Cultural Dining: Museum District offers a wide variety of food options

Michael Thompson at Michaels Cuisine

If the annual Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo exemplifies the cowboy flavor of our city, then our museums − showcasing their world-class architecture and art collections – are surely the crown jewels of our cultured society.

While the Cultural District corridor now flows all the way down West Seventh Street and effectively ends at the Trinity River, we wanted to take a closer look at some of the best options for dining near the museums. The area has been confused with, and effectively lumped in with, the burgeoning West Seventh Street district over the past several years, even though some of the “old guard” restaurants preceded the development of Montgomery Plaza and West Seventh by decades.

This area has really become known for its fine dining destinations and I would call it, more narrowly, the museum district. So I am only going to focus on what is available west of University Drive.

Michael Thomson opened his Michaels Cuisine in 1992. He, too, sees the need to differentiate upper West Seventh from lower. “I think the biggest change that I have seen is that people are eating more casually now. There has been a lot of confusion in defining districts, and that is something that I am working to change. Our area has defined itself as more of the fine dining section.”

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Thomson’s kitchen was a requisite first stop for many of our city’s most well-known chefs. They learned the business by peeling potatoes at Michaels. “We opened as contemporary ranch cuisine with an emphasis on the spices and textures of Mexico, combined with the cuisine of the American South.” That is what set him apart from Southwestern cuisine. He is still one of the foremost authorities on the use of chili peppers anywhere, and you will find them used (in some form) in most of his dishes.

If you are in the mood for seafood you can find some of the best within one square block of each other. Eddie V’s Prime Seafood is an elegant oasis that never disappoints. It is also a posh spot for handcrafted cocktails in an upscale and modern interior with live jazz daily. Blue Sushi and Sake is a little more edgy and has earned a solid (some might say “glowing”) reputation for fresh tasting sushi and quality Japanese dishes.

Hanabi Ramen just up the street is an Izakaya style (small dishes) Japanese restaurant. Known for its authentic ramen noodle bowls, Hanabi is also a great place to meet friends after work to sample some typical Japanese street fare such as okonomiyaki (savory pancakes) or tako yaki (round bite-sized octopus pancakes).

The international flare of the museum district continues with two of the best French restaurants in town. Saint Emilion has been serving classy French fare since 1985. Each visit is still like a mini-vacation to the French countryside, as you are treated to classic preparations including duck pâté and escargot. My favorite, sole de douvres meunière, a filet of sole lightly dredged in flour and pan fried in a brown butter sauce, still takes my breath away.

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The newest French restaurant in town is Le Cep, which offers an eight-course nouvelle cuisine experience crafted by chef Sandra Avilla. The menu changes monthly and includes an optional champagne and cheese course. The presentation and service are fine dining at its best.

Piola Italian is located in a charming Monticello bungalow and has been serving white-table-cloth Italian food for years. The Albanese family has gracious hospitality down to a science. Their lovely back patio is a great spot to unwind.

Winslow’s Wine Cafe is the go-to wine bar in this area. The grown-up atmosphere and stylish menu make it a local favorite. Winslow’s has knowledgeable staff and offers more than 30 wines to sample by the glass.

At Café Modern, executive chef Denise Shavandy took over the reins last summer. She has a unique vantage point from which to ply her craft. After all, few chefs get to work inside a Tadao Ando masterpiece like the Modern Art Museum. “My original plan was to be an architect, so I am ecstatic to be working in this space. It elevates the cuisine. We use local purveyors as much as possible and always focus on sustainable and seasonal ingredients,” says Shavandy. Her menu just changed again in mid-January. “I am trying to make artistic plates that fit our clientele and the amazing environment of Café Modern.”

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Likewise, the Kimbell Buffet Restaurant is still the perfect spot to relax after touring the collections in the Kimbell’s Kahn and Piano buildings. The menu itself could be considered part of the “permanent collection” since Shelby Schafer’s classic selection of soups, salads, sandwiches and quiche of the day have hardly changed for decades. You can choose seating inside Louis Kahn’s barrel-vaulted building or the shady open-air courtyard.