May 25, 2023 - Food and Drink

No "Minnesota spice" as Ann Ahmed's new restaurant Gai Noi brings the heat

The dining room, Gai Basil and peanut noodles, and watermelon. Photos: Audrey Kennedy/Axios

Khâluna and Lat14 chef/owner Ann Ahmed's Laotian restaurant Gai Noi opened on Tuesday with a warning — leave any preference for "Minnesota spice" behind.

Context: Midwesterners aren't known for their love of spicy foods, and some joke that restaurants adjust their spice levels to accommodate those who find black pepper too hot.

  • The casual eatery in Loring Park has cautioned visitors on social media that the food is meant to be enjoyed spicy.
  • "Give it a chance before you avoid this delicious heat, do sweat it…..literally, maybe just a little," the post said.

What happened: Audrey, who has lived in Minnesota for seven years but grew up in Houston, visited the restaurant with a lifelong Midwesterner to see if the food brought the heat.

What we ordered: A server recommended the Gai Basil, ground chicken sautéed with garlic, basil and Thai chilis that's reportedly one of the spiciest items on the menu.

  • We also ordered the peanut noodles tossed in red curry as a milder option and the watermelon appetizer, where the fresh fruit is topped with a hot Tajin-like powder, shrimp flakes and cubed scallions.
  • To mitigate the potential onslaught of spice, we grabbed light and fruity rum-based cocktails "The Mekong" and "The Jungle Bird Riff" from the bar.

Our thoughts: If one is white bread and 10 is a ghost pepper, we both thought the Gai Basil was about 5.5. The spice was easily tolerable with a glass of water, though it did get a little difficult the more I ate.

  • The watermelon was a three — the powder was easily balanced by the sweetness of the fruit. The peanut noodles were fantastic, but as expected, had no spice at all.

Tip: Spring for the cocktails. I drank three glasses of water throughout my meal, but the sweet and refreshing drink quenched my thirst better.

Overall: Everything we tried was delicious, but the dishes wouldn't have been as good without that extra kick. Even if you don't like heat, take the risk.

  • Note: You don't need to look hard to find a mild dish. Less than a third of the entrees were denoted as spicy on the menu.

Details: The two-story restaurant has indoor seating, an open-air patio on the second floor and an enclosed dining room with a glass ceiling.

  • The family style dishes range from $13 for noodles to $19 for meat skewers. An 18% service charge is applied to every order.
  • 1610 Harmon Pl., Minneapolis. Open 11am-10pm daily, walk-ins only.

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