Incoming - Artifact

There’s been a longstanding grumble from food and drink people in San Diego. Namely, that the city’s centerpiece, Balboa Park—that 1,200-acre Spanish-ish wonderland of arches and tree shade—needs more food and drink options. Put a speakeasy behind those large cacti. We want supper clubs in the catacombs, negronis on rooftops, a craft beer plaza, a promenade littered with taco trucks and shawarma stands. It’s got world-class art and landscaping and architecture. Now make it a world-class experience—somewhere you can go and just never leave until they force us to.

Today it gets closer to that vision. Mingei Museum has announced it’s pulling in one of the city’s top restaurant groups, Urban Kitchen Group (Cucina Urbana, Cucina Enoteca, Cucina Sorella) as part of its $55 million renovation. Owner Tracy Borkum, executive chef Tim Kolanko (ex-A.R. Valentien, Blue Bridge Hospitality), and designer Jennifer Luce of Luce et Studio (George’s California Modern, Extraordinary Desserts) are creating two unique spaces: Craft Café at Mingei, scheduled to open the week of September 3, and then we’ll get Artifact at Mingei in mid-October, a full-service restaurant.

Both new concepts will live on the museum’s Commons level—a free-to-the-public space that serves as a sort of living room at Balboa Park, with design and art exhibits all rooted in Mingei’s mission to celebrate folk art, craft, and design under the credo “Art of the World, Art of the People.”

Craft Café will be a grab-and-go breakfast and lunch spot with specialty coffees, teas, smoothies, salads, bowls, egg dishes, panini, housemade pastries, snacks, and so on. Artifact will be the sit-down showpiece with a menu from Kolanko and chef de cuisine Jeff Armstrong. Dishes will include:

  • Shrimp dumplings with charred shishito, yuzu broth, and bonito flakes

  • Crispy pork belly with celery root, green apple, barberry sherry gastrique, juniper, clove, and mustard seed

  • Apicius chicken with garam, honey, dill, and root veg

  • Snapper with tamarind, curry leaf, cardamom, and turmeric smashed Tahitian squash

  • Wagyu steak with lapsang souchong, shiso oil, maitake  

Being a restaurant in an art house, Artifact will have its own elaborate installations, including: a 30-foot reclaimed wood bar from Tule Peak Timber; a 30-foot wool tapestry above the tap handles from artist and activist Claudy Jongstra called Truth & Beauty in Black; and Luce’s own Suspended Rain, a 125-foot stainless steel canopy that stretches above the entire Commons level, composed of five ribbons digitally die-cut so that—if run through a player piano—it would perfectly render the song “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?”

“The architectural design for Artifact and Craft Café melds art, design, and the craft of intriguing materials,” Luce says. “We have woven a spatial story with a patinated steel back-bar, brass bar taps, old-growth California walnut surfaces, Swiss Vals stone tables, and furnishings that express classic modernism from many decades of design tradition.”

Troy Johnson is the magazine’s award-winning food writer and humorist, and a long-standing expert on Food Network. His work has been featured on NatGeo, Travel Channel, NPR, and in Food Matters, a textbook of the best American food writing.

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