An insider's view of the Connecticut dining scene
Sep 12, 2013
01:41 PM
The Connecticut Table

Art of Wine & Food at New Britain Museum of American Art: Great Event, Amazing Museum

Time is running out to get tickets for the New Britain Museum of American Art’s 10th anniversary presentation of The Art of Wine & Food. Beginning at 5:30 p.m. next Tuesday (Sept. 17), the event will offer guests terrific wines and palate-delighting dishes from top Connecticut restaurants, and its honorary chair is the sister of actress Sandra Bullock—celebrity chef and cookbook author Gesine Bullock-Prado.

But before delving into the details of the “multimedia” satisfaction you’ll experience when you go—including luxe travel and dining packages in auctions and raffles—a few words are in order about the why in the equation of wanting to go; about how perfectly sculpted the museum is as a Connecticut cultural treasure.

The state is positioned at the aesthetic core of an art-rich region, one with world-class museums easily within reach in two major cultural metropolises, New York and Boston. But do you find yourself sometimes suffering from major museum malaise and blockbuster show fatigue?

If the Museum of Modern Art show “American Modern: Hopper to O’Keeffe” feels too much like another loving look at artists whose styles and iconography sometimes seem too familiar—especially with Hopper drawings at the Whitney, which is seguing into “American Legends: From Calder to O’Keeffe" in December—Connecticut has the antidote.

Make that more than one antidote in the world-class art museum genre, given the residency of the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, the Mattatuck Museum in Waterbury, the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, and the college-based museums at Yale, UConn and beyond.

Among those gems, one of the very best is the New Britain Museum of American Art (NBMAA), which was a bijoux-sized treasure before its expansion and now has enough elbow room to show off more of its collection of masterpieces of American art, while mounting exhibits on a modest scale that venture into territory where major museums rarely dare to go—because they can’t afford to sacrifice appeal-to-the-masses ticket sales and the revenue that comes from the blockbuster shows.

Consider the NBMAA’s current show centered on Louis Comfort Tiffany, a name every connoisseur knows, which is a must-see before it closes at the end of this month. Instead of trotting out Tiffany’s inarguably brilliant lamps and vases, this exhibit enlightens and visually delights by recalling Tiffany’s foundation as a painter. “The Brilliance of Louis Comfort Tiffany: Painter and Craftsman is a major exploration of the paintings of Louis C. Tiffany (1848–1933) within the wider context of his creative genius,” the museum’s website explains. “A celebrated glass and jewelry designer, Tiffany was first and always a painter, studying under George Inness and Samuel Colman at the start of his career. While Tiffany’s paintings are not widely known, they reveal a profound sensitivity to light and color.”

Another NBMAA exhibit features “the studiously crafted portraits, landscapes, and still lifes in oil and graphite by Jacob Collins, a leading figure in the revival of classical style of academic painting.” Try mounting a show of contemporary academic painting in one of the big bastions devoted (paradoxically it sometimes seems) to the greatest of the art world’s greatest hits and anything that pushes outward at the boundaries of abstraction and the non-narrative; the board members might revolt.

Not in New Britain—but that’s only part of the story and not technically what this story is about.

One of the best things about the expanded and energized NBMAA is summed up by a branding logo that is the first thing your eyes are drawn to on the website home page. “Where art meets life,” it declares, and indeed, the museum has evolved to a point where it can offer both cultural and sybaritic satisfaction.

Its Café on the Park, overlooking the landmark Walnut Hill Park, is a lovely place to eat, linger, ponder contemporary art in the room and sip respectable coffee—but that’s the tip of the lifestyle iceberg. The Tiffany exhibit, for example, had an opening reception dinner that included an appetizer of “prosciutto-and-melon carpaccio, basil mascarpone cream, basil aioli,” and an entrée of “pecan-crusted Atlantic salmon, mandarin orange-and-pomegranate glaze, haricot vert with mint and lemon, basmati rice with caramelized onions and lentils.”

For anyone who wants to connect with this uniquely Connecticut artistic, cultural, lifestyle and dining richness in a somewhat ornate manifestation, the perfect opportunity is The Art of Wine & Food.

 

What other museum would bring in as its guest someone with a combination of star appeal and food world and New England substance/credibility. Bullock-Prado may have a famous sibling but she’s also the author of the baking memoir My Life from Scratch, along with cookbooks, and “lives in Vermont with three dogs, eight chickens, 12 Indian Runner ducks, nine geese, sheep and one wonderful husband,” according to the bio on the event website.

“She uses her animal’s eggs and milk in her commercial bakery and maintains historic apple trees, boils the sap from her sugar maples for a year-round supply of syrup and plays in her large garden to harvest the ingredients that bring her pastries to vibrant life,” the bio says, adding, “She’s a contributing guest food editor for Runner’s World, providing runners with healthy alternatives to their favorite goodies. Bullock-Prado and her sweets have been featured on the Today Show, and Rachael Ray Show, Food Network, and in Better Homes & Gardens, In Style and People Magazine.”

If Bullock-Prado is a drawing card to attract an audience beyond museum supporters and members of the business community, the real stars are the wine and the food in the title of the event, which runs from 5:30 to 10 p.m. and costs $175 per person, of which $50 is tax deductible. The event raises funds to support the museum’s educational programming for children and families.

“It’s just a really beautiful setting … lively, fun … ,” said the event’s organizer, Vicky Cirilli of Cirilli Associates, who also put together The Sun WineFest ’14, held at the Mohegan Sun casino and resort. The NBMAA event is smaller in scope, more intimate, and one of her favorites. “I love the energy and the people there. It’s got a lot of great of business community.”

Its presenting sponsors are Farmington Bank and The Hospital of Central Connecticut, and Connecticut Magazine is also among the event sponsors.

Cirilli said in an email that one of the highlights of the NBMAA evening is “the incredible dessert reception that Chef Lynn Mansel from Mohegan Sun does,” which will feature some of Bullock-Prado’s recipes from Bake it Like You Mean It, including chocolate pyramid cake, pumpkin toffee coffee cake and Meyer lemon and blackberry cheesecake slices.

The Dine Around and Wine Tasting aspect of the evening will feature exceptional wines and mouthwatering bites prepared by the region’s top chefs, the event release explains, saying, “Enjoy culinary delights such as whipped ricotta crostinis topped with sea salt and truffle honey, butter-poached lobster with chanterelle mushrooms and sweet corn velouté, and fresh tuna and salmon tartar.”

Participating restaurants include Abigail's Grille and Wine Bar, Alforno, Barcelona Restaurant & Wine Bar, Belvedere Café and Restaurant, Cavey's Restaurant, Esca Restaurant and Wine Bar, Feng Asian-Bistro, Grants Restaurant, Restaurant Bricco, and Bricco Trattoria, Jordan Caterers, Metro Bis & Little City Pizza, ON20, Peppercorn's Grill, Pond House Café and Pond House Grille, Tisane Euro-Asian Café, The Willows, and a dessert extravaganza by Mohegan Sun.

Additionally, there will be live and silent auctions that feature world-class wines, enticing experiences and fine dining opportunities such as an overnight stay with deluxe accommodations at the Mayflower Inn & Spa in Washington, Conn., private tours and tastings for four at vineyards like Araujo Estate Wines, and Blankiet Estate Vineyard, and a special Francis Ford Coppola bottle of wine with a label designed by Robert DeNiro, Sr.

Presiding over the live auction will be Marie Keep of Skinner Auctioneers in Marlborough, Mass. Auction items are available for online viewing and bidding at www.artofwineandfood.org.

Beyond the auctions, there’s also a raffle, in which the first and second place winners will go to the Caribbean islands of Nevis and St. Kitts. Tickets are $25, and each ticket is eligible for first or second prize. For more details on the raffle and for tickets, see the raffle’s web page.

To learn more or for tickets, see the event website. Tickets are $175 per person, of which $50 is tax deductible, and patron tickets are $350, of which $75 per ticket. Patron tickets include access to a tasting of prestigious wines in the Cru Room, program listing and event signage. Patrons also receive a special gift of a one-year subscription to Northeast Flavor Magazine.

The NBMAA is acknowledged as the first museum in the world dedicated solely to collecting American art, and is renowned for its preeminent collection spanning three centuries of American history. The award-winning Chase Family Building, which opened in 2006 to critical and public acclaim, features 15 spacious galleries which showcase the permanent collection and upward of 25 special exhibitions annually featuring American masters, emerging artists and private collections. A huge roster of educational and community outreach programs are offered throughout the year.

The museum is open Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and until 8 p.m. on Thursday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and from noon to to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $12 for adults, $10 for senior citizens, $8 for students and free for children younger than 12. From 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, museum admission is free for everyone, sponsored by the American Savings Foundation.

The Café on the Park serves American fare with regional emphasis from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and from noon to 3 p.m. on Sunday. The Museum Shop, meanwhile, offers unique items related to the museum’s collection.

The museum is located at 56 Lexington Street.

Directions from Interstate 84:

Take Exit 35 onto Rt. 72. Take Exit 8. Follow signs to Museum.

From Interstate 91:

Take Exit 22N (Rt. 9 North). Take Exit 28 onto Rt. 72W to Exit 7. Follow signs to Museum.

Anyone interested in The Art of Wine & Food will also want to check out our Best of Connecticut 2013, and download this authoritative guide to the best of fine living in the state as an iPad app.

 

Art of Wine & Food at New Britain Museum of American Art: Great Event, Amazing Museum

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