It's been four years since chef Justin Basye was a semifinalist in the James Beard Rising Star award category during his tenure at Stella Sola. In the interim, he spent time at Revival Market honing his considerable skills, co-hosted several pop-ups called Les Sauvages and did a long stint behind the scenes with Pappas as a corporate chef.
Finally, he's back at the helm of his own restaurant, along with Chris Leung, who has had his own fair share of accolades from his pastry work at Kata Robata, Bootsie's and at his own ice cream shop, Cloud 10 Creamery. The two of them working side-by-side, overseeing a bunch of gorgeous dishes as they come through the pass of the kitchen at the new Museum Park Cafe, look like a dream team.
We dropped by on a whim this past Saturday night, but we suggest you make firmer plans than we did. It's only been open a few weeks, yet it was nearly full. It was just by luck that we landed the last available table.
We started with two good-sized marrow bones and delighted in the big spoonful of inventive shallot confit that accompanied it. While it was a shame when that bit of heaven was over, we were plenty satisfied.
Thick hunks of flatiron steak anchored in daubs of spinach purée were a beef lover's dream. The meat is sourced from Painted Hills ranch in Oregon. The cattle are grassfed most of their lives and then finished on barley, corn and alfalfa hay. The resulting meat is both full-flavored and tender.
Another dish of meaty goodness is the tangy steak tartare, which epitomizes all one could want from this classic: soft hunks of perfect beef, enough creaminess from a fine gribiche to hold them together, a bit of lemony zip and a garden-fresh herb salad on the side.
You absolutely must order the Cheddar & Scallion Biscuits. Here is where you see some of Chris Leung's magic. The bits of heaven are soft, puffy, soft, warm, tender and a gentle brush of caramel lends an dulcet note.
Most dishes are entirely pleasing, although there may be a bit of inconsistency at work. We were given some scallops to try and while the plate was beautiful, they lacked the deep mahogany sear that we noticed on other plates. Not helping matters was the accompanying dry hunk of pork belly, although the swath of sweet and creamy corn pudding was indeed pleasant.
Our server was not familiar with most of the by-the-glass wine offerings we asked about, although a red blend she recommended was satisfactory with the beef. Museum Park is missing opportunities to note appropriate wine pairings on the menu that will help guide their diners and make the dishes really sing.
The only other issue we noted is, like so many other restaurants, noise control seems to have not been part of the initial design plan. Although there is a large dropped ceiling panel, it's not quite getting the job done.
Starting on Wednesday, Museum Park Cafe will begin serving lunch in addition to dinner. Despite the small issues we noted, put Museum Park Café on your must-dine list. They're only going to keep getting better and where they are at now already trumps many fine dining establishments that have had years to hone their craft.