Years after moving to the States from their native Thailand, Supanee Kitmahawong and Phakphoom (Chris) Sirisuwat would head straight from the airport to their favorite eateries in Bangkok — even after the twenty-plus hours of travel time. That intense yearning gave them an idea: Why not bring authentic regional Thai cuisine to New York? So the owners of Lantern Thai Kitchen decided to do so with highly acclaimed Isan-inspired spot Somtum Der. And just last night, Kitmahawong and Sirisuwat did it again, with the opening of their latest ode to the varied fare of their homeland. Kiin Thai Eatery (36 East 8th Street; 212-529-2363) offers a selection of specialties from the central and northern areas of the country.
Where Somtum Der focuses on the bold and spicy flavors of the northeastern part of the country, Kiin concentrates on flavors that are dominant a bit farther west and south. Central Thailand’s food has been heavily influenced by the Chinese, says Kitmahawong, so it’s not as piquant. Dishes like the signature pad Thai ($15) are complex without the mouth-searing heat. Here, the ubiquitous rice noodle dish is sauteed with shrimp, shrimp paste, dried shrimp, chive, silken egg tofu, pickled turnip, egg, bean sprouts, and peanut, then wrapped in an egg crepe and served with the customary condiments (sugar, peanuts, and dried chiles) on the side.
That’s not to say you won’t find any spice, though. Somtum (green papaya) and several other spicy salads are on the menu, as are many northern dishes (chef Kornthanut Thongnum was born in the north). Sai oua sausage ($10) is a traditional street food from the north, made with pork and aromatic herbs like kaffir lime leaves. Gaeng hung lay curry ($15) is another specialty; made with long-simmered pork shoulder ginger, palm sugar, peanut, red onion, and garlic, it’s intensely flavored but not fiery. It’s similar to the more common massaman curry, except there’s no coconut milk and it’s not as sweet. Thongnum has even included a recipe passed down from his grandmother, the appropriately titled Grandma’s grilled pork with grilled sticky rice ($13), a dish of marinated minced pork caramelized with milk, served with grilled coconut sticky rice.
Meaning “eat” in Thai, Kiin aims to re-create common dining practices in Thailand (many of the dishes and recipes are centuries old). There, it’s typical to eat family-style with some variation of rice and multiple shared dishes, so small plates are a big part of the menu. From Bangkok, there’s fried marinated chicken wrapped in pandanus leaves ($13). Northern-style Nham Prik ($10 to $12), or chile relish, is offered in a couple of forms with assorted condiments. Golden bags ($8), fried vegetable-filled rice-paper wraps, are a popular appetizer for big events like weddings or New Year’s.
The beverage list includes a handful of red and white wines ($7 to $9 per glass), a half-dozen American and Asian beers ($6), and just shy of a dozen cocktails ($12). Like the food, the bar program incorporates a range of fresh Southeast Asian herbs and spices. The Ginger Morgan, for example, combines Captain Morgan, fresh ginger, apple juice, lime juice, and kaffir lime leaf. The Pandan Fashioned mixes Maker’s Mark with pandan syrup, Thai vanilla flavor, and Angostura bitters. The Lychee Geisha incorporates Tanqueray gin with rose syrup, lychee juice, and fresh lemon juice. Non-alcoholic cocktails, fresh juices, Thai coffees, and granitas, in flavors like lemongrass and longan, are also available.
In terms of design, Kitmahawong’s goal was to make the space feel like you’re eating in someone’s home. Food is presented on contrasting serving ware: solid black and white plates, mason jars, wooden boards, white and blue porcelain bowls. The walls are covered in white subway tiles and whitewashed wooden boards. “Regardless of where you’re from, everyone loves a real home-cooked meal,” says Kitmahawong. “We wanted to bring the comfort of a home-cooked Thai meal, matched with a cozy atmosphere, to New Yorkers so they can experience the real cuisines that you would find as if you were living with a local Bangkok family.”
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