Thirteen years after debuting Lemon Grass, a restaurant in Brooklyn Park widely recognized as boasting some of the Twin Cities’ best Thai food, Ann Ahmed is ready to introduce a new personal project.
The Twin Cities chef and restaurateur expects to open Lat14 Asian Eatery (8815 7th Av. N., Golden Valley) — a nod to the world’s 14th parallel north, a circle that crosses through parts of Southeast Asia — this August.
“It’s going to be very ‘Ann,’ ” Ahmed said with a laugh. “The food is going to be inspired by my travels, my upbringing, my family’s recipes, and just things that I enjoy eating myself.”
Ahmed immigrated to the U.S. from Laos with her family at age 4, and grew up in Minnesota eating some of the traditional foods from the country of her birth.
Many of those, as well as dishes predominantly from Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam — cuisines she strove to master for more than a decade at Lemon Grass — will make the menu at Lat14, all with an “Ann twist.” Ahmed has pledged to not hold back on the spice and heat.
“I think Minnesotans are getting more interested in branching out and trying other cuisines they’re not as familiar with,” she said. “And you really can’t take the spice out of Southeast Asian food. It’s such a part of it.”
Take the khao poon, a Lao noodle and vegetable dish served in a hot broth. Ahmed’s version will allow diners, receiving a plate of gloriously colorful ingredients, to build their own soup with a canister of crab and fish-laden broth (khanom chin nam pu) and sour chili sauce on the side.
Other dishes include a whole-roasted red snapper and mok pa (catfish steamed with dill and spices in banana leaves). A traditional pork belly dish gets a Filipino lechon-style twist — roasted for three hours with lemongrass, rosemary and ginger until the skin is crackling.
“Food is such a social thing,” Ahmed said. “I want my dishes to start conversations. It should be exciting.”
Bangladeshi cuisine makes an appearance, as well — since Ahmed’s husband, Tarique, hails from the country bordering India. One of her favorites is a beef curry with a dal-rice blend. Unlike Indian curries, Bangladeshi styles don’t include yogurt or coconut milk, so they’re typically stronger.
“I’ve been cooking Bangladeshi food for a while, and his mom now lets me cook for the family,” she said. “I had to convince [Tarique] to let me put this recipe on the menu because he doesn’t think Minnesotans are ready for Bangladeshi spices. But I think they are.”
Beer, wine and cocktails will be available as well.
Her Shea-designed space, in the former Perkins, will seat about 120, with room for perhaps 40 more on a small patio.
“It’s going to feel romantic and vintage-y,” Ahmed said. “There are going to be these corners you’ll have to sort of seek out.”