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.(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.
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.
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.
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.
If the main dining room is full, head upstairs for drinks and a few shared plates at the long, L-shaped bar.
// Nari, inside the Hotel Kabuki, 1625 Post St. (Japantown), narisf.com