When the Walker announced that it was giving Wolfgang Puck the boot, shutting down 20.21, and handing operations over to the D'Amico clan, the line was all about bringing it home and bringing it local. We're all past that meaning lutefisk and hot dish, right? We all understand that on the national scene, Cal-Asian cuisine has had its limelight and now our humble Midwestern cuisine is grabbing the mic, right?If you need any more proof, just eat at Gather.
The thing is, people on the coasts are going all rapturous for canning parties and pie, and we just sit here smiling, thinking, "Yeah, we know." But when farm food becomes fabulous, we have to stay in step, even ratchet it up a bit. That's what's cooking at Gather: a lot of food that has a simple sensibility, made with great technique and a modern eye, because, after all, you're eating it in a heptagonally inspired modern robot head of a dining room in the Walker. That being said, don't expect just Minnesota food; the menu has a nice global edge on which the chefs riff.
Furthermore, consider this: It's mostly lunch that's being served. Gather is open for evening serice only on Thursday nights, so the majority of the menu has to be tailored for the midday meal, which is usually a briefer, more succinct affair than a leisurely, out-for-the-night dinner. Dishes have to make an impact, deliver a right hook to the taste buds, without a heavy hand or hefty portions. Chef Josh Brown does this quite well.
A perfectly summery watermelon salad sits on a riot of fresh arugula dotted with feta cheese. The accompanying zippy serrano vinaigrette just jumps the whole dish up a tick. An earthy farro salad is brightened with lemon and works very well with soft and lovely slow-cooked salmon. And the buttermilk-marinated chicken—a tender and juicy hunk with an herby, pan-crisped top—is leagues above the average chicken dish. The fact that it comes nestled next to marinated artichoke hearts and a supple lump of fresh burrata makes it a standout. With the perfect bit of tangy and creamy and juicy, it nearly writes the word buttermilk in your memory.
On the night menu you'll find a mix of dishes from lunch and a few new small plates. Some of these will come from a rotating visiting chef–Alex Roberts of Alma had contributed a dark and dusky smoked beef carpaccio when I visited. Snacky things such as fries with truffle and small grilled cheese are fine, but the tuna crudo and short-rib banh mi are better. My favorite tasty dessert was the blueberry cornmeal upside-down cake with Greek yogurt and honey, but I also liked having the option of finishing the meal with one of the fruity non-alcoholic cocktails, such as the Push Pop combining tangerine, cherries, and pear nectar.
At the bottom of the menu, a small-print paragraph thanks the specialty suppliers, including familiar local farms that usually get more prominent billing on menus. It's an evolution that is gracious but modern, much like the rest of Gather. Walker Art Center, 1750 Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-253-3410
3 Great Plates
Tuna Crudo: Supple raw tuna sliced and swimming with green papaya, fennel, and orange delivers a vibrant, citrusy bite.
Turkey Sandwich: Local turkey is matched with apricot mustard jam, creame cheese, and bacon on rustic bread, accompanied by the best house-made potato chips.
Raw and Cooked Vegetables: A mess of homey seasonal vegetables with a hard-cooked egg and ricotta salata makes a nice vegetarian option.
Getting There, Getting In: On-street parking in the neighborhood and evening valet available Th–Sa for $6.
Hours: Tu–Su 11:30 am–2:30 pm, Th 5–9 pm, closed M
Noise Level: Moderate to high
Kids: Food is simple enough for kids plus there's a kids menu
Cards: Discover, MC, Visa
Entrée Prices: $7–$15