Feed the Spirit Too

Wiley 1

“Pairings” are turning up on menus everywhere. They’ve become common currency in the culinary world. Small plate pairings. Three course pairings – appetizer, entrée and dessert. Prix fixe meals. Tasting menus. Wines paired to match prix fixe and tasting menus.

Matching food and wine is definitely the easy way. The restaurant selects a few food courses and matches them with complimentary wines. It’s good marketing for them and eliminates that sometimes awkward moment when you’re looking for a $30 bottle of wine on a list with Tiffany-like prices. Easy does it, and beware that while wine pairings may provide a good match they might also be a way for the restaurant to inflate the check.

Recently I’ve been working on my own different set of pairings – combining food and drink with art, music, and theater. Combine dinner with something cultural. It’s a tasty way to enhance the art experience – Happy Hour before a play or dinner after the museum or gallery walk. Incorporate a culinary adventure. It’s date night revisited, and it doesn’t need to be fancy or expensive, just creative.

For example…

If you live anywhere near Seattle you don’t want to miss the current exhibit of paintings by Kehinde Wiley at the Seattle Art Museum. It’s a smackdown experience and you won’t have another chance after the show closes on May 8, 2016.

I didn’t know anything about Wiley when the SAM show opened in February, but I should have. You’ll see why if you see the show. The most simplistic explanation of his work is that he recruits his models from African-American street people he encounters in his neighborhood. He asks them to pose and photographs them in their own clothing then paints them into pictures based on old masters and historical works.

Wiley 2

The finished paintings are an odd juxtaposition of street art and old masters. Wiley uses vivid primary colors to paint his models in a photo-realistic style inserting them into old masters or against floral tapestry backgrounds (like the painting at the top of this article). Most of the models sport hip-hop fashions. The one exception is Michael Jackson, who commissioned Wiley to paint him into the 17th Century painting of Phillip II of Spain by Peter Paul Rubens.


Wiley was born in LA 39 years ago but after completing his studies at Yale he moved to New York to began his remarkable career. Several years ago he opened a studio in Beijing, where he now spends a portion of each year. There is a lengthy video about his life and work included in the SAM exhibit, and an app called Layar (AR) that can be downloaded and used as an audio aid in conjunction with selected paintings.

Don’t miss it!

So, what did we pair with the Wiley show? We wanted a restaurant that was an easy walk from SAM. Coincidentally, it was Restaurant Week in Seattle, so there were many choices. Restaurant Week is a collaboration between the Seattle Restaurant Cooperative and the Seattle Times. Twice a year, in April and October, they collaborate on a promotion that enlists 165 restaurants to offer 3 course meals for $30.

M and I use Restaurant Week to try new places, ones we’ve read about but never visited. With drinks and tip it ends up costing about the same as any night out – somewhere around $100 for two, but it’s a chance to sample some appetizers, entrees, and desserts and vet places for future nights out.

From my tenure in the restaurant business I can tell you that if you you’re looking for a place to eat in a city you find out where the restaurant people go. Generally, there are a couple of places where they gather to eat, drink, and hang out after their shifts. When we started planning for RW a couple of weeks ago we heard Lecosho, a relatively new spot near SAM, was that kind of place.


Finding the right “pairing” also depends on the event. If it’s a play or music we try to find a good Happy Hour for small plates and a drink. On the other hand  SAM stays open until 9 p.m. on Thursday and once a month presents a music program called The Art of Jazz with local and nationally recognized musicians. We planned our early evening visit last week to catch the Wiley exhibit and The Art of Jazz. It worked out perfectly and it was easy for us to make our 8 o’clock reservation at Lecosho, just a block away.

Dinner was exceptional; my seared scallops with purple asparagus were delicious and M’s pork chop was so big and plump that she took half home for lunch the next day. Our server, Jennifer aka JJ, was friendly and helpful without the “Hi, I’m JJ your server” routine. Her service was so good that I asked her name. She was attentive without trying to be our newest best friend. All in all it was a very full and enjoyable day – from Kehinde Wiley to The Art of Jazz to dinner at Lecosho. We’ll do it again and in the next few weeks I plan to share some other “pairings” that we think are perfect for nights out at the symphony, theater, or listening to an author read from his or her new book.

Seattle is one of the most literate cities in the country and in the forefront of innovative cuisine. The combination offers a lot of satisfying options to feed the spirit. I hope this gives you some ideas of how to find a good pairing the next time you go to the museum or a play. It’s all about creating a memorable experience.

But first… don’t miss the Wiley show at SAM if you’re anywhere near Seattle in the next three weeks.

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