I’ve had the good fortune to photograph Asher Miller several times over the past couple years, and I don’t just say that because he’s the only chef I’ve worked with who has, out of the blue, invited me to stick around after a shoot and cooked me lunch. Asher’s an artist and a professional who also happens to be a straight-up good guy. With me, he’s always been very giving of his time – and his food – as evidenced by his participation in my Rest Stop Gourmet project last summer, among other projects.
Earlier this week it was announced that 20.21′s run at the Walker will come to an end this Spring, which is too bad. 20.21 is a place that, under Asher’s guidance, crafted flavors beautifully, and created an atmosphere of hospitality and artistry that will be missed. But I can’t wait to see where Asher lands next; I hope that Puck doesn’t pull him out of town, because that would be the true loss to the Twin Cities food scene.
There are few things in life that make me happier and more content than being in a restaurant when everything clicks perfectly; when the ambiance is welcoming and warm, the service matches, and the food balances creativity with comfort. Here in Minneapolis I’ve had that experience at a few places: the Birchwood Cafe, the Red Stag Supper Club, the NE Bulldog. Last night it happened for me at 20.21.
Asher and the gang on the line
Given the fact that 20.21 resides in the Walker Art Center, and is one of the most upscale of Wolfgang Puck’s current restaurants, you’d maybe expect the snootyness index to be high, but despite the dramatic dining room space and fusion menu, everything about 20.21 feels pretense-free. And everything I’ve tried there (granted, on two trips only) speaks hospitality through attention to every detail. Example from last night: a simple mini cheeseburger, perfectly cooked with a honey curry ketchup that put it over the top.
Both of my trips to 20.21 have been with the Sample Circuit, but I’ll definitely be going back on my own.
Roasted Alaskan Halibut with Pineapple Sambal
Sweet Corn Soup Shot with Croutons and Chili Oil
Tempura Shrimp with Pickled Ginger Vinaigrette
Korean Beef Short Rib Satays
Chocolate Dipped Cookie Lollipops
The view on the deck
As a photographer you get to put yourself in a diverse collection of spaces to do your thing. One day it’s a sawdust-laden construction site, next it’s a cubicle farm. Sometimes it’s a beautiful, minimalist fine dining establishment in the region’s premier modern art museum.
Man, I like those days.
Yesterday I got to spend a few minutes with Asher Miller, Executive Chef at 20.21 Restaurant & Bar, the Wolfgang Puck restaurant in the Walker Art Museum. The concept of the restaurant is an interesting mix: the decor is monochrome with pink accents, the cuisine is Asian, and the service is French. And the kitchen is open to the dining room, as is the view to the expanse of traffic below. Nutty.
Asher is a really cool, down to earth guy. I discovered we have several things in common: we look kind of similar (as remarked upon by my Sample Circuit colleague, Melinda Feucht), we both spent a few years at Carleton College and have a complicated relationship with the place, and we both like Boca Chick’n Patties.
But what really made my day was when he told me I was the easiest photographer he’s worked with. And then he made me lunch, which was delicious: potstickers with a beautiful, mellow chinese dark vinegar and chili oil dipping sauce; a citrus chicken breast salad with candied cashews and crisp fried wonton strips; and a dessert sampler of chili merengue, cinnamon brownie, sesame caramel, and a bite of some Asian lemon/lime fruit tart that I forget the name of. A simple assortment of classic dishes, but the attention to each component made it exceptional.
More work at chrisbohnhoff.com.