New courtyard dining spot debuts at La Jolla’s expanded Museum of Contemporary Art

The Kitchen is a new outdoor restaurant at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego in La Jolla.
(K.C. Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The Kitchen, where all seating is outdoors in a garden cafe, serves breakfast and lunch Wednesdays through Sundays.


Still fresh off the $105 million renovation and expansion that it unveiled last year, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego in La Jolla introduced the public to a new outdoor dining venue, The Kitchen, on Feb. 10 in a museum courtyard surrounded by lush landscaping.

“This is a beautiful sight,” Kathryn Kanjo told a crowd of about 110 people outside the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its flagship La Jolla location April 5.

The Kitchen, which serves breakfast and lunch from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays, may eventually extend its hours for dinner service, but there is no timeline yet for that, said longtime restaurateur Tracy Borkum, who is returning to a recent venture of hers — museum dining. Borkum’s Urban Kitchen Group opened its first museum eating spot a little over a year ago at the remodeled Mingei International Museum in San Diego’s Balboa Park.

In addition to The Kitchen’s 2,420-square-foot garden cafe where there is seating for 80, there is a smaller space inside the original museum building that Borkum’s group has designed for selling a curated selection of goods, including coffee, tea, house-made pastries and grab-and-go food for breakfast and lunch.

Server Louie Reyes delivers a dish at The Kitchen at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego in La Jolla.
Server Louie Reyes delivers a dish at The Kitchen, a new restaurant in the outdoor courtyard of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego in La Jolla.
(K.C. Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

“The outdoor space is a total garden setting, and we’ve added to it by including large green shade umbrellas and soft coloring,” Borkum said. “It’s nicely protected from the wind and there’s just enough shade. And in the interior space, [designer] Jennifer Luce worked on that. It’s very respectful to the renovation of the museum, using a lot of metal and grays with touches of green that we brought in from the garden.”

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The new venue came about as a result of a solicitation that MCASD made a couple of years ago for dining proposals well in advance of last spring’s reopening of the expanded museum. Urban Kitchen Group was chosen from among several bidders.

“Our main objective throughout the expansion and in reopening has been to create a more welcoming, inclusive and sustainable institution,” said April Farrell, director of earned revenue at the museum. “It will be part of the visitor experience as they journey through the galleries, our beautiful terraces and now The Kitchen, too.”

Borkum, whose group has a half-dozen restaurants in addition to the museum locations, said: “It’s different than with just a landlord where you have a regular lease. This is more of a partnership. There are a lot of decisions they participate in, whereas in a restaurant, you wouldn’t run those kinds of decisions by your landlord.

“I think we were chosen because of our understanding for art and how we treat food.”

Chef-partner Tim Kolanko said the museum’s setting on the coast helped inspire the Mediterranean-focused menu that makes use of bolder spices and marinades for dishes such as a swordfish kebab plate and roasted chicken marinated in whipped garlic, Aleppo pepper and sumac. Executive chef Jeff Armstrong is overseeing the museum project.

Still in the works for the La Jolla museum is a tasting menu that will be offered in a private event venue known as the Sahm Seaview Room. The plan is to serve lunch there on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Four-course menus will be priced from $50 to $65, not including wine pairings. It is expected to be ready by late spring.

Also planned for the 840-square-foot glass-enclosed dining room are periodic collaborative dinners bringing together chefs, farmers and other artisans.

“It’s a pretty small space, so it’s not a big gangbuster revenue type of experience,” Kolanko said. “But the view and the way it’s situated, it’s more a place to create a great, elevated experience.” ◆