Fresh off her semi-finalist nomination to the James Beard Awards, chef Ann Ahmed is ready to talk a bit more about her upcoming restaurant in the former 4 Bells space off of Loring Park.
The restaurant she is launching there will be named Gai Noi. “It’s short for a kind of rice,” Ahmed told me in the space last week. “But it also means ‘little chick’.” Khao gai noi is a type of short grain glutinous rice emblematic of the northern Xieng Khouang regions of Laos, where Ahmed’s family is from. It’s also known as “little chick” due to the spotted look and small shape.
Ahmed explained that khao niew (sticky rice) is a staple of the Lao diet and eaten with nearly all other dishes. “So important is sticky rice in Lao culture, most Laotians refer to themselves as ‘luk khao niew’, or ‘children of the sticky rice’, as sticky rice is the sustenance of the people; the central component of any meal and gathering. Honoring this reference and cultural significance, Gai Noi hopes to be a binding agent for the community and connection to a heritage, culture, and lifestyle worlds apart from our own; a place to gather, share, celebrate, and nourish, coming as you are and being welcomed as luk khao niew.”
Walking through the space, Ahmed pointed out that she thought the building had great bones, that the work overhauling the space from Joe’s Garage to make it into 4 Bells had strengthened the building. “How great is this view of the park,” she noted while standing in the second floor area that was the private dining room. “We are looking forward to using all three levels and giving people a great place to look at the park and just come together.” And of course, there’s that legendary rooftop.
Gai Noi will be full-service dining, and it will have a full bar and many creative spaces. They are certain that they will have dedicated event space. “With a separate kitchen, we’ll be able to do cool food for events, even menu items from Lat14 or Khaluna for special occasions.” But beyond that, Ahmed’s holding back on details because she’s about to embark on a trip through Asia. “I’m going on this journey and working on the menu and the inspiration for the space. I have 80% of the menu done, but I have so many things in my head, so many directions I could go, traveling like this helps me zone in on what it should be.” Follow along on the new Gai Noi Instagram to see where she eats and cooks in Bangkok, Singapore, and other points along the way.
Chef has time, since the opening has to be pushed back while they wait for the right equipment. “We’d wanted to close Lemongrass and be ready to open this spot not too long after, but it looks like we’ll be a bit further out.” Lemongrass is still tracking to close by the end of March, and while there is no opening date set for Gai Noi, Ahmed is confident that she will be ready and open for Loring Park’s famous Pride Festival. If not sooner. But definitely in time for rooftop season. Can’t wait!!
January 31, 2023