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[MSP] 20/21 what do you think?

I'm very underwhelmed by this Puck invasion in the midwest. everything is over-spiced/flavored that you can't taste the original ingredient. I was supposedly a VIP customer (since I work in the restaurant biz in NYC), but the service was unprofessional and not at all helpful. I've never been thrilled with his Asian-influenced flavors, either. What does everyone else think?

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  1. I liked it.
    Did I think it was the best restaurant (Asian or otherwise) I've ever been to? No. Am I going to go back there anytime soon? Probably not. I thought the service was very attentive, the food very good, and the surroundings also very good. All told, the combination made it a great experience. And since you're not from Mpls, Mpls has never had a restaurant like this before that I know of. I hope that it is the beginning of more.

    I'm not a VIP so I can't comment on your experience. If you're not thrilled with Asian influenced cooking, there are other places to eat that might fit your tastes like Le Belle Vie (which is right across the street from 20.21).

    1. It's tough to draw comparisons between MN "inventive" and NYC standard. If you're accustomed to the wealth of polished, professional service inherent to mid- to high-end NYC restaurants, 99% of service in MSP will appear young and unseasoned. In my experiences at 20.21, I thought the servers did a fine job, although I would guess their service pedigree didn't extend beyond the county line.

      Likewise, I've always felt 20.21 tailored its cuisine to the MSP palate. This is also a common theme here and may be off-putting to someone fortunate enough to live among the vast offerings of New York. Again, I haven't shared your experience there of "over-spiced/flavored", instead my experience has been that of more pedestrian flavors and ingredients. There just wasn't any wow factor. This opinion was partially formed based on having experienced superb meals in other Puck venues out west, the best of which was at Postrio in SFO, which barely shows up on the SFO chow scene radar. I'll grant that maybe you're on to something re: Asian influence, since Postrio is not, but Chinois seems to have enjoyed its share of accolades.

      Compared to the big cities, we suffer a bit from lack of polished service and depth of cuisine here in MSP simply because of our strong home-grown roots and limited population size. In order to simply survive, restaurants often have to tone down their skills and ambition. (Lesson learned by the failure of Aquavit which, being from NYC you should know about). We have another restaurant here, Masa (upscale Mexican -- no relation or similarity to Masa in NYC), which is short of its full potential in my mind because they are afraid to execute on their talent. Along with that, in general, the MSP clientele won't pay the prices necessary to support a restaurant using unusual and/or globally sourced ingredients nor do we have easy access to those things being in the middle of the country.

      Masa (NYC version), Per Se, Babbo and Morimoto wouldn't survive here. I'm not even sure we could keep the doors open on a Hearth, Lupa or Fleur de Sel -- all of which would be on par with the best cuisine in MSP. I think the best we can support here is a Union Square Cafe (speaking of young service) type place. Interestingly enough, Jean Georges Vongerichten is due to open a place here soon in a complex funded by some serious capital -- maybe enough to provide some staying power to an innovative restaurant.

      For now, we just have to enjoy what we do have here and temper our expectations on places like 20.21.

      1. I agree with you, MSPD, that the Minneapolis restaurant scene is very different from that of larger coastal cities. Yeah, I guess I was comparing 20.21 to Puck establishments further out West. I love local and more casual Minneapolis dining scene so much, though. Maybe I'm romanticizing what I ate when I was younger, but I always thought the meals I had in my high school days at places like Bryant Lake Bowl, Mandarin Kitchen (Bloomington), Little Tijuana and Quang were pretty darn good.

        I do think it'll be a challenge for any "haute cuisine" to really figure itself out in Minneapolis. "Institutions" in Minenapolis tend to be steakhouse oriented - which isn't a bad thing, but a very different scene. Places like Aquavit - which I really like in New York - and 510 didn't work out in the end.

        It'll be interesting to see what Jean Georges will do. I know he dined at 20.21 less than 6 months ago. Do you happen to know when, where, with whom it will open?

        1 Reply
        1. re: baconstrip

          The new place will be located in the new Chambers Hotel on Hennepin (at 9th) right downtown. Last I heard, it was targeted to open in September -- I have no idea if they're even close.

        2. Food that polarizes people is potentially great. In the context of 20.21 I'm not so sure, because whose food is it anyway? That's what's truly sad about the demise of Aquavit, because Samuelsson's creative control was direct. His food clearly wasn't for everyone, but it stood for something and was the kind of place which could begin to educate palates. Wolfgang's credibility with me went south when his mug started appearing in freezer cases. He's still money in the bank for Compass Food Management, but he no longer lives in the temple of creative control as smaller operators do. I had a meal at Spago Palo Alto that was awful. Portions huge. The ledgendary pizza was bland. The pricing was competitive with other local offerings - and that means he's no longer leading. Charging a higher price for higher quality is never a problem. Joining the masses at the bottom is folly. Arghhhhh!

          1. It seems to me that Wolfgang Puck is working his way into the museum circuit. I think the museums are trying to project a certain image (of what, I'm not exactly sure. Faux upscale worldliness?) I was excited at first to hear that Puck was coming to the Walker because I thought it was an original idea, until I realized that the Walker isn't the only museum with a Puck restaurant. I much prefer what the Guthrie has done with Cue (an upscale restaurant headed by a local Chef focusing on locally-sourced ingredients) or even what the Mill City Museum and the MIA have done with D'Amico, which I understand to be locally-owned.

            Edit: The Cue concept reminds me of what the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco is planning on doing with its new facility, which is having an Alice Walker restaurant that features locally-grown, sustainable ingredients. The new Academy will have a "living roof," where, I believe, Ms. Walker will be growing some of the restaurant's produce. This wouldn't be viable year-round in Minneapolis, but I think Cue's concept comes pretty close and,with the Farmer's Market at the Guthrie, I think it's a wonderful addition to the community.

            Full and fair disclosure: I haven't eaten at 20.21. :) I'm just talking about the concept.

            ~TDQ

            4 Replies
            1. re: The Dairy Queen

              And isn't Cue actually "owned" by Bon Appetit (large cafeteria outfit)? I've heard that Lenny is the executive chef/vision guy, but I think he's on the corporate dole at Cue...although on his own at Heartland.

              1. re: Dragon

                I think I said Cue was "headed" by a local guy, meaning Lenny Russo the Executive Chef of course, and that the ingredients at Cue were generally locally-sourced. I wasn't sure of the ownership. This is in contrast to 20.21 which is "headed" by Puck, who is not a local.

                It was D'Amico that I was referring to that I thought was locally-owned.

                Sorry for the confusion. Probably too many commas (or not enough?) in my post. :)

                ~TDQ

                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                  TDQ, you must have this board, like, wired directly into your 'puter or something...that reply was so fast it was like IM, a chowish chat :)

                  No, as usual, your original answer was the height of clarity, and it was my reply that was...uhh..half baked and confusing, now that I read it. What I meant to say was basically agreeing heartily with your point, more along the lines of:

                  I find the business portion of all of these musuem/restaurant deals to be interesting. Generally, it seems, the space is leased to a third party with deep pockets (like Bon Appetit) who then will go find a "name" chef to be associated with the place. What it makes me wonder is how closely the named chef actually works with the restaurant bearing their moniker? I know for a fact that Lenny is at Cue every day, personally overseeing the direct operations of the kitchen (I have an acquaintance that works with him), but I don't think Wolfgang breezes through the doors at 20.21 very often. Actually, it's an interesting point w/any big chef with mulitpile restaurants...isn't it? Even Samuelson at Aquavit was only there..what was it, one week a month or something?

                  1. re: Dragon

                    I'm a hot posts wizard. And a little obsessive.

                    I agree this museum/restaurant relationship is a weird one. Somehow, I feel like Cue is more connected to the community, with the addition of the Farmer's Market and just the fact that Cue is street level and you can get to it without patronizing the Guthrie. I think you can get to 20.21 directly, too I think, but it's not accessible and inviting to the public in the same way.

                    I wonder if Cue/The Guthrie is trying to lure locals in, whereas 20.21/The Walker is trying to attract visitors.

                    ~TDQ

            2. Is it Alice Waters at the Academy? Not a "neener neener" taunt, just haven't heard. She was rumored to have her fingers in a cafe at the Louvre - never happened as far as I know. For a cool story of a celebrity chef trying to make a real difference without trying to run to the bank, check out Alice Waters involvement in the Edible Schoolyard at Martin Luther King Middle School in Berkeley.

              Wolfgang's Management Company is owned by Compass Food Management. Their not so humble corporate goal is to "Feed the World". They are trying to attack this proposition from many angles and have been snapping up various operations to occupy broader market segments. They're the seventh largest employer in the world.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Karl Gerstenberger

                Wolfgang Puck at the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis:

                http://info.walkerart.org/visit/dinin...

                Cue at the Guthrie in Minneapolis

                http://www.cueatguthrie.com/

                D'Amico at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts

                http://www.artsmia.org/index.php?sect...

                RE: Alice Waters at the Academy--about two years ago, the Academy announced Alice Waters would be running the restaurant in their new facility (which is still under construction); the announcement was on their website for awhile, but I don't see it on either hers or theirs. I wonder if it's a bad sign. This article mentions sustainable food, but not Ms. Waters specifically: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article...

                1. re: Karl Gerstenberger

                  I speculate Cue might be owned by Compass, too. I went to Cue's website and saw Bon Appetit at the bottom in tiny print. If you go to Bon Appetit's website and click around, you eventually get routed to Compass. Weird.

                  ~TDQ

                2. TDQ,

                  Compass (out of London, apparently), acquired Bon Appetit in 2002. Fedele Bauccio, the founder of Bon Appetit, is now the CEO of Compass, North America. So much for local control. On the other hand, maybe they have the model right...loose goals set by an amorphous and distant command center carried out by local, spontaneous non-coordinated actions. Hmmm...could out local chow scene be taking a page from Al Queda? :)

                  From Food Directors Magazine:

                  COMPASS GROUP PLC ACQUIRING BON APPETIT
                  Compass Group PLC is acquiring Bon Appetit Mgmt. Co. of Palo Alto, CA, for $155.8 mil. in cash. Compass Group PLC is acquiring Bon Appetit Mgmt. Co. of Palo Alto, CA, for $155.8 mil. in cash, buying out majority shareholder Shidax Corp. by the end of this month. Bon Appetit will become part of Compass Group's North American Div. and retain its identity in the B&I and higher education accounts it serves. Fedele Bauccio remains ceo of Bon Appetit. In FY 2001, Bon Appetit had sales of $279 million and its account base includes 62 higher education facilities, 83 corporate dining operations and five restaurants.