FOOD & DRINK // Gather ye round

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July 18, 2011
By: Carla Waldemar
Carla Waldemar
The café’s tables were abuzz with global tongues: Japanese on one side, French on the other; the lilting English of a few Norwegians just beyond, and, ya, the couple from Fargo. The airport? No, the Walker.

They came for the art; they stayed for the food — and, since the takeover in June by the D’Amico operation, what’s on the plate is as noteworthy as what’s on the walls.

Both the name — “Gather:” how inviting is that? — and the décor — warmed with a new banquette and other touches of purple — are fine improvements.

But the smartest change occurred behind the scene, in the kitchen. The food, in a word, is fabulous. Plate after plate at sensible luncheon sizes and prices comes out photo-ready, curated with a global vibe but swearing allegiance to local growers.

The grazing-forward menu is divided by main attraction — vegetables, fish, meat —rather than the customary soup-salad-entrée (you’ll find some of each within each listing). Depending on your affinity for risk, you can either push the envelope (watermelon-feta salad) or reel it in (tomato soup sided with grilled cheese). Sandwiches careen from banh mi to turkey burger.

We started with the agnolotti, plucked from the vegetable list ($7–$9): tender pasta pockets plumped with a puree of sweet peas and served in a light-as-helium tomato puree — not even a distant relation to the supermarket stuff — under a flurry of Parmesan.

Casting into the fish list ($8–$16), we next shared a warm salmon salad. The Copper River’s flesh arrived peony-pink, slow-cooked till just beyond tartare (in other words, perfect), then launched atop a warm flurry of faro grains in a sunny lemon vinaigrette.

Add a slice of New French-baked bread and you’re in heaven. But if you’d ordered the halibut saluting spring with green onions, morels and fava beans, chances are, you’d get there, too.

Carnivores have it tougher: How to choose between sandwiches like the barbecued beef shortribs banh mi and the fried-egg and ham on grilled baguette with oyster mushrooms, roasted poblanos and Mexican cheese? Then there’s that that turkey burger.

Instead we went all trad and summoned the buttermilk-marinated chicken, juicy as you please beneath that way-too-yummy, crispy skin. It’s served with a melange of artichokes, Swiss chard and sweet peas under a topknot of burrata (ricotta) cheese (meats $8–$12).

Our excellent server, well-schooled in the menu and friendly as a camp counselor, steered us to “the chef’s favorite” dessert: a sliver of blueberry cornmeal upside-down cake dotted with Greek yogurt and a skim of honey. That’s the point when I decided that leaving the last bite for your partner is a highly overrated virtue.

Gather  //  Walker Art Center  //  1750 Hennepin Ave. S.  //  253-3542