The restaurant empire of the late Antoine Toubia has waned over the past 20 years, most notably in 2009 when longtime Mediterranean stalwart the Olive Tree closed its doors for good.
His influence is still felt thanks to the efforts of his loved ones who carry on the family business through the restaurants that remain a part of his Latour Management group, including Piccadilly at 7728 E. Central and Bagatelle at 6801 E. Harry.
Another restaurant that falls under the Latour umbrella is the Muse, in the Wichita Art Museum. Under the control of Joumana Toubia, Antoine’s sister and former executive chef at the Olive Tree, the Muse is among the most well-staffed and atmospherically appropriate restaurants in Wichita.
The dining room is filled with glass, solid lines, blacks and whites and sunlight, thanks to the large windows providing an expansive if uninspiring view of the WAM lawn and the Little Arkansas River beyond. The dining room benefits from the leadership of a waiter named Carl, who is effervescent, polite and always sure to drop a “thank you.” Carl shuttles back and forth to the counter connecting the kitchen, from which stream dishes that very nearly could be considered works of art.
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I’m not sure what caused Toubia to focus her menu on the smorrebrod, a Danish version of an open-faced sandwich, nor am I sure that what is offered at the Muse could even qualify as an open-faced sandwich considering how much the toppings exceed the boundaries of the slice of bread provided. But it’s quite nice to observe and consume. The roast beef invoked the rustic flavors of the British Sunday roast, with tender meat and plenty of fresh vegetables. The cranberry chicken salad is a delicately arranged menagerie of beets, carrots, apples, bleu cheese and walnuts around a mound of freshly made chicken salad. Neither of these entrees made much sense as a sandwich, but I took the extra piece of bread as a bonus, not a hindrance. (Most sandwiches and entrees range from $7 to $10.)
Other parts of the menu were equally creative though not necessarily as successful. The French onion burger was served with loads of sweet onions and melty mozzarella to get the point across, though the burger was seared to the point of being dry. The “poached eggs hollandaise,” an inexplicably boring name for an eggs Benedict, contained perfectly poached eggs, crispy bacon and a slightly fishy-smelling salmon with soggy skin. With the amount of spice the fish received, it was still more interesting than the ham that’s usually offered.
Considering the amount of space the restaurant is working with, many of these quibbles can be explained away. The restaurant wants to excel beyond the limitations of its confines. I support that, with the exception of how it treats the humble potato. No matter if it’s quartered and baked to a crisp as fries, turned into a cake for the Benedict, or mashed for the roast beef, the Muse’s spuds are dry, starchy and usually extremely hot. The best use of the potato was in the potato cake, though that was probably because other ingredients covered up its foibles.
The Muse is a restaurant that does a lot with a limited space. It’s the kind of place that’s appropriate for grabbing a late brunch as you gaze over the most picturesque neighborhood in the city. It complements the art and offers a lunch experience that’s hard to find in Wichita. It pays respect to the Toubia name through offering a glimpse of the Continental that we are otherwise lacking.
We may have moved beyond the Olive Tree, but I suspect we will continue to feel the influence of Toubia for years to come.