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Kin Khao | Union Square - San Francisco

Melanie Wong | Apr 21, 201702:26 AM

During Kin Khao's first year, I visited three times, each meal progressing in quality over the previous one. But somehow after it earned a Michelin star in 2015, I moved on to the next shiny thing. A last minute change of plans this month landed me back at Kin Khao and I had a great time trying the dishes that were new to me. This discussion picks up where this one left off,

We munched on Spiced peanuts while discussing the menu, and then my old favorite, Mushroom hor mok with crispy rice cakes to start. Our server was careful to vet us on the dishes we ordered, asking if we'd had them before or were we familiar with certain ingredients. I guess we selected the spiciest and most "challenging" ones. Bring it on!

Yaowaraj noodle - A Thai-Chinese dish of stir-fried fresh rice noodles with chunks of chicken, egg, XO chile sauce, scallions and cilantro. For me it was comfort food; my dining companion dubbed it drunk food for late night revelers. Maybe well suited for today, 4/20.

Khao kan jin - Wrapped inside that banana leaf, steamed pork-rice-blood sausage. A study of alliums - crispy fried garlic chips, chopped green onions, fried shallots, pungent shavings of raw shallots -- cilantro and a wedge of lime were the accompaniments. The black sausage was mid-way between rice pudding and chopped liver in texture and firmness. Earthy, meaty, depth charges of savoriness. The acidity of the lime juice and crunch of the fried garnishes provided welcome contrast. The concentrated flavors of the combination were incredibly delicious yet the intensity was almost too overwhelming to eat more than a few mouthfuls. And we had intentionally opted to forego blending in the dried chile pods, to give us a break from so much heat.

Wild boar laab kua - The fieriest dish on the table, slivered rather than minced wild boar blended with crispy fried shallots, pak pai (aka laksa or rau ram), garlic chips, raw shallots, scallions, cilantro and a special chile blend. The taste complexity was simply mind-blowing. Eaten with sticky rice, cooling cucumber slices or the crunchy leaves of little gem lettuce, the laab was too spicy for me to consume much even though I adored the taste and the endorphin rush so.

Asparagus yum - A gift from our server, he said he wanted us to try it. I think he was happy that we had ordered the most unusual items on the menu. I also suspect that this was his way of giving us a break from the powerful flavors served up so far. This was a beautifully composed vegetarian dish showing off tempura-battered asparagus spears as well as well-charred grilled asparagus. Combined with torpedo onion tempura, chile jam, cured duck egg yolk, raw shallots, crushed peanuts and a bouquet of fresh herbs, this layered on many flavors for a lighter-bodied type of complexity.

Namprik long rua - The menu called this an umami-bomb. That's how I'd describe each of the dishes that preceded this one, but this namprik managed to out-blast them all. Our server was careful to explain that this was not a piece of catfish, rather the catfish was pulverized into the relish. We swore that we had tried other kinds of namprik elsewhere and knew what we were in for. This version was especially fragrant with kapi fermented shrimp paste and lime juice seasoning the gritty crumbs of crispy catfish and fatty bits of pork jowl. This was served with an assortment of raw produce including delicate slices of apple, cucumber, radish, snappy green beans, red cabbage and eggplant, plus battered and fried eggplant and chrysanthemum greens and buds. The mums were quite mild and tender. Our server explained that it goes through several steps to reduce the bitterness. We had this with some plain jasmine rice but even then it was still overpowering and a dish to be shared among a larger group.

Buttermilk soft serve with kumquat preserves and toasted coconut flakes - A wonderful ending with a lilting tartness that was so refreshing and cleansing after so many intensely flavored dishes. And I was thrilled to have a taste of Pim's preserves again, this might be the only opportunity out there.

My BYOB was the 2005 Schloss Schonborn Hattenheimer Pfaffenberg Riesling Spatlese from the Rheingau. My dining companion was a little surprised that this Mosel partisan did not bring something from my favorite German region. Many meals at Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas have taught me that the tropical fruits, heavier body and more piercing acidity from the Rheingau makes a better match with Thai flavors.

Reflecting on our dinner, I can say that I loved all the dishes but they did not mesh for a good meal. In my eagerness to try the most unusual offerings, there was too much intensity and fireworks leading to palate fatigue. Though we had steamed rice and sticky rice, I found myself reaching for the creaminess of the hor mok and the more muted taste of the rice noodles as well to refresh the palate. This might be the first time I've considered a dish made with XO sauce to be a neutral palate cleanser! Next time I'll try for a more balanced selection.

Other changes I've noticed in the past two years, the service staff now show more of the graciousness I expect from Thai hospitality and can speak more knowledgeably about the menu. The general spice level has gone up. The menu is pushing the boundaries to introduce dishes not seen in our area. When you step through the door, the scent of fish sauce is heavy in the air, and I don't remember that from before. It's all good.

Kin Khao Eatery
55 Cyril Magnin St
San Francisco, CA 94102
(Corner of Mason & Ellis)
(415) 362-7456

Kin Khao - Thai Eatery
Kin Khao
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