Khâluna, which just opened in Minneapolis, looks great and tastes great

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After opening Lemon Grass in Brooklyn Park in 2006, and Lat14 in Golden Valley 12 years later, chef Ann Ahmed has achieved an important goal with the recent launch of Khâluna, her latest – and most ambitious – restaurant.

“I’ve worked to get to Minneapolis my entire career,” she said. “Every time I tried it didn’t work, and for a while I gave up. Don’t get me wrong, I have no regrets about being in the suburbs. I love the suburbs. But Minneapolis is different. There’s just a lot more excitement here. “

“Here” is 40th and Lyndale, just south of Uptown, where Ahmed turned what had been a dreary, short-lived restaurant chain into a food and drink show venue.

“I wanted this place to be relaxing, heartwarming and very transporting,” she said. “Because of COVID, we cooked for ourselves and we miss being taken care of. I wanted to give people a little vacation without having to go through TSA.”

Mission accomplished. Entering the 90-seat dining room is the visual equivalent of checking in to a posh resort and taking a deep, cleansing breath.

The airy, wide open space is trimmed in pale woods – whitewashed pine and white oak, bleached ash – with putty-colored plaster walls, pearl-stained upholstery, and a concrete-like quartz bar top. . The muted palette is an understated backdrop that allows the colorful handwork of the kitchen and bar to capture center stage.

Ahmed enlisted Shea, the same Minneapolis design firm behind transforming a Perkins franchise into a sleek and energetic Lat14, to create a similar visual pyrotechnics.

In Khâluna, the highlight of the show is a half-dozen domes, 6 feet in diameter and made from plywood, which hover above the dining room. Created by Adam Croft, craftsman of Twin Cities, the minimalist sculptural pendants resemble gigantic upturned salad bowls and illuminate the room with a warm, honeyed glow.

Diners’ eyes will also be on custom cabinets and screens – crafted from reclaimed local oak – from Interscapes, the Brooklyn Center woodworking shop. And while many visitors may not realize that there is a smaller destination at the back of the restaurant, they should seek it out.

The multi-purpose space functions as a take-out grocery store, a retail store (focusing on a fine range of textiles, tableware and baskets made by artisans from Laos, Ahmed’s home country), a private dining room and a cooking school. A showy demo kitchen is fitted with rose painted cabinetry, which matches the shadow Ahmed spotted in the dressing room at a favorite clothing store.

“It’s basically because my husband gave a hard ‘no’ to pink at home,” she said with a laugh. “But it’s work, and that’s what I want.”

Team effort

Tarique Ahmed, Ann’s wife, plays a major role in the history of Khâluna’s origins. He channeled his finance experience into developing a real estate portfolio, and after acquiring the building, his plan was to lease it.

“Well guess what, he rented it out to his wife,” Ann Ahmed said.

She embraced the possibilities of the property after seeing the wall of accordion-style glass doors between the dining room and the expansive (and now beautifully appointed) patio.

“I took a look and I was like, ‘Yeah, I can work with that,'” she said. “That’s when the ideas start to flow.”

The menu is based on what Ahmed gleaned from his travels in Southeast Asia (“When I travel, I don’t have a museum itinerary, I have a gastronomic itinerary,” she said. stated), borrowing flavors and dishes and translating them to complement – and challenge – contemporary Minnesota tastes.

It’s a culinary strategy feast for the senses that includes ribs and beef shanks braised in lively Thai curry and served with sweet potatoes; dumplings made with tapioca pearls and stuffed with mushrooms, peanuts and pistachios; a whole fried snapper, sumptuously dressed in a nice mango salad; and delicate shrimp rolls filled with mint, fragrant purple shiso and crispy jicama.

Most of the menu has a “shareable” vibe, and prices range from $ 12 to $ 21 for entrees and $ 16 to $ 36 for entrees. Cocktails from Beverage Manager Trish Gavin cost $ 11 to $ 13, and a dozen mocktails cost $ 8 to $ 9. A reception supplement of 21% (15% for take-out) is added to all orders.

“This supplement allows us to work on our vision to be the change we want to see in our industry, which is to operate as a fair wage house for the front and back of the house,” explains an included insert. with the tab. “With this supplement, we are able to provide higher wages, paid time off, paid time off, pension benefits, mental health services, as well as health and dental insurance for our staff.”

Khâluna (this is Lao for “please”, emphasizing compassion) is an ambitious project, and the natural next step for an entrepreneur who decided to buy her first restaurant when she was within a week of graduating from college and then financed it by selling his car. , living in his mother’s basement and walking to work.

Now, a decade and a half later, Ahmed is responsible for the livelihoods of more than 100 employees, including 43 in Khâluna. Workforce is one of the big challenges facing the restaurant industry today, and the process of creating the Khâluna payroll has changed Ahmed’s outlook on recruitment and management.

“It used to be to tell them what we needed and to think about whether or not they could fill that need,” she said. “Now it’s more like, ‘What do you want?’ and ‘What do you need?’ and “What can I do for you?” If I can meet their needs then they will be happier and more productive. If they show interest in wanting to work here then this is my validation that I do something good, and that maybe others will be inspired to do the same. “

Address Book

Khaluna, 4000 Lyndale S. Ave., Mpls., 612-345-5199, khaluna.com. Open 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sun, Wed, Thu .; 4 pm-11pm Fri-Sat

Lat14, 8815 7th Av. N., Golden Valley, 763-400-7910, lat14.com. Open 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sun, Wed, Thu .; 4 pm-10pm Fri-Sat

Lemongrass, 8600 Edinburgh Center Dr., Brooklyn Park, 763-494-8809, lemongrassmn.com. Open from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday.


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