Editor’s Note: Gather is now closed.
It’s back. The deceptively simple favorite from last summer’s menu at Gather reappeared along with the summer heat. Chef Josh Brown, who is celebrating a year at the Walker’s reinvented showcase restaurant, says that, in the colder months, more people asked about one particular hot-weather dish than any other: The Watermelon Salad ($11). “When’s it coming back?” they wanted to know.
At first glance, there’s not a whole lot going on on this plate: Two ice-cold triangles of watermelon on a pile of baby arugula with some crumbled feta. But one crunchy, refreshing bite contains more flavor than some entire dishes.
“It hits all the flavor profiles,” says Brown. “You get the salty from the feta, sour from the pickled rind, heat from the peppers, sweet from the watermelon.”
The secret here is in the serrano pepper vinaigrette. It’s made with lime and champagne vinegar a day ahead of time, so that the heat subtly permeates the whole dish without any intrusive, crash-bang showiness. The whole dish is crunchy and cool and utterly refreshing.
As much as we might love a whole big plate of the watermelon salad, it’s only served in an appetizer size. So that makes it an excellent lead-in to another summer favorite (and top seller), the Grilled Fish Tacos ($14). (Brown rubs mahi-mahi with ancho chile paste before grilling it. A tiny spoonful of homemade salsa, a dab of guac, a sprinkling of coleslaw, and itsy-bitsy slices of piquant pickled red pepper — and it all comes together in just the right taco proportions.
Also new for summer are a Chinese Chicken Salad ($12.50) with a little California-Chinese influence (we loved the fried lotus root); chewy and substantial Mushroom Ravioli ($13.50) made with nutty, earthy farro flour and three kinds of mushrooms; and an Open-faced Tuna Sandwich ($13.50) with great flavors — fennel, olives, preserved lemons — but odd proportions (think bruschetta appetizer, not lunch-time sandwich, which makes the price more than a bit baffling).
On the dessert menu, Brown reached back to his childhood — everybody’s, really — for the inspiration for his Fudgesicle ($7). It’s a slice of rich chocolate ice cream bombe, garnished with fudge and peanut butter. (Note to nostalgic diners: The flimsy lollipop stick is just for decoration, though it is fun to watch people try to pick it up.)
We didn’t love everything on the summer menu, unfortunately. The bread for the Barbecued Beef Shortrib Banh Mi ($11) is all wrong: It’s soft and buttery like ciabatta, while the classic French-Vietnamese sandwich is usually served on baguette — shattery on the outside and feathery soft on the inside. And the mild meat in the Crisp Pork Belly Sandwich ($11.50) unfortunately does not live up to its name and is overwhelmed by the mustard and onions.
While those sandwiches fall short on texture and flavor, the watermelon salad hits both those marks spot on. It’s the perfect summer dish and follows Brown’s own maxim to a T: “Good food,” he says, “isn’t fussed with too much.”
The Heavy Table visited Gather as guests of the Walker Art Center during a press tasting.
Bistro at the Walker Art Center
1750 Hennepin Ave
Minneapolis, MN 55403
OWNER / CHEF: D’Amico and Sons / Josh Brown
Thu: Also open 5-9pm
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No
ENTREE RANGE: $9-16