New Menu complements Walker’s Modern Art
Executive Chef Asher Miller recently was charged with the task of revamping 20.21’s lunch menu, in order to align it more closely with the restaurant’s Walker Art Center digs. It was a challenge, to be sure. The Walker attracts a wide variety of patrons, so the menu needed to be approachable, affordable, and accommodating, while appearing perfectly at home among modern art, which can be anything but. What’s more, he had only a few days to accomplish his goal. The result, however, is absolutely Warhol-worthy: an Asian menu that is structured around the bento box. Brilliant!
To appreciate fully Miller’s mission, my dining partner and I took a quick tour of the museum before our rendezvous at 20.21. I always have been an avid fan of just about any kind of art, and perhaps because of that, I find taking in an entire museum in one day challenges my endurance. Art resonates so powerfully with me that after looking at image after image, it can overload my senses, resulting in something I like to call “museum stare.” On this particularly gray little day in February, I got the stare while going through a small white room baked by glaring heat lamps, made all the more claustrophobic with a hanging maze of white venetian blinds. Luckily, my friend noticed my plight, and whispered that it was probably time for lunch.
To soothe the art-saturated beast, we began with a few cocktails. The Cucumber Martini ($12) would seem out of place during the winter, except that it is just so very refreshing and smooth—the perfect cure for an art hangover. The Blackberry Martini ($12) was a pleasant surprise that maintained a nice tartness despite the inclusion of Triple Sec and champagne. Additionally, the Hemingway ($13) bested expectations, thanks to fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice. If you visit 20.21 during happy hour, certain specialty cocktails (like the chocolatey Andy’s Candy) will be available for around $5-$7.
Judging that we were primed sufficiently, Miller started us off with two salads. Japanese Glazed Salmon Salad ($15) mimics a painter’s palette, with lightly dressed greens topped by a fragrant piece of fork-tender salmon, surrounded by sliced avocado and delicate pickled vegetables, along with swirled nests of shredded carrot, daikon radishes, beets, and seaweed. Thai Chicken Salad ($13) offers a lovely play on textures, with puffed white rice and crushed peanuts, plus a splash of citrus-chili vinaigrette (with a hint of fish sauce for depth) pulls the dish together without masking the chicken.
Miller’s bento boxes are next. Each offers hot miso soup and a variety of sides nestled cheerfully in their individual slots. Chicken Yakatori ($14) skewers pieces of thigh meat coated with Japanese barbecue sauce (AKA yakatori), dusted with togarishi, with a neatly molded cup of fried rice and tempura asparagus rounding out the meal. The surprisingly rich Golden Curried Tofu ($12) is accompanied by coconut rice and seaweed salad. Korean-Style Beef Short Ribs ($15) features hunan-glazed eggplant and tempura asparagus—despite my past five-year stint as a vegetarian, I must say that it was my favorite, as the ribs were absolutely delectable, especially when one goes mining for kim chi tucked underneath.
If you’re in the mood for something heartier, Bánh Mi Pork Sandwich ($16), anchored with a layer of country-style pâté, provides a lingering, subtle heat that charms the tongue, and warms the bones. Served alongside are wok-seared fingerling potatoes and housemade pickles. It’s a messy eat, but a fun kind of mess, complete with brightly colored, dribbling sauce à la Jackson Pollock.
Nothing on the lunch menu feels too heavy, and that is key. After all, one has sculptures to contemplate, and wonderfully inexplicable black-and-white films to watch. One can’t start feeling logy, now, can one?
What’s more, you now have a fighting chance of saving a bit of room for the dessert to end all desserts: Spoon, Cube and Cherry ($10), modeled after the Sculpture Garden’s notorious Spoon and Cherry. Its neat chocolate cube, which forms the pedestal of a poised chocolate “spoon” and candy “cherry,” is filled entirely with luscious chocolate mousse. You must take spoon in hand and destroy the cube in order to partake of its chocolaty goodness.
The experience has me contemplating the narcissistic destructiveness of humanity, the inherent pleasure/pain principle of primal satisfaction, and the inevitable loss of innocence in the birthing of wisdom. But I digress, and to dangerous degree.
Miller successfully has nursed me back to the land of the living, and I’ll not have myself returning to an existential semicatatonia—not just yet.
Walker Art Center
1750 Hennepin Ave., Mpls.