Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Todd Gray's Muse at the Corcoran, DC

UPDATE: This restaurant has permanently closed.
Before the Mitsitam Cafe opened in the American Indian Museum, vegan options at the Smithsonian museums consisted of old, hard pretzels and water from the food carts outside the museums. Now, there is a new player in town. While Todd Gray's Muse is not at a Smithsonian museum, this quaint cafe inside the Corcoran Gallery of Art is yet another example of how life in DC is getting better for vegans every day.

The cafe is located in the atrium of the museum. When we walked in, there was already a long line so we got in line and took a look at the menu. The first think you notice is that the menu denotes vegetarian and vegan items with different colored leaves -- that gets them a plus one. I can't tell you how often I've been at cafes indicating that items are vegetarian and upon further investigation, I find there is nothing vegan -- for vegans, I know I am preaching to the choir. When I made it to the front of the line, I was delighted to find Ellen, Todd's wife and co-owner of their restaurants, working the counter and Todd himself working the kitchen. Zach and I ordered a few dishes off the menu and sat down at one of the little tables in the atrium. I picked up a Vignette Chardonnay soda and Zach had one of their house-made iced teas. Both were good. They also offered a number of delicious-looking freshly-made drinks such as lemonade at the counter.

Ellen brought us a wonderful sampling of some of their salads to try first. One of the items on the menu, the falafel salad, is marked as vegetarian, but can be made vegan without the dressing. So we tried the falafel with the fresh cabbage salad. This falafel was different in that it wasn't deep fried like most and I liked that it tasted incredibly fresh unlike other falafels that taste like they were deep fried yesterday. I also liked the fresh red onion in these falafels. When I asked Ellen about this dish, she told me about the challenges of running a cafe inside a museum as they are not able to run the ovens over a certain temperature so as not to damage the artwork. They are experimenting with a number of dishes to find the best offerings that can be cooked at lower temperatures for this cafe. So, for the falafels, they are sauteed rather than deep-fried, hence the light taste. I do think the falafel would have been better with a sauce and with the ever-changing menu, perhaps they will develop a vegan sauce as well. They also gave us a sampling of the ginger soba noodle salad with cilantro, lime and green onion and the tomato and watermelon gazpacho with cucumber, sweet red pepper, and Thai basil. Both were yummy as well.

I also got the warm spinach wrap with grilled veggies. Ellen and Todd go to several farmer's markets during the week to get all the local produce they can find so the veggies in this wrap can change seasonally. This particular wrap had grilled eggplant, red peppers, arugula, and squash with a light dressing. I really liked that they grilled the wrap. Everything just tasted so fresh!

We couldn't leave there without trying the vegan brownies too! So, we grabbed one of the pre-made brownies out of the baskets. This brownie was denser than most with a cake-like topping that had granulated sugar in the chocolate. The top was crusty, but the brownie soft, which made for a delicious taste. We tried to save the brownie for later, but finished it within an hour of leaving the museum. Oh, well.

I'm just so happy to see another museum cafe with fresh, vegan options. They also sell a variety of vegan snacks including the ABC cookies and vegan jerky.  So, go check out the artwork while they have free Saturdays at the Corcoran, then muse away with Todd Gray and call it a day!

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