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Edutaining With Food

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
Visitors to the National Museum of the American Indian’s Mitsitam Cafe can enjoy the cedar-planked salmon platter.

Restaurateur Ellen Kassoff Gray and her business partner/spouse, chef Todd Gray, already had plenty on their plate, what with restoring their fire-damaged flagship restaurant, Equinox, and launching their fledgling NoMa hangout, Watershed. 

Still the entrepreneurial pair could not stop thinking about the opportunity to share their sustainable dining philosophy via a casual dining concept the Corcoran was contemplating. 

Muse debuted in early June 2011. 

“We call it the intersection of visual and culinary arts,” Ellen said of the low-key venue, noting “art galleries are definitely where better quality food belongs.” 

Ellen emphasized that Muse’s menu is very much informed by what’s available at the neighboring White House farmers market, something she feels sets them apart from other educational eating venues. “Mitsitam is very nice, but it’s still institutional food,” she said. 

Though the cafe counter is small, the Corcoran kitchen is evidently ample enough to allow the Muse crew to cook and bake almost everything on site. (Ellen did admit to bringing in fresh bread from Lyon Bakery, and the cafe hawks Vaccaro’s cannolis.) 

The menu, like the market spoils, changes weekly, but certain items appear destined to remain, including steamy samosas (“People love those,” Ellen said.), the vegetable-laden “wildcard” panini (“The market panini will never go away,” Ellen assured us.) and newish flank-steak sandwich. (The bed of roasted red peppers is crucial.) 

“This is the best $12 lunch in the area,” Ellen asserted. “[And] a lot of people in the neighborhood are starting to figure it out.” 

Never one to rest on her laurels, Ellen mapped out big plans for Muse in 2012. Her top priorities include recruiting a rotating slate of guest chefs/artisan food purveyors to take center stage on Thursday nights for lectures, cooking demos and sporadic tastings — there was discussion of chocolate and pinot pairings, as well as exotic coffees — plus the resurrection of Sunday brunch. 

Meanwhile, Ellen stressed that Muse is not to be confused with the pop-up dining trend. 

“We’re sort of a partner-tenant,” she said, noting “nobody’s put a time limit on anything.” 

To wit, Ellen hinted that two other local museums have already approached them about developing alterna-dining options of their own — open-ended offers she seems to be seriously considering. 

“It’s just spreading more good food across the city,” she said. 

 

Back to the Future

Anyone struggling to imagine how to seamlessly integrate learning, philanthropy, history and fine dining under one roof need look no further than America Eats Tavern. 

The placeholder project — AET swooped into the old Cafe Atlantico space July 4 for what was supposed to be a six-month stint but will now, thanks to popular demand, hang around for a full year — is the product of a collaboration between Andrés and the National Archives, which opened its meticulously preserved culinary resources to the ThinkFoodGroup team so they could recreate and occasionally re-engineer, a bite-by-bite account of our historical bread breaking. 

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