelevant to most people that the massive installation was created by Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei.
A short walk takes far longer than expected. Visitors with necks craned gawk at towering cylindrical gardens hanging from the ceiling collide with one another in slow motion.
The patio opens into a large space, framed in green and gray, offering sweeping water views. Puffy clouds slink across the sky above Biscayne Bay, and cars zip along the MacArthur Causeway and disappear into a blue abyss.
Verde, the Stephen Starr restaurant inside the museum, offers the same entrancing view daily through floor-to-ceiling windows.
Starr's restaurant empire launched in 1976 with Grand Mom Minnie's in Philadelphia when he was only 21 years old. With a space somewhere between a restaurant and a performance venue, he hosted Jerry Seinfeld and Pat Benatar. Philadelphia today remains the hub for Starr's 30 restaurants, which include pricey sushi temple Makoto in Bal Harbour and the suit-filled Steak 954 on Fort Lauderdale Beach.
billwisserphoto.com Inside Verde.
In 2008, Starr launched a catering division and with it a push into cultural institutions. Along with Verde, the company opened Caffè Storico at the New York Historical Society and Granite Hill at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
At PAMM, he bested ten competitors in the months leading up to the museum's opening this past December to run the food and beverage operation.
"We wanted one exclusive partner to do our restaurant and our catering, and Starr was in the best position to do that," said Leann Standish, the museum's vice president for external affairs.
The décor is nothing more than the raw concrete and wood palette that Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron employs throughout the museum. Inside the narrow space, long, slim panels of fabric span a sloped ceiling that rises toward large windows that allow guests to take in that amazing view of the bay. Both sides of the room are lined with modern oak picnic tables surrounded by simple white plastic chairs. A small potted cactus on each table provides a much-needed hint of color.
At the center of it all sits Verde's simple, one-page menu. It reflects what the restaurant must do, and what the museum unabashedly says it will do: be something for everyone.
The offerings are predictably split among salads, raw plates, pizzas, sandwiches, and entrées, but most items are skillfully executed.
During the museum's opening festivities amid the glitz of Art Basel Miami Beach, director Thom Collins said PAMM's main challenge is Miami's sun and sand. Ads atop taxis and on billboards touted the museum as more than art. "Open for sunbathing," one sign still reads near the entrance.
And that's exactly what people were doing on a recent Saturday afternoon, when there was a 20-minute wait for a table during brunch.