The rigid, dramatic, somewhat brutal building by the great Bauhaus architect Marcel Breuer now houses not only The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s modern and contemporary collections, but also the inviting, smart and stylish Flora Bar and Flora Coffee opened by restaurateur Thomas Carter and chef Ignacio Mattos. Even though the food quality, the atmosphere and the setting screams restaurant, Flora Bar is rather a wine bar with rich food options. Small portions accompany the vast and robust beverage program that presents celebrated winemakers, as well as hyperlocal awing finds.
When we visited Flora Bar, we could barely begin to try the wines when we realized that the two of us already had 6 different glasses! It will take us much more than 2 visits to try even a tenth of the wine list and for this pleasure we owe to one of the Flora Bar co-owners Thomas Carter, who focuses on producers that best express their regions, reflect the texture of particular places and years. He tries to select a variety of wines made by artisans, craftspeople, and farmers.
The menu has an emphasis on seafood and draws from local and European influences under the guidance of Ignacio Mattos. Born in Uruguay, he began his career in the kitchens of Argentine celebrity chef Francis Mallmann, famous Judy Rodgers, and pioneer Alice Waters. He moved to New York City where he met his collaborator and partner, Thomas Carter, and together they formed the company Matter House. Mattos cooks comforting and bold food, reflecting his varied experiences. The executive chef Jake Nemmers makes sure to add the cultures of New York City to the mix, composing multi-layered new tastes of seemingly common dishes.
Coming back to the design, the team worked with architectural firm Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners to create a space that honors the iconic modernist setting. Not an easy task, since the building (constructed in 1963–66) is a living monument against the transient, disposable trends of its time. Breuer conceived the museum as a solid, permanent sanctuary for the art. In Flora Bar and Flora Coffee the monumental feeling is fully present, emphasized by expansive marble bar, floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the courtyard, custom stools designed by Steven Bukowski, hostess stand, wine station and obelisk designed by David M Sullivan Inc. The space also features a rotation of artwork alongside the restaurant’s bar.
The food emphasizes the modernist feel – dishes are presented in a series of tidily formal circles and squares, like red shrimp with sea urchin and nori, tuna tartare with potato and truffle, purple endive-and-blue cheese salad and rutabaga and raclette tart. Pastry chef Natasha Pickowicz offers simple yet expertly executed desserts such as apple tart with vanilla ice cream and mandarin sorbet with coconut. Our absolute favorite desert was the salted caramel pudding!
Some of the deserts are available not only in Flora Bar, but also in Flora Coffee, where you can try pastries, takeaway sandwiches and Coffee Parlor (a trendy Brooklyn fine roasting house), during daytime Museum hours. Prices there are more affordable, while Flora Bar is not a usual museum café, it is a high-end restaurant in every way.
While the weather allows, you can sit outside sharing a delicious selection of small plates, tasting an endless cocktail list. We must note that the service was excellent, the waiters knew the menu and the wine list so well that they were very helpful in making suggestions. If you sit inside, Flora Bar can get pretty loud, but that is what you get when you visit a lively and booming (better make reservations beforehand) restaurant.
Flora Bar operates as a full-service restaurant Tuesday – Thursday 5:30 – 10 PM. Friday and Saturday 11:30 AM – 2:30 PM; 5:30 – 11 PM. Sunday, 11:30 AM – 2:30 PM; 5:30 – 10 PM. Flora Coffee is open during daytime Museum hours: Tuesdays through Sundays, 10 AM – 5:30 PM.