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Shovel Time: Kin Khao

twoshovelWhen a mushroom mousse turns out to be the most exciting dish in spread that includes an easy win like pork belly, you know there is something crazy going on. In the US, Thai food rarely gets tinkered with in ways that successfully builds upon tradition. Kin Khao, with an emphasis on seasonality and sustainability, is the happy result of old-school food blogger turned restaurateur Pim Techamuanvivit and chef Michael Gaines (Manresa).

kin khao mushroom hor mok

But back to that mousse. Normally, hor mok is a curried fish paste steamed in banana leaves and topped with coconut cream and lime leaves, here wild mushrooms foraged by an Edible Selby subject are transformed into a custard, called a terrine, and served in a canning jar. And none of it is obnoxious because the result is rich, meaty, and quite possibly tastier than any fish version I’ve tried. Rice crackers are the accompaniment.

kin khao yum yai salad

The also meatless yum yai salad, which mixes a slew of vegetables in contrasting raw and tempuraed forms, was interesting but could’ve used something more than the mild chile jam–or a fishier or hotter version–for emphasis, though. I’m not sure that I would make this at home, but The New York Times did publish a recipe earlier this year.

kin khao caramelized pork belly

Sweet, soy glazed slices of pork belly with caramelized edges did their job, balancing out the relative lightness of the vegetable dishes.

kin khao plah pla muek

The grilled Monterey Bay squid in a lime-heavy, chile sauce, and garnished with crushed peanuts, got a little lost in the shuffle. There’s usually a dish like this, no fault of its own, when sharing plates and drinking (a bottle of biodynamic Pinot Gris rather than one of the fun-sounding cocktails) and paying more attention to the company than the food.

I will admit that half the reason I went to Kin Khao was because it was only one block from the deeply discounted Priceline hotel I stayed at my one night in San Francisco (the other half being that I love out of the ordinary Thai food) but I can’t really think of a better choice in the heart of touristy Union Square. This, plus Danish beer import Mikkeller Bar, also one block away, makes Times Square’s food and drink offerings look even sadder by comparison.

Kin Khao * 55 Cyril Magnin, San Francisco, CA

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