When the Walker Art Center swapped out global über-chef (and, to this critic’s mind, local underperformer) Wolfgang Puck and his 20.21 for Gather, a restaurant by Twin Cities restaurant and catering powerhouse D’Amico, it made perfect sense. After all, the Walker’s food business is overwhelmingly about catering on-site events. Before now, just how the museum’s restaurant fit into that business was always unclear. Is it the little light-up appendage dangled by a bottom-dwelling fish to attract prey toward the mouth? Or is it the showcase for the vast talents of hardworking chefs who normally focus on events? 20.21 seemed the former; the new Gather seems very much the latter. And so far, I’ve truly been dazzled with the place. Dazzled with a caveat: Gather is only open for dinner one night a week, Thursday, when the museum is open late. (They’re open for lunch daily, except Mondays, when the museum is closed.)
Is it hard to knock the ball out of the park if you’re serving dinner only once a week? I don’t know, but hit it out of the park they have. The smoked-beef carpaccio I tried was deep, dark, and delicious, the mahogany petals of beef adorned with intense little bits of shiitake mushrooms, black garlic, and saba syrup—an inspired addition made from wine grapes on the path to becoming balsamic vinegar.
This appetizer was contributed by Alex Roberts of Restaurant Alma, in keeping with D’Amico’s plan to bring in a new guest chef every month. Initially, I worried that this idea would be a disaster, the kitchen whipsawing from style to style, cuisine to cuisine every month. Thankfully, it’s not like that at all. On my visit, the guest chef’s cooking was limited to two appetizers—two appetizers that fit in nicely with Gather chef Josh Brown’s overall menu of delicate, graceful, Asian-touched fare. Brown’s tuna crudo, for instance, was one of the most delightful I’ve ever had: silky planks of tuna paired with pithless orange segments and a lilting papaya salad. Gather’s warm, salt-roasted beet salad with julienne asparagus, Parmesan, and fat green pistachios was a triumph, hitting all the points of sour, salty, sweet, fresh, and meaty in the lightest possible way.
The kitchen is also strong when it comes to fish: the slow-cooked wild salmon on warm faro salad was exquisite. Gather’s itty-bitty wine list has just 15 options, eight by the bottle only, but it’s good nonetheless. Service was fine, if nothing special; ditto for the desserts. The dining room itself remains as dazzling as ever, with its walls of glass and vast views of the Minneapolis skyline. (The space has been barely touched since the turnover.) If you have any ability to combine a Thursday dinner with fireworks over Target field, I think that would be a dinner to remember for all time. That said, Gather’s greatest triumph may well be the way they set the bar low, aiming to be a good museum restaurant, and then exceeded expectations. It’s a far better formula than the reverse.
Finally, a museum restaurant with artistic food. Who cares if they’re only open for lunch and Thursday dinner?
Ideal Meal: As many of the small-plates as you can, especially the tuna crudo and salt-roasted beet salad. Tip: Pair a visit with Target-sponsored free Thursday nights for urban living at its best. Hours: Lunch Tuesday–Sunday, 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.; dinner Thursday only, 5–9 p.m. Prices: Appetizers, lunch entrées, under $15; dinner entrees, $15–$25. Address: 1750 Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-253-3410, info.walkerart.org/visit/dining.wac