Taste This

10/31/2008 12:00 AM

09/22/2009 7:28 AM

I finally made it to the Nasher Museum of Art for the "El Greco to Velázquez" exhibition, and I must say that the paintings by the Spanish masters are every bit as impressive as the show's publicity leads you to expect. But I'll confess that oil on canvas wasn't the only artistic medium that lured me to the museum on a dreary Saturday morning. I also wanted to check out the special tapas menu that the Nasher Museum Café is offering in conjunction with the exhibition.

Created by Giorgios Hospitality Group, which manages the café (and owns several area restaurants, among them Parizade and Vin Rouge), the menu is inspired by the flavors of Spain. And it is executed in the mixed media of local produce and artisanal foods, which combine to become the culinary brush strokes in compositions such as North Carolina shrimp and chicken paella cake with roasted garlic-almond mojo, and braised local greens with saffron-roasted turnips, melted Garrotxa cheese and lemon allioli.

I especially enjoyed the chiaroscuro of sweet, tart and briny flavors in a salad of tender squid, roasted sweet potato, pickled onion and flat leaf parsley. An oversize tapa featuring smoked salmon showered with capers, red onion, grated hard-boiled egg, chives and Spanish salsa verde was as delightful to eat as it was to look at. But the hands-down favorite was a roasted baby pumpkin filled with a blend of local shiitakes and chevre. The flesh of the pumpkin was buttery-sweet, and its skin, charred in places, tender enough to eat. Everyone at the table agreed that the presentation called to mind the Spanish still life paintings we'd just seen.

As we shared bites of dessert (an exquisite pairing of Elodie Farms chevre cheesecake and red wine-poached local apples), my wife suggested that the café might consider coordinating future menus with the museum's major exhibitions -- French impressionists and bistro fare, for instance. I think that's a great idea, though I do think things could get a little messy if the Nasher ever landed a Jackson Pollock exhibition.

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