6 Ways Marisol Is Redefining the Museum Restaurant

Everything is artful at the Museum of Contemporary Art's new eatery
September 15, 2017
by Matt Kirouac

The colorful mural by Chris Ofili sets the tone for the restaurant as a whole

After lingering on our seasonal “Most Anticipated” lists for a few seasons, one of the year’s biggest openings is finally up and running. Marisol represents a unique collaboration between the Museum of Contemporary Art, designer Chris Ofili and Jason Hammel, the chef-owner of Logan Square’s long-standing Lula Cafe. The restaurant gives equal emphasis to both its art forms — design and cuisine — and is helping reshape the museum restaurant concept. Here are six ways the restaurant is a game changer for Chicago’s restaurant and museum scene. 

Prawns roasted in walnut oil is one example of Hammel's ingenuity and eye for presentation; photo by Carolina Mariana Rodriguez

The food draws direct inspiration from its namesake artist 

Marisol was a French-Venezuelan artist who dazzled the New York art scene in the '60s with her friend Andy Warhol. Her 1968 piece "Six Women" was the first installation in the Museum of Contemporary Art’s collection. In line with her contemporary, envelope-pushing spirit and vitality, Hammel’s food is modern, colorful and bold. Examples include crispy eggplant with roasted grapes, pistou, and sweet and sour pork, and steamed swordfish with cauliflower, cherry tomatoes and uni hollandaise.

The chef knows local sourcing

Hammel has deep ties to the Midwestern farm scene, where he has been fostering relationships for two decades, long before farm-to-table became the norm. When he opened Lula with his wife in the '90s, the restaurant was one of the first places in Chicago to commit to local, sustainable and seasonable vegetables, fruits, cheeses, grains and meats. It’s what made Lula a pioneer back then, and it’s what makes Hammel such a good fit for the museum’s boundary-pushing restaurant. 

Vaulted ceilings and bright pops of color distinguish the dining room; photo by Kendall McCaugherty

The design could be an exhibit all its own

The museum’s director Madeleine Grynsztejn pulled together a world-class team of designers to bring Marisol to life. Located at street level, the restaurant is meant to draw people in and weave together the building’s public spaces via art, food and design. Architecture firm Johnston Marklee used vaulted ceilings and bright colors to enliven the restaurant and evoke the museum's collection. Chris Ofili did the interior art, notably an eye-popping mural along the back wall. The mural also inspired the surfaces, hues and textures throughout the dining room. 

This is an all-day spot

While many museum restaurants only serve lunch, Marisol will be open all day, initially serving dinner, and ultimately adding brunch, lunch and a casual pastry counter. Still to come are lunch offerings like a French omelet, a fried trout sandwich and a rotating Marisol salad and Marisol sandwich, two dishes using the artist’s own recipes and favorite foods from her time in New York. The Street is the restaurant’s most casual segment — a counter-service area featuring coffee, pastries and small bites for museumgoers or passersby.  

The sunflower tart is art you can eat; photo by Jeff Marini

Dessert is not to be missed

Desserts from Allison Cates, a veritable pastry artist, are some of the most exciting of the year. The pastry chef preserves seasonal ingredients to incorporate jams and compotes. She uses stone fruit pits to up the nuttiness of ice cream served with a chocolate namaleka, a creamy ganachelike dessert rooted in Japanese baking, served with almonds, cherries and noyaux. Other standouts include a sunflower tart with buckwheat and blackberries, and tres leches cake infused with coconut, squash and cajeta.

The drink list is also Marisol inspired

For instance, there’s a Six Women cocktail made with two kinds of vermouth, Buffalo Trace bourbon, Angostura bitters and lemon. Speaking of vermouth, the restaurant boasts a deep apéritif selection. And beyond cocktails and natural wines, Marisol is working with Metric Coffee to create a signature blend. 

Marisol is now open Tuesday through Saturday from 5:30–10 PM for dinner, and bar service is Tuesday through Thursday from 5:30–10 PM and Friday through Saturday from 5:30–11 PM. Brunch and lunch are coming soon. 

205 E. Pearson St.; 312-799-3599