There’s more to Minnesota than extreme weather conditions and Prairie Home Companion. Suddenly, Minneapolis is the most exciting architectural hub in America, with brand-new buildings by the likes of Jean Nouvel and Cesar Pelli— and world-class restaurants to go with them.
By Rick Nelson
When Frank Gehry’s Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum debuted in Minneapolis in 1993, it promised a bold new architectural era for the city, but for years the Weisman had no competitors. Now, at last, Minneapolis is going through that long-awaited boom. The renowned Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron added a dazzling new wing to the Walker Art Center last year. Cesar Pelli’s soaring, angular Minneapolis Central Library opened in May. Michael Graves created a major expansion for the Children’s Theatre Company last fall; his wing for the Minneapolis Institute of Arts follows this month. And this summer will see the unveiling of the city’s most audacious new building: the Guthrie Theater, the first completed American commission for French maverick Jean Nouvel. Big bucks—more than $450 million in public and private contributions—may have been what lured all these stars to the city. Or perhaps it was the opportunity to make their mark on an already progressive urban landscape. Whatever the reason, the new buildings have suddenly made the home of Target, Betty Crocker and the Bundt pan the architectural destination of the moment. And thanks to a new class of up-and-coming chefs—and a serious foray into food by both the Guthrie and the Walker—the city’s restaurant scene is now just as thrilling as its architecture.
Herzog & De Meuron’s Walker Art Center
The most hotly debated aspect of the Walker Art Center campus is no longer Spoonbridge and Cherry, the 3 1/2-ton fountain sculpture by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen that’s shaped like a spoon with a cherry on top. It’s now the Walker itself—specifically, the museum’s expansion, designed by Herzog & De Meuron, the firm behind London’s Tate Modern and San Francisco’s M.H. de Young Memorial Museum. This abstract cube-shaped structure in a steel-mesh skin includes an incredible new theater. When the sky is a brilliant blue, the building shimmers like a block of ice; on an overcast afternoon, it seems to merge with the clouds. The design may have some locals muttering, “That’s different” (Minnesota-speak for “I don’t like it”), but the Walker’s new Wolfgang Puck restaurant, 20.21, has been a huge hit with both Minnesotans and tourists. Here, chef Scott Irestone is serving his boss’s Cal-Asian trademarks—curried lobster with crispy fried spinach, smoked salmon on sweet corn blinis. There’s even an homage to Spoonbridge, in the form of a chocolate cake. 1750 Hennepin Ave.; 612-375-7600.
Tim McKee’s La Belle Vie
Tim McKee, an F&W Best New Chef 1997, and Josh Thoma spent the better part of 2005 relocating their restaurant, La Belle Vie, from a nearby river town into a patrician 1920s apartment building across the street from the Walker Art Center. In the dressy, subdued dining room, McKee is creating French-Mediterranean dishes like roasted squash soup with porcini dumplings and crème fraîche and Moroccan-spiced veal paired with sautéed sweetbreads. Pastry chef Adrienne Odom caps the meal with such desserts as malt semifreddo with smoked-chocolate soup. The glamorous new lounge attracts the local art-world crowd. 510 Groveland Ave.; 612-874-6440.
Jean Nouvel’s Guthrie Theater
Architect Jean Nouvel’s electrifying $125 million building for the Guthrie Theater—which will be completed this summer—takes its cues from its setting on the Mississippi River, formerly dominated by flour mills and now the site of parks, loft apartments, hotels, a milling museum and a music school. A vintage Gold Medal Flour sign on an old mill nearby casts an orange-neon glow across the theater’s shiny midnight-blue steel façade. Eerie yellow-glass windows add a sense of mystery. Then there’s what Nouvel calls the “endless bridge,” a fourth-floor cantilever that struts, without visible support, 178 feet toward the riverbank—offering dramatic views of St. Anthony Falls. In the Guthrie’s two restaurants, the formal Cue and a more casual dining room, chef Lenny Russo, who previously cooked at St. Paul’s superb Heartland, plans to use the products of Midwestern family farms in dishes like Wisconsin elk roast with dark cherries and toasted hazelnuts. The theater will celebrate the work of Minnesotan F. Scott Fitzgerald when it launches its season on July 21 with an adaptation of The Great Gatsby. 818 Second St. S.; 612-377-2224.
Frank Gehry’s Weisman Art Museum
When Frank Gehry set out to design an art museum for the University of Minnesota, the school’s president glanced around the campus and offered a suggestion: “Don’t build another brick lump.” Gehry’s response, a stainless steel Cubist-inspired building, not only raised local standards of architectural ingenuity when it debuted in 1993; it also acted as a sneak preview of his Guggenheim Bilbao, which followed four years later. Inside, sun-soaked galleries show off paintings by Marsden Hartley, Georgia O’Keeffe and other American modernists. A $10 million Gehry-designed addition—which will include more galleries and a café—is in the works. 333 E. River Rd.; 612-625-9494.
Cesar Pelli’s Minneapolis Central Library
Cesar Pelli, who designed Minneapolis’s Deco-inspired Wells Fargo Center, has transformed marble, unfinished concrete, glass and Minnesota limestone into a library with a soaring atrium that links four floors of reading lofts with three levels of book stacks. The steel roof seems poised to rocket right off the building. 300 Nicollet Mall; 612-630-6000.
Restaurant Hot List
112 Eatery Off-duty chefs congregate here for Isaac Becker’s gastropub dishes, like bacon-and-egg sandwiches slathered with harissa. The dining room stays open until 1 a.m. 112 N. Third St.; 612-343-7696.
Five Restaurant & Street Lounge At this Uptown restaurant, chef Stewart Woodman puts original spins on American bistro food, as in the roast pork on nutmeg spaetzle. 2917 Bryant Ave. S.; 612-827-5555.
Masa Chef Saul Chavez uses the flavors of his native Mexico as inspiration for such dishes as lime-marinated snapper on black rice with poblanos. The elegant dining room lacks a single south-of-the-border design cliché. 1070 Nicollet Ave.; 612-338-6272.
Town Talk Diner In a 1940s dining room, chef David Vlach prepares fancy comfort-food dishes like pan-fried chicken with sweet-potato bread pudding. The sorbet–and–sparkling wine floats are a playful take on a diner classic. 2707 1/2 E. Lake St.; 612-722-1312.
Best Beds: Hotel News
Chambers Hotel Opening in September, this boutique hotel will feature a Jean-Georges Vongerichten restaurant, a rooftop lounge and 60 rooms decorated with edgy British art. 901 Hennepin Ave.; 952-844-6551 or chambersminneapolis.com.
Graves 601 This minimalist hotel is home to Cosmos, the restaurant run by Seth Bixby Daugherty, an F&W Best New Chef 2005. Doubles from $189; 601 First Ave. N.; 612-677-1100 or graves601hotel.com.
Ivy Hotel + Residence This Starwood luxury property will open in late 2007 in a Moorish-style office tower built in the 1930s. 1115 Second Ave. S.; starwoodhotels.com.
Westin Hotel The old Farmers & Mechanics Bank building is being converted into this 214-room hotel, slated for a spring 2007 opening. The stunning late-Deco lobby, which has a marble staircase and tulip-shaped chandeliers, will become a restaurant and lounge. Sixth St. and Marquette Ave.; starwoodhotels.com.
This article originally appeared in June, 2006.
Copyright © 2006, American Express Publishing. All rights reserved.