Chevalier and MoMA: The Art of Dreaming


On the early side for lunch at Chevalier, I  cross  to MoMA intent upon revisiting a  handful of long-standing friends, including one staggering beauty -- "The Dream "by the French painter Henri Rousseau (1844-1910). This would be Rousseau’s last painting, the one  he exhibited at the Salon des Independents in the spring of 1910,  only months before his death in September of that year.

The Dream

With a throng of visitors jostling to get close to the painting, taking a photo is not so easy. I do my best, but, by way of full disclosure, there are a few details missing on the right side of the canvas. Which in no way takes away from its intense beauty.

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Being that Rousseau worked as a toll collector, he was was given the disparaging nickname of Le Douanier.  A self-taught artistic genius, his paintings—naïve, primitive—were not held in great esteem during his lifetime. Indeed, critics were dismissive of his art. One exception being the young Picasso who owned and treasured Rousseau’s “Portrait of a Woman” (1895), which can be seen below.

Art and the Brain

Watching the crowd at MoMA, I find myself wondering why  viewing art is such an obsession with so many people? What do we get out of it?  Why are we moved by one visual experience, unmoved by another? Researchers throughout the country are doing brain wave experiments seeking the answers to those very questions. What they've learned is that the brain as an art critic is quick to judge. Shown a landscape, a portrait or an abstract rendering, the brain makes a snap decision in seconds: Like It. Don’t Like It. There's no hesitancy, no middle ground.

Henri_Rousseau_-_Portrait_of_a_Woman_(1895)I’ve been in love with "The Dream" since college, when I wrote a twenty page term paper on it. In love with the combination of the exotic and commonplace -- that loveseat sofa in the middle of a jungle. The voluptuous flowers which Rousseau taught himself to paint at the botanical garden in Paris. And what's with the peaceable 'wild' animals? the mysterious black figure playing the  horn? the naked woman seemingly in her element?  Lots to consider, but I've got to hurry, as it's time to meet my friend.


A Dream Come True

Chevalier 023 Chevalier, at 20  West 53rd Street,  is a new French offering tucked inside the Hotel Baccarat.  The restaurant is named after the longtime creative director of Baccarat, the  French crystal maker that celebrated its 250th anniversary last year. The interior is stunning-- cool and luxe with welcoming banquettes, and quite unlike any 'brasserie' I’ve ever seen.  An enchanting reinvention of the classic Parisian brasserie, it's the work of the interior designer Stephen Mills.

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When the restaurant opened in April 2014, there was a prix-fixe menu for both lunch and dinner. But starting last September, they added a la carte, which is more to my liking. Chevalier 021

The Executive Chef Shea Gallante is a  graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and at his previous restaurant, Cru, he was awarded a Michelin star and three stars from The New York Times.

I busy myself, surreptitiously taking photos and hoping the other guests wont notice, until my friend glides in, having been caught in traffic.

When the wines arrive, she who spent all of last summer sampling wines in Paris,  while studying at the Sorbonne, tasted the Viognier, and was not thrilled. But sampling the Sancerre -- voila! --she found it quite pleasing to the palette. What's not to like about a Sancerre?  The grape is the ever-popular Sauvignon Blanc and its home is in the fashionable Loire Valley, studded with castles and chateaux, lying to the west of Paris.  Yes, the wines by the glass are pricey, but for the most part well-chosen.

As for what we ate, the conversation flowed so effortlessly -- you've heard of the film, My Dinner with André? This could have been My Lunch with Andrea! -- that the food was secondary. That said, she enjoyed a delicious rigatoni bolognese and I a creamy risotto.   All  too soon, a dream-of-a-day was coming to an end. Whoops! My  UBER driver's  waiting.  If so, it's this New Yorker's dream.

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