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London, United Kingdom
April 6, 2008
The Pavilion Café was really a wonderful place to stop on such a cold day as we warmed ourselves, enjoying the view of the sculpture park and a small rink where families and children enjoyed themselves on the ice. It was the epitome of a winter wonderland.
Our food arrived fairly quickly and wasn’t quite as overwhelming as the view. The French Onion Soup was a poor imitation, with big chunks of cheddar cheese lamenting in a thin broth and very little onion to speak of. I’d ordered a Cuban Panini, which was a strange concoction of provolone cheese, deli ham as well as roasted pork. It wasn’t bad but at $8.50 it certainly wasn’t a good example of value for money. I ordered a herbal tea and my colleague celebrated the early end of our work day with a cold beer as alcohol is available for purchase. I couldn’t help wishing that we’d had time for a hot chocolate as that seemed to be the more appropriate beverage that day.
The service was somewhat disorganized but the staff were so sweet and cheerful that I feel bad being overly critical. They initially forgot our order of soup and seemed under-prepared even for the small crowd of customers that day being as they were all out of salads and many of the sandwiches by the time we arrived at 2pm on a Wednesday. I imagine that on a warmer day or during peak season at the Smithsonian this place does brisk business. It’s one of the few desirable places outside of the museums open for lunch and is certainly a better option than the many kiosks around offering fast food snacks and soft drinks.
From journal Don’t Drive in DC (& Other Tips for a Sane Business Trip)
July 29, 2002
Hah! Snap out of it! This is the Mall, for heaven’s sake. Your options are to brown-bag it, chance it at one of the hot dog purveyors on Constitution or Independence Avenues, or dine at one of the museum eateries.
Alas, all Mall restaurants are not created equal. Avoid, if you possibly can, the monster cafeterias in the Air & Space Museum, Museum of American History, and Natural History Museum. That is, unless you really enjoy deafening shoals of schoolchildren and cluttered lunchroom-style dining. (Oh, and did I mention that it’ll cost you a small fortune? How remiss of me.) The sad fact is that the Smithsonian, stellar though its museums may be, has a "head ‘em up, and move ‘em out!" cattle-drive approach to dining.
Luckily, the National Gallery of Art is not part of the Smithsonian. So, should you find yourself on the Mall and in dire need of sustenance, it’s best to head to one of the four cafes run by the National Gallery: the Cascade Café (located in the underground concourse between the West and East Buildings), the Garden Café (on the ground floor of the West Building), the Terrace Café (in the upper level of the East Building), or the Pavilion Café (in a small freestanding building in the Sculpture Garden).
While I’ve eaten in all four National Gallery cafés, my pick of the lot is the Pavilion Café. It’s nestled in the green oasis of the Sculpture Garden, right alongside a fountain plaza that doubles as an ice rink in the winter. The café itself is an architectural gem – a low curvilinear building, all glass, metal tracery, and natural lighting. You can sit inside and have a marvelous view of the oversized Calders, Oldenburgs, and Lichtensteins set amongst the trees and shrubbery. Better yet, weather permitting take your tray outside and sit at an umbrella-shaded table to listen to the splash of the fountain and breathe the hydrangea-scented air.
The food’s not shabby either. The salads, sandwiches, and entrees are all freshly prepared and reasonably priced. A bed of romaine lettuce topped with chilled poached salmon, thin slices of red onion, croutons, and tangy dressing was my choice for a delicious light lunch recently. Folks at a nearby table were commenting on how well they liked their selections – oversized, crusty panini sandwiches.
A lunch like that, and you’re ready to take on the world again. Or at least the Smithsonian.
From journal Paper Chase