Viva Cafe at MOLAA: More Than Your Average Museum Fare
2009-11-24 · By Chandra Clewley
If you are a Southern Californian and anything like me, you most likely eat Latin food more often during the week than anything else. It has become such a staple for me that it is my “go to” food of choice no matter the event or where I am.
What better place than Long Beach to house MOLAA, the Museum of Latin American Art, and Viva Café, its very own homage to Latin dishes?
With Target Free Sundays at MOLAA, Iexpected a line out the door to see the Brazilian art of Capoeira when Mr. Right and I decided to check it out. He has attempted Capoeira before, and I have watched it be attempted by him, mouth agape.
We had heard there was a lovely little café on premise, so we decided to eat a late lunch and treat ourselves to a stroll around the grounds before the performance. I have long been disappointed by the quality of food in the cafes of convenience at other museums. I figure even museum goers deserve a little variety, not just mixed field greens with balsamic vinaigrette or a turkey wrap.
Thankfully, what we got at Viva Café wasn’t the same old standard fare.
The Viva Café menu says it is a “celebration of the cuisine of Latin America” and it remarkably delivers! Thank goodness we were with another couple, because we ordered for a party of 12. The prices were surprisingly palatable, being that we were on the premises of a museum.
We started with the Tostones ($3.95), Caldo Gallego ($4.95), La Batata Frita ($2.95) and Ceviche ($4.95). In “American” that is: fried plantains, a vegetable and sausage soup, sweet potato French fries and marinated fish/shrimp. Our main course was a Brazilian steak with citrus lime sauce ($11.95) that was featured to honor Brazil, and for dessert we ordered Café Mocha’s ($3.95), Flan ($4.95), Magdalena ($4.95), and Rice Pudding ($4.95).
The Tostones were brilliant, fried perfectly with a delicious garlic dipping sauce. The Caldo Gallego tasted like homemade soup with all the bits and pieces of what has been cooking in the kitchen, thrown into the mix. This can sometimes backfire, but here it tasted great, with a mild broth and the Choripan sausage to give sthe soup character and texture.
The Ceviché was shrimp based, which I appreciated, but sometimes can get the traditionalists “humming and hawing” for the traditionally rare or raw fish that is the protein in this Latin standard. But, as with most things that are newly haute, this dish has become so popular in the U.S. in the last year that I relish in the fact that you get a different expression of ceviché in most every restaurant that makes it these days. With that in mind, this was more traditionally “American” than most, and I could have ordered seconds without a doubt. It was delicious.
The sweet potato fries, well of course those were good. How can you fry any type of potato and not have it be good? The Especial Del Dia, the Brazilian skirt steak with the citrus lime, was well seasoned and the steak was tender with no fat, which in this instance, was just right. The Café Mocha’s were chocolaty decadence and huge, the Flan was exceptional.
I have to say I was so pleasantly surprised with Viva Café! I loved the choice of food; the courtyard was contemporary with tiled floors, a deep blue accent wall, a few sculptures that hinted at the sculpture garden on the other side of the building, the lines were crisp and clean, there were ceiling sales, and friendly, local staff. I would recommend it to anyone that is looking for a visceral, artistic, all encompassing lunch event. Catch Viva Café on the right day and you get warm sunshine; wonderful service; great, well priced food and just the right modern/contemporary ambience to tie it all together.
Viva Café is located in the Museum of Latin American Art at the corner of 6th and Alaminos. Please see their website for directions and hours at: http://www.molaa.org/Shopping-and-Dining/viva-cafe.aspx
(Images courtesy of Kristen Dunlap)