Review: Kin Khao, San Francisco
First a bit of background before I get to my review: I spent most of my life in Northern Virginia, where Thai restaurants are as ubiquitous as Starbucks, and even the bad Thai restaurants are good. I honestly didn’t know that it was possible to make bad Thai food because I never had any that was truly awful. Even when I cooked it at home, it came out pretty darned good since I was able to buy all the right spices and herbs. But then my husband got transferred to a town in Texas that doesn’t do any Asian food well. We’ve pretty much given up trying to eat Thai here because they don’t use lemon grass, Thai basil, Thai chiles, lime leaves, or anything else that makes Thai food taste like Thai food. Since we ate Thai once a week, we feel pretty deprived, so when we went to San Francisco, I was on a Thai mission. We tried to go to Kin Khao on our first night, but we didn’t have a reservation and couldn’t get into this tiny but very popular restaurant, so we made a reservation for the next night and went to a Thai restaurant across the street. It was better than our Texas restaurants, but not exactly what we’d call good, so I had high hopes for Kin Khao, especially since it is a 1-star Michelin-rated restaurant.
Kin Khao is located just inside the Parc 55 hotel. According to the website, the owner is Pim Techamuanvivit, who wanted to improve the quality of Thai food in the U.S. and liberate it “from the tyranny of peanut sauce.” Therefore, you will find that the small menu does not have a lot of familiar dishes like drunken noodles, pad Thai, Tom Yum Goong soup, etc. Instead you will find things like curry mousse in a jar with mushrooms and crisp rice cakes, spicy dry-fried pork riblets, and curries made of beef cheeks, black cod, vegetables, or rabbit. The menu at the time of our visit was heavy on pork and has only one chicken dish, two vegetarian entrees, and no shrimp or scallops. Since I don’t eat pork or red meat, my choices were limited, thus the 4 hearts instead of 5, but everything I had was absolutely delicious.
We started out with drinks, and they have a pretty extensive wine, liquor, and beer list. Cocktails are $13, and wine by the glass ranges from $10 – $15. I had a My Thai (ha!), which was very good and came with a little plastic mermaid that made it even more fun. Hubby had a Singha Thai beer. For appetizers we had cucumber Som Tum ($10), made with chunks of cucumber instead of green papaya and green beans. The chili-lime sauce was spicy and delicious, and I was already happy. We also had the Yum Yai Salad, full of interesting flavors and textures with a combination of raw greens, kale-chips and other fried greens, and a yummy dressing. For entrees, Jorge had carmelized pork belly ($17), which melted in his mouth, although not being used to eating pork belly, he felt it was a bit rich by the end. I had Yaowaraj Noodle ($19), a noodles with chicken dish that was super tasty. The only dessert offered was a black rice pudding, which we passed on, but we left feeling satisfied that our long wait for good Thai food was finally rewarded.