Gather: A first look inside D'Amico's new restaurant at the Walker

Gather at the Walker

Gather at the Walker

When it was announced that D'Amico would be replacing celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck's 20.21 at the Walker Art Center, everyone seemed to have an opinion. Today is your chance to form a firsthand opinion on how they're doing. Gather opens at 11:30 a.m. today. 

Rather than going for the dinner crowds, Gather will only be open for lunch Tuesday through Sundays, except for Thursday. Every Thursday, 5 to 9 p.m., in conjunction with the Walker's free Thursdays, the restaurant will feature a small-plate dinner service showcasing dishes from guest chefs. Tonight is the first such Thursday.

Before the formal opening, however, we were given a sneak peek.

[jump] Executive Chef Josh Brown's menu features global flavors on elegant, reasonably sized plates.  "It's really hard to get that balance for lunch. You want a filling dish, but nothing too heavy," he explained. D'Amico kindly paid our bill so that we could get a broad taste of the menu.

We began with thick triangles of watermelon piled atop peppery arugula and dressed with a spirited serrano vinaigrette topped with tumbles of soft, salty feta cheese ($7.50). The sweet gush of ripe watermelon juice heralds the return of summer. Thin pepper slices are mixed into the vinagrette the day before, slowly releasing some of the pepper's heat and giving each little sliver the sweet-tart twang of being pickled.

That was followed by silken blankets of tuna crudo with crunchy green papaya, anise-spiked fennel slivers, and a dusting of cilantro and mint, accompanied by juicy little orange supremes ($10.50).

D'Amico executive chef Josh Brown

D'Amico executive chef Josh Brown

The beef shortrib bahn mi begins with slow-roasted, rich meat wrapped tightly into rectangles and chilled so that it can be thinly sliced before a quick sear on the flat top ($10).  It's accompanied by house-pickled vegetables on freshly made ciabatta rolls and served with some of the best homemade chips to be found in the city. The result of an exhaustive search for the perfect potato and technique, each thin, crisp slice is ever so slightly toasted, virtually grease-free, and topped with fried basil and parsley and just a little garlic. 

Daytime beverages include different takes on lemonade, including a zingy ginger-infused glass or a French countryside-scented lavender variety, both just begging to be brought out to the sunny patio overlooking the city. For the Thursday night dinners, there are an array of specialty alcoholic drinks.

Speaking of Thursdays, each month a different chef from another well-known restaurant will come in and prepare two dishes. Tonight D'Amico's own Jay Sparks will be preparing a corn poblano ravioli, what they're calling a Mex-Ital-y dish, and a succulent-sounding sweetbreads taco that would curl a hardcore foodie's toes. Also, it's free. Did we mention that? Yes, you can enjoy these elegant and creative tidbits for nothing from 5 to 9 p.m. this evening. If that's too short notice, upcoming chefs slated to contribute are some local restaurant heavy-hitters. Beard Award winners Alex Roberts of Restaurant Alma and Brasa and Isaac Becker of 112 Eatery and Bar La Grassa are up next.

Gather by D'Amico Walker Art Center 1750 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis 612.253.3410 Gather website