First Taste: Kin Khao sister restaurant Nari bursts with flavor and sophistication

Begin dinner at Nari with a pop: These betelnut leaves topped with salty cured trout roe burst with flavor in one bite.  (Sarah Chorey)

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by Sarah Chorey

The words "let's go for Thai" are typically happy-making. Who doesn't love to dip into a platter of peanut-y pad Thai noodles or a rich, steaming bowl of red curry?

But while those dishes have a place in our hearts for cozy date nights or take-out at home, what we think of as "traditional" Thai food often isn't authentic at all (and more than likely it isn't fresh). Fortunately, we have Pim Techamuanvivit, a Michelin-class Thai chef, right here in our backyard. Through her first restaurant, the runaway success that is Kin Khao, and now her followup project, Nari, she's showing us the way to the true flavors of Thailand.

When Kin Khao opened in 2014 on the ground floor of downtown's Parc 55 Hotel (a place rarely visited by locals), the whole city was basically blown away. The restaurant served made-from-scratch, intense, and stunningly delicious Thai food in a funky, low-budget space and, in 2016, earned a Michelin star, which it has retained every year since.

But hold on, because Nari is not Kin Khao 2.0.

Greenery sprouts up throughout the space, lending an urban oasis feel.
Greenery sprouts up throughout the space, lending an urban oasis feel. (Anson Smart)

The scope of the place is your first clue. Inside Japantown's Hotel Kabuki, the dining room can seat up to 100 guests for dinner plus another 40 in the upstairs bar and lounge.

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The interior is also decidedly more polished than Kin Khao's. Kitted out by Lundberg Design, the aesthetes behind the interiors at Mourad and Quince, Nari is modern and elegant—an open two-story space with floor-to-ceiling windows that shed light on lush ferns and trendy monstera growing up between half-circle booths upholstered in exquisite floral fabric. In Lundberg fashion, there is thoughtful woodwork and sculptural fixtures.

Design-wise, you might call Nari the brighter yang to Kin Khao's darker yin, and while Techamuanvivit has always helmed Kin Khao, there are strong feminine wiles at work here. The restaurant's name itself means "women" in Thai, and the operation is run by a powerhouse team of femmes.

Techamuanvivit, who developed the menu, is joined by chef de cuisine Meghan Clark (also of Kin Khao) and bar star Megan Daniel-Hoang (formerly of Whitechapel). The cocktails here are named after women characters in Thai novels; there is also an extensive wine list.

Left to right: The Manora, the Rojana and the Montheo
Left to right: The Manora, the Rojana and the Montheo (Sarah Chorey)

Nari's cocktail program is reason enough to visit. The Manora is similar to a Thai version of a pisco sour, made with egg whites, pineapple sherbert, yellow chartreuse falernum, and lime. The Rojana brings together a light rum, Smith & Cross rum, lime cordial, pineapple gum, orgeat, and Thai bitters for am elevated play on a daiquiri. The Montheo is pleasantly tart thanks to a bit of sea gin made with seaweed, sherry, chareau, vanilla, absinthe, cucumber, muddled basil, and a hint of lemon.

Once you've settled in, it's time to forget about pad Thai and open your taste buds to a new dimension. Salty meets sweet in most of the dishes here, and funky-intense flavors come through thanks to ingredients such as shrimp paste and fish sauce. The best approach: Order with an open mind and no expectations.

The kapi plah is an intensely flavorful chilled dip is made with gulf prawns and shrimp paste relish and comes with a spread of crisp radishes, beans, and sliced pear.
The kapi plah is an intensely flavorful chilled dip is made with gulf prawns and shrimp paste relish and comes with a spread of crisp radishes, beans, and sliced pear. (Sarah Chorey)

Start with the punchy miang, an intensely green betel leaf topped with stone fruit, trout roe, and fish sauce caramel. Sample the yum tawai, a platter of haricots vert with bits of chicken, peanuts, sesame, and coconut and tamarind sauce. Indulge in a pretty spicy version of gaeng bumbai aubergine, a curry of eggplant with hints of lemon basil and topped with crunchy fried shallots.

Nari's gaeng rawaeng
Nari's gaeng rawaeng (Sarah Chorey)

The gaeng rawaeng is a menu standout. The whole cornish game hen is cooked in a rich rawaeng curry sauce, and served with buttery roti bread perfect for dipping up all the juices. Like next-level comfort food, it's guaranteed to become a Nari signature dish.

The desserts, like the cocktails, shine. Saved room for the babin coconut cake, a thick, pudding-like slice of coconut, basil, and ginger, topped with toasted coconut flakes. We did also love the makrut lime tart with bright strawberries, creaming creamy citrus filling, and crispy rice puffs rolled in powdered sugar.

Nari's makrut lime tart (Sarah Chorey)

This article originally appeared on 7x7 Bay Area.

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