Trends come and go, and while some are maddening ($4 donuts) and some perplexing (ubiquitous poke bowls in a state over a thousand miles from the closest ocean), some are welcome and improve the dining scene. Case in point: restaurants tied to a distinct sense of place. More and more new eateries have menus that offer up dishes, approaches, and flavors that are new-to-most-diners by digging more deeply into their source material.
The recently opened Lat14 Asian Eatery in Golden Valley is one such place. It’s named for the 14th parallel north, which passes through Laos, Philippines, Cambodia, and Thailand, home to the restaurant’s thoughtfully researched and cleverly executed menu. Chef-owner Ann Ahmed has dipped into her family’s Southeast Asian heritage in order to create its dishes. She’s also plumbed the well of experience she’s acquired by running Brooklyn Park’s Lemon Grass Thai Cuisine for 13 years to roll the dice on this ambitious concept that seems to be quickly finding its audience—the house was packed when we visited on a Tuesday night, and the buzz has been electric.
Like the reasonably new Hai Hai in Northeast Minneapolis, Lat14 starts with authentic Southeast Asian flavors and roots and brings them into a Western-facing dining environment with formal table service, manicured food presentation, and prices to match.
But while Hai Hai feels like a never-ending tropical carnival, Lat14 is more formal. Here, servers brush the crumbs from the table between courses and frequently lean in to refill diners’ waters from a small glass bottle. Despite this upscale vibe, Lat14 encourages communal dining, and smart diners will take them up on the offer—the flavors on offer are bold, diverse, and best enjoyed as part of a big collective feast.
Cocktails aren’t yet Lat14’s strong point—it took 30 minutes for our drinks to arrive, and when they did none really sparkled. The Shiso ($13) felt like a play on a caipirinha (with its use of cachaca, simple syrup, and lime juice), but even with the addition of shiso leaves it lacked the latter’s punch or funky depth. The “Coffee” cocktail ($13) features black sesame pisco, Du Nord Cafe Frieda liqueur, nitro cold brew coffee, and egg white, which results in a drink that’s comforting and pleasant in an egg cream kind of way but not particularly memorable. Lavender ($12) brought together Beefeater, Aperol, St. Germain, lavender syrup, and citrus juices, resulting in a drink that lacked a sharply defined point of view. The best of the bunch was the Manhattan ($12), whose Jim Beam Rye was bold and in charge without being loudmouthed or aggressive, supported by two vermouths and a house bitters blend.
That said: When the food hit the table, our adventure began in earnest. As a table of four, we would’ve liked to have known that our Snow Crab Wontons ($10) were coming in a group of three. But that’s where our nitpicking ends—these were some of the richest, crispiest, most luxurious-tasting crispy wontons we’ve ever had, a perfect balance of sweet and salty flavors plus crunchy and creamy textures.
The Sausage Platter was enjoyable in almost every regard but price—$19 gets you a fairly small scattering of sausage pieces and a couple of jaew (dried chili) dipping sauces. The platter comes with three sausages, and they ranked like this: one was a group of refrigerator-temp disks of flavorless chewiness that were beloved by no-one, a Longanisa was savory and pleasing, and a strongly lemongrass-flavored Lao-style sausage was easily one of the best bites we’ve had in months, with a bold and balanced kick of funky brightness.
Nam Khao ($13) is billed as “crispy rice” and this lettuce-wrap / herbs / rice concoction delivers in spades, offering a delightfully rich mix of chewy and crispy textures.
At $29, the Thai Basil Duck has to do a lot of work to show its value, but it pulls it off with generous portions and bold flavors: its confit duck and roasted mushroom blend are rich and deeply flavored, and while half our table found the pan-seared duck breast medallions to be a little unadorned and simple, the other half appreciated that the bird’s natural flavor shone rather than being drowned in a syrupy sauce.
Compared to some of the flashy dishes on the table, the humble Drunken Noodles ($12) struggled to compete for attention. They were, however, by any assessment quite good, with a real abiding spicy heat and a comforting umami imparted by the soy and tamarind sauce that surrounded the thick but tender rice noodles. And at $12, they were a legitimately solid value.
Every once in a while, before passing public judgment on food it’s good to disclose your personal history with the dish. This is one of those cases: Fried rice is one of my first comfort foods, it’s a dish I make at home frequently, and it’s one of my lodestars for assessing the quality of a restaurant. It can vary tremendously, from inedible, greasy dreck to sublime beauty. Lat14’s Bacon Pineapple Fried Rice ($15) is in that latter camp, being a fully flavored, subtle, texturally varied (three cheers for pickled golden raisins!) mix of ingredients. The bacon gives everything a halo of smoky, fatty richness and makes the dish legitimately great.
There were two desserts on offer during our visit, and we tried both. The Thai Tea Semifreddo ($8) had two major shortcomings: one, the tea-flavored disks were hard frozen; and two, the entire dish had a cheesy jungle funk that was both daring and challenging but not really anyone’s idea of dessert per se.
Lotus Cookies with Thai Bananas and a coconut ice cream ($8), on the other hand, were a home run—beautifully crunchy and elaborate looking cookies; rich, perfectly flavored ice cream; and a toffee-glazed banana that loaned some soothing, natural fruit flavor to an otherwise high-flying dish.
There’s no question that Lat14 is a strong restaurant, with a novel, intriguing menu and some dishes that are legitimately awesome in their conception and execution. Even better, the bones are there for a place that’s undeniably great—with a little fine-tuning of the menu and thoughtful relaxing of the service ethic, it can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the strongest restaurants in the state, telling its own remarkable story of soulful, creative food from halfway around the world.
What: Lat14 Asian Eatery
Where: 8815 7th Ave. N., Golden Valley, MN 55427
Hours: Sun–Thu: 4pm–10pm; Fri–Sat: 4pm–11pm (lunch service coming later this year)