Within the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SF MOMA) there’s a restaurant that is as much of an art exhibition as an eatery. Chef Corey Lee displays iconic dishes from famous chefs around the world. The best part? You get to eat them! In a world where chefs have become superstars, and people with the means and resources will travel across country borders, not to mention continents, to experience the best restaurants, this is a brilliant idea. Especially when you realize how extremely well chef Lee manages to replicate the originals. While the dishes are not creative as such, the concept of In Situ is highly unique. Combined with perfect execution, this easily makes In Situ one of my favorite places in San Francisco.
Note: This restaurant has closed permanently.
Satisfy Your Cravings for Both Art and Food
After breakfast at the Parsonage, we picked up our pre-ordered bikes from Bike & View and headed off on our San Francisco urban safari. We had been biking all around the city, starting out with the steep slopes of the Russian Hills, when we arrived downtown at the SF MOMA around lunchtime. Art would have to wait for hunger this time, so we headed straight to restaurant In Situ. The very first dish was a simple amuse-bouche in the form of a hot, caramelized carrot soup with coconut foam. Not inspired by a restaurant, but rather from a recipe in the heavyweight cookbook encyclopedia Modernist Cuisine. Very hot, very delicious, and one of the best bites (or should I say slurps?).
Nordic Dishes Represented
Of course, we had to order the lettuce wrap from restaurant Relæ in Copenhagen, since it’s a restaurant I have been to several times, and it was the only Nordic restaurant represented on the menu at the moment. I know In Situ has featured well-known dishes from both Noma and Amass in Copenhagen previously. Including one of my all-time favorites – the dehydrated and rehydrated carrots. Another of my top picks, the browned butter ice cream from Esben Holmboe-Bang’s Maaemo has also been imitated. Puglisi’s fermented romaine with goat cheese was a very simple dish, both in taste and presentation, and not our favorite this afternoon.
Other dishes made me want to jump on the next plane either to Berlin or Japan – but luckily I didn’t have to since I got to experience them right here. I’m thinking, of course, of Tim Raue’s wasabi lobster and Hiroshi Sasaki’s glazed chicken thigh with onsen egg. The first being as interesting flavorwise as it was aesthetical to look at and the other being rather deceiving with its simple presentation that hid a complex set of well-balanced flavors. We also loved the Apocalypse Burger, which saved us a visit to Mission Street Food in San Francisco (not really, I would love to go another time, but we prioritized Mission Chinese Food instead).
Even Better Than the Originals
I was very happy to find Massimo Bottura’s “Oops I dropped the lemon tart!” on the menu, from his three-Michelin-starred, and former world’s best restaurant, Osteria Francescana. Finally a dish I had actually tasted at the original venue, which made me able to reflect on how good Corey’s copies are. I was truly impressed! Not only did it look identical and taste the same, I would even argue it was slightly better. At least, as far as I can remember, chef Lee’s version was a tad more acidic (to my preference). Considering he either has access to the original recipe or learned it from the master – maybe he thought it needed an extra squeeze of lemon?
Chef and Curator
Corey Lee is also the owner and head chef of three-Michelin-starred restaurant Benu in San Francisco, which sadly, we didn’t get to check out this time. At In Situ, he is praised as both a curator and a chef, and his restaurant has been called the most original to hit America in years. Lee doesn’t only copy recipes, he also puts together a menu of dishes that works together, while at the same time highlighting the masterworks of more than eighty completely different chefs worldwide. That is remarkable. So, the big question – is food art? Or rather, can art be edible? I think In Situ just proved that it can.
Don’t Forget to Visit the SF MOMA
After a great meal at In Situ, we headed upstairs to check out the seven floors of modern art at the SF MOMA. They have on display some of my favorite pop art creators like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, and one of Hedda’s most treasured artists: Mark Rothko. However, I was most surprised to find one of the original “Fountain” by Marchel Duchamp. A porcelain urinal signed R. Mutt 1917, which he called a readymade, was a form of expression that questioned the very notion of art – what it is and if it needs to be beautiful? I hope food doesn’t get to this point, oh wait, it already has.
Have you been to any of the original restaurants displayed on the In Situ menu? Please leave a comment below.