It’s one of those childhood dreams, to sneak into the museum after hours once everyone has left. There are whole books and movies about it actually. But, as an adult, your dreams are taken up a notch. Not only do you have private access to the darkened rooms without the crowds, but you’re served a delicious multi-course meal with wine amidst the galleries, as Titian’s warriors and saints look down on you. This dream is real.
Last night Mia hosted the premiere of what will hopefully become a long tradition. Kaiseki, a story of Van Gogh and Japan in 1880 is a dining experience you won’t soon forget. Held after hours when the museum is closed to the public, the dinner includes a private guided tour of two exhibits before a meal prepared by Chef Shigeyuki Furukawa, from Kaiseki Furukawa, James Beard Award-nominated Chef Jamie Malone , and renowned sommelier Bill Summerville. . Tickets are $375 per person and I think this event is worth every penny.
We started in the dark lobby with Bill Summerville handing us a drink as we met our fellow diners and the curators who would guide us through the evening. I met two women from out of town, one from Finland and one from Texas, who were meeting in Minneapolis for this dinner. Katie Luber, director and president of the museum, prepared us for what to expect from the night and to the galleries we went to.
We first walked through the exhibition Dressed by Nature: Textiles from Japan, with curator Andreas Marks in the lead. Talking about the art of kimono and the beautiful old fabric that had been woven with everything from bananas to fish scales was enlightening. Of course, you can read all the signs and get the same information, but having the curator tell the stories for you is a treat. There were even a few lightweight competitive zingers for other museums.
Walking in and knowing you’re headed for a meal created by a renowned Japanese chef gives a little more importance to the traditions you’re learning.
Then we walked Van Gogh and the olive groves. It is fascinating to learn from art world insiders about the flow of masterpieces between museums and what it takes to put together an exhibition of this caliber. It’s not something you can glean from walking around on your own.
Even if you’ve seen our famous Van Gogh painting before, looking at it and thinking about it in this current context feels new. But maybe you were a kid the last time you saw it, and now you’re bringing older eyes to the frame.
Finally, it was dinner time.
The long table was set among the paintings, there were about 40 people to eat. The setting was simple and whimsical with branches and bells. In your place was placed a ribboned parchment introducing you to the story of the meal to come. Kaiseki dining means that the meal has been prepared to tell a certain story. This meal in the Mia Gallery is meant to examine the history of Van Gogh’s interest in Japanese prints during his time in Paris. But he also wants to ask a question: What if Van Gogh chose Japan instead of Paris to become an artist? How would that have changed his art? The meal begins in the cafes of Paris but ends in a Tokyo Kissaten.
Before each dish comes a note, describing the food but also asking questions: perhaps about opulence versus simplicity or asking you to imagine what Van Gogh would have eaten in Japan.
Then, each dish is itself a clever presentation, from the simple seasonal snapshot of Japanese bites in harmony with nature, to the overly manipulated haute cuisine in the form of foie gras with black summer truffles. You’ll enjoy both, but you’re bound to ask yourself why.
Consider the importance of “color” in art, as you eat Suimono Gawari, an amber dashi jelly with plain blue shrimp.
Consider “nature and ingenuity” as you cut a perfectly soft Mi Cuit salmon that has been kombu cured and served over a bright green sauce of bone and sorrel. Topped with a small piece of puffed salmon skin, it’s almost impossible not to remember some of the kimonos you saw earlier. This dish alone, to me, is worth the price.
I don’t want to give you everything here, because it’s a night you really can’t read unless you’re in the moment with the food, the art, the wine, and the room. At the end of the evening, Luber thanked us all for having been the guinea pigs for this first dinner. She noted that we were breaking so many museum rules, with the wine and food being so close to the paintings. But isn’t it Van Gogh? Isn’t that part of the best art?
Questions for another time. The series runs every other Wednesday until September 7, the next meal is July 20, tickets are available. There’s a chance they’ll do a series of dinners again for the upcoming Botticelli exhibition. I may already be dreaming of sturdy pasta and thick wine in a dark museum.