In December 2019—just a few months before you-know-what happened—we ate dinner at Lat14 in Golden Valley and rather enjoyed it. We’d planned to go back but then ended up spending most of the next 2 years at home. By the time we began to get back into the dining out groove in Minnesota, the chef/owner of Lat14, Ann Ahmed, had a new restaurant in South Minneapolis: Khâluna. We had quite enjoyed our meal at Lat14 and so were looking forward to eating her food at Khâluna as well. Reservations, however, were hard to come by until I managed to score one for mid-January. And then the omicron spike happened in a big way and we had to cancel. It took another three months for me to finally make it there. I ate dinner there for the first time in early April along with some colleagues. I liked it so much that I immediately made another reservation to go back with the missus and some of our regular dining crew. We ate that meal this past weekend. I’d originally thought I’d post an account of both meals at the same time but after resizing 45+ photographs from the first meal, I gave that up. So what follows is an account of my first meal there. You’ll have to wait a few weeks for the second.
From a food perspective Khâluna is essentially the new branch of Lat14. The approach to the food—pan-Southeast Asian—is the same and the cocktails too are in the same genre. But as restaurant spaces they are quite different. Lat14 is not a small restaurant but Khâluna appears to be a bit larger and will be even more so when their extensive patio space opens up—which we were told this past Saturday would be any day now. It is certainly a much brighter space. Blonde wood and rattan and white/cream walls and upholstery dominate the look of the interior, which is quite tastefully done without a reliance on kitsch. All of this is apparently meant to evoke the feel of a luxury tourist resort in Southeast Asia. I bring this up because the restaurant leans into this on their website; “Khâluna has a resort atmosphere that will transport you to across the ocean with it’s [sic] colorful array of food that will satisfy all of your vacation cravings.” Who knows, perhaps they came up with this because they opened during the pandemic when most people were unable to travel but I really wish they’d now lay off this tourism rhetoric which seems to me to fall into a self-exoticizing trap. It’s a very good Southeast Asian restaurant and that should be enough; it’s not like Meritage promises a trip to France or Hyacinth a vacation in Italy. Nor, for that matter, do restaurants like Sooki & Mimi or Petite Leon that also serve non-European cuisines traffic in this kind of thing, and they don’t seem to have any difficulty attracting the same well-heeled and predominantly white clientele as Khâluna.
But here ends my criticism of the restaurant. The food itself was very good. There were four of us and we shared everything. We started with four small plates (so described on the website but on the actual menu further subdivided into “Small Plates” and “Salads”):
- Shrimp Rolls: shrimp roll, jicama, purple shiso, mint, cilantro, rice paper
- Sakoo: shiitake, crimini, picked radish, peanuts, pistachios, tapioca pearls
- Mieng Paa: puffed rice, banana blossoms, peanuts, yard beans, smoked salmon
- Laab Heed: shiitake, king trumpet, beech, mint, cilantro, roasted rice powder, makrut lime leaf
The shrimp rolls, framed in shiso leaves/flavour, were quite good but it was the dipping sauce that was the star of the plate for me. The sakoo—glutinous dumplings made with tapioca pearls—were likewise very good. The stars of the round, however, were the mieng paa and the laab heed, which were both excellent. The mieng paa was a wonderful mix of flavours (though dominated by acid) and textures and the smoked salmon was an inspired touch. And the laab—made with a mix of mushrooms rather than meat—hit all my laab cravings (and had a decent amount of heat to boot).
The massaman was another of the meal’s highlights for me. The curry had wonderful depth of flavour and the short rib and sweet potato played off each other wonderfully. Also very good was the duck laab: the perfectly cooked duck breast was sliced thickly and fanned out on the plate around an herb salad. It was a rare example of a casual, elemental dish being refined in a high-end setting without its essential character being abstracted away. The gaeng toon was also very good, its sourness matching the richer flavours of the massaman well.
To end we split a couple of desserts:
- Passionfruit Cremeux: coconut icecream, dragonfruit meringue, lemongrass kiwi compote
- Spiced Mango Cake: hibiscus granita, coconut milk tapioca, jasmine shortbread crumble
The spiced mango cake didn’t make the hugest impression on me but the passionfruit cremeux was just great. I think we would have been happy each eating one full order of that.
For a look at the space and the food launch the slideshow below (I apologize for the poor quality of the photographs, which were all taken on my phone). Scroll down to see what we drank, for thoughts on service, price and to see what’s coming next.
It was a weeknight and we’d all had a very long day and so we didn’t drink very much. One person got a whisky highball; another got an Old Fashioned; one got their so-called Silk Road Spiced Tonic; and I got their so-called Balinese Fruited Tonic. The others enjoyed their drinks, I believe, but mine didn’t make much of an impression despite apparently containing all manner of tropical fruit. (The cocktails at the second dinner were much better, I thought—but more on that later.)
Khâluna is among the restaurants in the Twin Cities that have gone to the included hospitality surcharge model, adding 21% to the bill. Unlike Alma, they still leave the tip line on the credit card receipt. On this occasion this resulted in our server subtly attempting to convince us that the hospitality surcharge was not in place of a gratuity (which it technically isn’t for legal reasons but is for practical purposes). We resisted. Service was very good for most of the meal—though it became harder and harder to find him towards the end—but 21% seemed like it was enough to us. The total came to just below $310 or roughly $77.50/head. Which is pretty good value in the local high-end market.
All in all, it should be clear that I recommend Khâluna highly. I’ve already eaten there twice in one month and the odds are good we’ll be back at least one more time before the end of the year; maybe even before the end of the summer so that we can sit on that patio. If you haven’t been, I suggest you go. If you’re willing to eat out on a weeknight it won’t be hard to get a table; likewise if you’re willing to eat late on the weekend. Either way, you’ll have a fine meal.
Okay, next up from the Twin Cities metro: a report on either a Japanese meal in St. Paul or on my favourite Twin Cities lunch deal (which is now back in bidness at Kabob’s).