There are big changes afoot at the Walker Art Center, and they don't involve a new installation of the museum's permanent collection.

California-based Wolfgang Puck, which has operated the Walker's top-rated 20.21 restaurant and other dining venues since the museum debuted its $135.6 million expansion in 2005, is leaving in April. D'Amico & Partners, the hometown team, is stepping in.

"We loved our partnership with Puck, and we're very proud of the dining experience that we've offered," said Olga Viso, the museum's director. "But it has been six years since we opened the restaurant. The dining community has changed, our contract with Puck was up and we felt that we should be looking at different models."

Asian fusion-focused 20.21 is being replaced with Gather. "It's going to be American food, as fresh and as local as we can get it, but globally inspired," said Larry D'Amico. "It's going to be fun, fresh, healthy and calorie-conscious."

And closed at dinner -- a return to the Walker's decades-long tradition of lunch-only service. With the exception of Thursday evening bar service (the galleries' only nighttime hours are on Thursdays), Gather will be open for lunch only, with evenings reserved for catered events. "We want to mirror the activity of the building with the institution's hours," said Viso.

The Walker contract is a plum for Richard and Larry D'Amico, further cementing their dominance on the Twin Cities dining market.

Their 27-year old partnership operates D'Amico Kitchen, Masa and Cafe Lurcat and Bar Lurcat in Minneapolis, Parma 8200 in Bloomington and Campiello in Eden Prairie -- as well as eight fast-casual D'Amico & Sons outlets, restaurants at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Mill City Museum and what is widely considered one of the Twin Cities' top catering businesses.

"We've always wanted to be involved with the Walker," said Larry D'Amico. "People all around the world know about the Walker."

D'Amico veterans Josh Brown and Mike Sneen will oversee operations at the Walker, including a monthly guest chef program, where visiting pros will develop seasonal small-plate menus that will be served for the following month.

"We're going to enlist chefs from our own restaurants, and chefs who used to work for us and now have their own restaurants," said Larry D'Amico.

Each menu, along with cooking demonstrations and complimentary tastes for Walker visitors, will debut at the museum's popular Target Free First Thursday Night.

Chefs will be 'curating menus'

"It's an example of how Larry and Richard and their team have been responsive to the setting and the context of the Walker," said Viso. "We'll have chefs essentially curating menus every month, and that very much fits our model of featuring different voices and perspectives."

A tentative opening date for Gather has been set for April 18. A refurbishment is planned, with new seating configurations, materials and colors. "It's going to be a mash-up of traditional materials with funky Dutch-designed furniture," said Andrew Blauvelt, the museum's curator of architecture and design. "We're going for a fun vibe."

D'Amico also is creating new menus for the Walker's grab-and-go Garden Cafe as well as the summer-only Garden Grill, located opposite the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. The building's landmark Gallery 8 Cafe, which sputtered to a quiet close last year, is remaining dormant.

Rick Nelson • 612-673-4757