The Perfect DC Museum Cafe: Mitsitam

DC Museum cafe: MitsitamSomewhere between pointing at planes at the Air & Space Museum and browsing the day’s headlines at the Newseum, my baby fell asleep. We had a small window of time to eat and maybe even have an adult conversation, and a McDonald’s inside a food court didn’t seem appealing. There are a lot of great Washington, D.C., museums that are free and world-class, but not many great food spots amidst the tourist spots. FourSquare didn’t find much, save a hot dog truck, but a Yelp search yielded a “glorified cafeteria” listing for the Mitsitam Cafe. It turned out to be inside the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, and specializes in indigenous foods from the Western Hemisphere.

Dishes change seasonally and are arranged by region: Northern Woodlands (think Thanksgiving-y foods like roast turkey and corn bread), South America (spicy ceviches), Northwest Coast (wild salmon and bison), Meso America (lots of yucca and corn) and Great Plains (lots of fried goodness). We chose chicken mole tacos with a wild rice and watercress salad, plus beans and sweet potatoes. I also had a venison mincemeat pie with whole grain mustard, pumpkin and blueberry fritters, and a parsnip puree soup. There was a wide selection of local beer and wine and a large variety of tempting desserts.

The cafeteria itself is large and airy, if crowded (we lucked into an empty table quickly at 2 p.m. on a Saturday). The downside is the prices: entrees can run over $20, and sides around $5 each (you can get a sample of 4 for $14). I blanched handing over my credit card to pay $50 for lunch, especially when I had to carry it myself on a tray. Still, the food was delicious and we left sated and ready to take on the next museum. If you are heading to D.C. this month for the Cherry Blossom Festival, it’s a great way to eat locally without leaving the museum district.

For more on good museum cafes, check out our guide to the best food at museums across the country.

[Photo credit: Meg Nesterov]

Museums scramble for retiring space shuttles

NASA has set the date for the last Space Shuttle launch at February 26, 2011, and as an era comes to a close, museums around the country are fighting to get their hands on one of the retiring vessels.

The Space Shuttle Discovery is earmarked for the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum. It has graciously agreed to give up the shuttle it already has–the Enterprise, which was used for testing but never flew into space. Besides the Enterprise, Shuttles Atlantis and Endeavour will also be available for museums.

The scramble for a Shuttle has not always been polite. A total of twenty-one institutions in almost as many states are competing for them, and Congressmen from Florida and Texas tried to get wording put in NASA’s latest funding bill that would give their states preferential treatment. The House Committee on Science and Technology rejected that move.

What museums do you think should get a shuttle? Give us your vote in the comments section!

Photo of the Space Shuttle Atlantis taken from above courtesy of NASA.

NASA wants $42 million for retired space shuttle

NASA has three space shuttles scheduled for retirement in the next two years, and for the first time ever, museums will have to shell out big bucks if they want to display the crafts.

NASA estimates that it will cost $42 million to get each shuttle ready for display — including $6 million to transport it — and they are asking the museums to foot the bill. NASA has never charged institutions like the Smithsonian in the past, but with the Ares I rocket and Orion capsule believed to be well over budget, NASA insiders say the program needs to pinch pennies wherever possible.

$42 million seems steep, but NASA isn’t trying to squeeze a profit out of these charges. This is simply their estimated cost for safing, display preparation, and transportation of a shuttle. “Safing” means decontamination of the fuel systems and removal of other safety and environmental hazards.

No museums have commented yet as to whether or not they would be willing to pay NASA’s asking price, which, by the way, is “subject to change.”

Click the images to learn about the most unusual museums in the world — from funeral customs, to penises, to velvet paintings, to stripping.