- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 6, 2003

Say you're from Ohio and you're spending the day on the National Mall, cruising the museums.
All of you Mom, Dad, Grandpa, Grandma, the teenage girl working on the Avri look, the 7-year-old boy with the Power Rangers T-shirt under his heavy jacket want to take a break, satisfy the munchie craving or just come to rest at a place where food or coffee is served.
What do you do?
Stay right where you are. Depending on your needs or taste, many of the museums on the Mall, including the National Gallery of Art, sport everything from buffet-style cafes to sit-down restaurants to ice-cream parlors, fast-food paradises or a coffee kiosk.
You don't have to go looking for a McDonald's, either. Now there is one, along with Donato's Pizza and a Boston Market, all under the Big Mac umbrella at the newly remodeled Wright Place in the National Air and Space Museum.

If you haven't visited the Mall for a while, you might notice some changes. Those carousel cafeterias, where museum goers basically picked up what they wanted, are gone. The new and changed Wright Place is the latest in a lot of new things at the museums.
At the National Gallery of Art's East Building, the always popular and crowded Cascade Cafe has been renovated in a major way, while sporting the addition of a new Espresso and Gelato Bar.
At the National Gallery's Sculpture Garden, which is itself a relatively new addition across the street from the West Building on Seventh Street, there is a Pavilion Cafe, a spiffy restaurant with a view and a sophisticated flair even as it accommodates chilled skaters.
All of the restaurants, cafes and food places in the National Museum of Natural History and the National Museum of American History are of recent vintage, going back no earlier than 1999.
The Arts and Industries Building next to the Smithsonian Castle sports a singular sign of the times: a Seattle's Best Coffee kiosk from which visitors can take their coffee to a garden-cafe setting.
Even the Commons, the venerable and highly regarded restaurant in the Smithsonian Castle, is new in the sense that it is open to the public instead of being restricted to Smithsonian Associates members as in the past. It continues to offer top-drawer selections from a full lunch menu and what one Smithsonian Institution employee calls "to die-for" chocolate desserts.
So there's something for everyone. Bring me your tired parents, your hyperactive youngsters, your junk-food-loving teens, your health-conscious professionals, your high school class from Dayton, your camera-toting visitors from overseas, your new downtown office workers, your wooing couples. They'll find what they want.
If there are no four-star restaurants on the Mall, there are no four-star prices either. With the addition of the McDonald's venture and the presence of the permanently installed outdoor kiosks run by the National Park Service, the Mall, foodwise, is a fairly egalitarian place.

If you're Mom and Dad with baby carriages and young children backpacked to the hilt, you know the youngsters are going to be in search of dinosaurs, so why not head to the Atrium Cafe at the National Museum of Natural History, where you can get the favorite food of young people in America today that would be pizza or fries, burgers and rotisserie chicken, along with juices and fruit and maybe a beer for dad, along with Dinocookies.
In the National Gallery's East Building, the attractions at the Cascade Cafe are self-evident and almost characteristic. Big and rangy in the seating area, the cafe looks out at the waterfall seen through a big window. Diners coming from the tunnel-dark concourse arrive in a well-lighted place where prints of artworks from the gallery depict food those ripe-for-the-eating impressionist fruits, beautifully lit Dutch master still lifes and pop-art pies.
The whole area is designed to get people moving freely in a kind of circle, going from sections containing salads, pizza, soups, carvery selections, tacos, fries and burgers, juices or full meals. This is not necessarily your basic gourmet restaurant any more than are similar setups at the Main Street Cafes in the National Museum of American History or the Atrium in the Museum of Natural History but they do offer something for everyone.
Flow and movement and large, well-lighted spaces, along with a well-organized variety of foods are the hallmarks at the three cafes, differentiated by setting. The National Gallery cafes offer the great art. Natural History's Atrium has mastodons and bugs and elephant sounds. American History's Main Street Cafes offer a view of a World War II victory garden.
That these three should be a similar is no surprise: All three are run by Restaurant Associates. Guest Services Inc. runs the Commons restaurant in the Castle and the Sculpture Garden Pavilion Cafe.
At the Pavilion Cafe, the view is high art and round-and-round skaters. The food is geared as much toward locals in downtown offices as it is toward tourists.
"We see a lot of regulars here," general manager Carolyn M. Segreve says. "People come back, couples, co-workers, that kind of thing."
If you're an art lover, you'll want to check out the National Gallery's major new exhibit of works by Edouard Vuillard, in the West Building. First learn how to pronounce his name and then make a lunch date in the intimate setting of the West Building's Garden Cafe.
The Garden Cafe is a little different and much more traditional; it has been around since the 1970s. Nestled in a circle in the West Building, surrounded by shrubbery with a fountain where Herbert Adams' 1928 sculpture "Girl With Waterlilies" reigns over hundreds of tossed coins, the Garden Cafe is a fine-art sort of place in a true museum setting, traditional in feel, hushed and intimate.
It offers a buffet and a la carte dining, more often than not pitched to a theme of current shows at the National Gallery, sort of a dishes-at-an-exhibition approach. Daniel Karsevar of Restaurant Associates says it's a special approach to fine-arts-museum dining.
A current exhibition, running through March 2, is "Drawing on America's Past: Folk Art, Modernism, and the Index of American Design," and the buffet menu reflects it: Pennsylvania Dutch smoked loin of pork, maple-glazed roast turkey breast, Shaker potato salad, black-eyed-pea salad, and Dutch apple butter.
"We've had Spanish-flavored themes for the Goya show," Mr. Karsevar says. "It's an artful approach to dining."

The Garden Cafe also has another treasure. That would be waitress Annie Crawford, 51, who has worked at the National Gallery in various venues for more than 25 years.
"Honey, you gotta try the soup; it's the best in the whole world," she says.
If the menu adds flavor to the cafe, she adds the zest and spice and a genuine fondness for people that's hard to find.
"I have seen a lot here. It's a beautiful place. You get celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor, yes," she will tell you. "And you would always see Mr. Brown here all the time. He was a very elegant man," she says, referring to J. Carter Brown, the late director of the National Gallery.
"People come back year after year," she says. "Not long ago, I swear this was lovely, there was a couple eating here, and the young man says I have to come to the table to watch something, and he pops out a ring and proposes to her right then and there. That's something."
She and Betty Edwards, who makes the gelato in the Cascade Cafe, are among the long-term employees in the National Gallery food-service business.
Gelato is another newcomer to the dining scene on the Mall. There is, of course, the Gelato and Espresso Bar by the Cascade Cafe. But right before you go into the Atrium Cafe in the Natural History Museum, there's a Gelateria stand, manned on a bitter-cold Sunday afternoon by Karina Hauffman, 18, of Silver Spring, and Kenny Sosa, 19, of Alexandria. There is a line.
"People love it," Miss Hoffman says. "Different people from different countries like different flavors. Americans, they like everything. Me, I love the Romeo and Juliet, that's the chocolate and vanilla."

Wherever you go on the Mall, the theme of something for everyone repeats itself. Go for a slice of chicken at Boston Market in the National Air and Space Museum and watch the horde of private school students descend with their blazers and plaid skirts, all herded by teachers who are trying to make sure everybody gets a bag of fries even as high school linebackers in football jackets steer their girlfriends toward tables. For all of them, the skylighted Wright Place, color-coded by sections, is infused with the pizazz of a giant McDonald's.
Families appear to be the principal actors at the Atrium Cafe. Look at the mother and father who are shepherding two preteen girls, a young boy and a baby around a table after having bought fruit, chips and drinks. The mother, who has packed their lunches, carefully unspools peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches and puddings.
Or watch young mother Barbara Haney try to keep up with her little daughter Kendall, who, having just learned to walk, lurches through the Atrium, attempting to push someone else's baby carriage. "Pizza," says Mrs. Haney, who will be taking her family to Jordan when her Foreign Service husband is assigned there in March. "She loves pizza. And she thinks she can go anywhere."
Sitting at a table by himself, a man in a windbreaker and bluejeans, wearing glasses, busies himself with what looks to be a giant enchilada-taco combination. It might be a Venus on the half shell were it not for the chips, the cheese, the guacamole. He finishes it in approximately 4 minutes.
That was something. Something for everyone on the Mall.

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