Shumai flower ball, designed to look like a rose
For those who haven’t yet found the time to visit the new Mingei International Museum, here’s a surefire way to make room in your busy schedule: by tapping into your appetite. After a few failed attempts to spontaneously get to Balboa Park, I finally committed to a visit by making a dinner reservation at the museum’s newly opened restaurant, Artifact.
It is worth visiting the Mingei, if only to see what they have done with the place. Among other things, a three-year, $55 million renovation opened up the museum’s sightlines, better connecting it to the overall park experience. In particular, the entire ground floor is free and open to the public, and includes a view of the museum’s priceless Chilhuly glass sculpture, which hangs in the steeple, resembling a fantastical sea creature with multiple tentacles.
However, nearly half of the ground floor is now taken up by the dining room of Artifact, a restaurant designed for the museum by San Diego’s Urban Kitchen Group, best known for its Cucina family of Italian restaurants. For fans of places like Cucina Urbana or Cucina Sorella, the most notable aspect of Artifact is its decidedly global menu.
The Artifact Dining Room, inside the Mingei International Museum, features artwork on the ceiling and above the back bar.
For example, the restaurant’s dedicated dumplings menu offers both a Russian dish pelmenis and an indian samoussa. In the soup section you will see a Persian ash reshtehwhile an assortment of wraps offers a South African version perished perished chicken.
This logically follows the “international” designation of the Mingei – the museum, after all, has a collection of folk art and artifacts from over 160 countries. A few new works, commissioned for the renovation of the museum, can even be seen in the Artifact dining room. “Truth and Beauty in Black”, a hand felted mural by a Dutch artist hangs above the bar. Above, a piece called “Suspended Refrain” is a long roll of sheet metal which, if you could pass it through a player piano, would play a composition by Michel Legrand, “What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life”, music from the 1969 film The happy ending.
The patio of the Artifact Dining Room, now home to San Diego’s enamel and metal artwork, “Variations on a Golden Theme.”
Also outside, shaded dining tables on Artifact’s patio sit beneath the massive, mixed-media artwork, “Variations on a Golden Theme,” created in the 1960s by San Francisco artists. Diego Ellamarie and Jackson Wolley, considered masters in their day when it came to enamel work.
For all these named works of art, the true mission of the Mingei Museum is centered on the mingei concept, named by Japanese philosopher Yanagi Sōetsu to celebrate the craftsmanship of “ordinary people”. In other words, to perceive the value of everyday objects often taken for granted by the art world of Capital A: think of pottery, textile designs or handmade dolls of a myriad of folk cultures.
That’s the principle that seems to be at work in Artifact’s menu, which actually presents prepared food as an everyday item that can be seen in a more creative light. For the best or for the worst.
Ahi ceviche with tiger leche turmeric
take the pork shumai From this dumpling menu ($14), Artifact takes the flower-like construction of the Chinese dumpling – familiar to fans of dim-sum – and shapes an additional dumpling wrapper to look more like flower petals. Resembling a pork-stuffed rose, the dumpling creation is served with shumai accompaniments such as green onions, ginger, black vinegar and chili oil, as well as the less typical, smoked black tea, lapsang souchang. Although quite tasty and visually appealing, in terms of function, the extra ‘petals’ in the wrapper did dry out a bit which damaged the integrity of the dumpling.
Lamb kibbeserved on sangak pancake
If we’re fussy, I’ve encountered similar near-misses throughout the menu. A Peruvian-inspired ahi ceviche ($16) with turmeric tiger leche (tiger milk) tasted delicious and the bluefin tuna was bursting against the bright yellow liquid. But eventually the fish popped because it hadn’t been denatured (or “cooked”), so it ate more like sour poke salad.
On the menu of wraps, a lamb from the Middle East kibbe ($22), flavored with cumin and allspice, was served as a flatbread, on Persian bread sangak. Again, the food looked and tasted good, but the function lagged. Its toppings – lamb meatballs, olives, cucumber slices and cherry tomatoes – fell easily off the flatbread, slightly too crispy to fold over.
Buckwheat noodles, served on sesame green cabbage with marinated kohlrabi “noodles”
Despite minor imperfections and coming in at around $50 per person before drinks, I think there’s a lot to like about Artifact, and it has a lot to do with inspiration. Namely, my favorite dish, a buckwheat noodle salad ($16) with sesame green cabbage, included pickled kohlrabi “noodles,” a creative and flavorful addition that fondly reminds me of the meal days later. . I have to conclude that everyday art is something that excels in being developed over time, building on traditions, and that a new restaurant drawing from so many sources will require the kind of refinement that only time allows. And we are all looking for more of that.