For a very high-minded cultural activity, Seattle residents can now tour Gauguin & Polynesia: An Elusive Paradise at the Seattle Art Museum. And for a rather lowbrow alternative, they can snack on the tie-in foods created by nearby restaurants to honor the exhibit.
The museum's own restaurant, Taste, and Wild Ginger have both debuted limited-time menus to complement the show featuring 60 paintings, sculptures and prints by Paul Gauguin and 60 Polynesian sculptures. Each restaurant is serving a quasi-tropical cocktail too.
Before sampling the drinks and dishes last week, I toured the Gauguin exhibit to get a sense of just what the chefs might attempt to capture. Unlike his fellow post-impressionist Paul Cezanne, Gauguin apparently wasn't much for painting eggplants and onions, making it difficult to literally reproduce his work on a plate. "Three Tahitians" depicts a woman clutching an apple, but food is otherwise absent from the included works, which showcase bright colors; endless, undulating lines and an obsession with the exotic. But the invisibility of food doesn't mean the scenes are sterile: My favorite gallery featured Gauguin's woodcuts for a planned South Seas memoir entitled Noa Noa, or fragrance.
At Taste, chef Craig Hetherington has created a number of the dishes intended to evoke memories of the exhibit three floors above. "Gauguin was a master of vibrant color and exotic ambiance," he announced in a release. "My menu will reflect that spirit. I will pair foods like coconut, papaya, mango, with our local Northwest ingredients." The menu I received didn't include any tropical fruits, but there was a housemade Spam on the list.
Gauguin died 34 years before Spam's invention, but he probably did eat pork during his Polynesian sojourn. The salty, hard-fried wedge of meat was served over sticky rice swept with Dijon mustard, and accompanied by a pile of greens greased with bacon fat. It's a fine dish, although in desperate need of a gently fried egg.
Mat Hayward The official photo of Wild Ginger's Malay Mama. My drink wasn't so red.
For its exhibit cocktail, Taste is mixing hot pepper vodka, mango puree and lime juice with muddled basil leaves. Since Gauguin was a drunk, I assume he would have enjoyed it: I liked the pulse of spice, but wished the puree hadn't made the drink quite so thick.
Over at Wild Ginger, the Gauguin-inspired cocktail is significantly sweeter. When I asked the bartender what it included, he told me "A lot." That lot apparently includes coconut rum, guava rum, orange juice, pineapple juice and orange juice, meaning it's a drink that probably shouldn't be served at a bar that isn't floating. It tastes like a banana salt water taffy.
But Wild Ginger got the noa noa right on its twice-cooked chicken wings, which were so aromatic that a staffer stopped to comment on them. The taut wings, soaked in ginger and soy, had a sharp nutty flavor. While I can't imagine Gauguin and his pal Van Gogh spent much time eating wings, they surely wouldn't have refused these.