And thank goodness. It’s about time.
Kin Khao is unusual partly because it comes from the unlikely intersection of two influences: one rooted in place and memory, another in highbrow technique. The first, Pim Techamuanvivit, is a cheeky Bangkok-born blogger who came into notoriety with her writing and cooking project, Chez Pim.
The second is Michael Gaines, Kin Khao’s chef de cuisine, who sprung from the kitchen of Manresa, where he worked under Techamuanvivit’s partner, David Kinch. They all went to Bangkok together a few years ago, and the idea was sealed. San Francisco needed authentic Thai food.
That may be why the kitchen’s output is more unfamiliar than familiar — always for the best.
The gaeng som sour curry, for example, forsakes coconut milk for a thin, red and sour broth peppered with tender root vegetables and topped with a thin omelet. The egg and curry are beautiful together, one a soft, pallid bed, the other a rollicking, punchy soup with enough salty depth to keep you sipping until the bottom.
Even more unusual, though, are the kua kling ribs, described as spicy dry-fried pork ribs on the menu. Yet the tiny, rich pork riblets are thrice-cooked — first poached, then deep fried, and finally dredged in a paste heavy with turmeric, tamarind and chili, before getting one final pan fry. The ribs are earthy and robust, flecks of chili glinting from the sides like a shattered mirror. Kaffir lime leaves julienned into a thin whisper bring a savory but citruslike balance to the meat. I recommend a cold, pale lager to take the heat off.
The duck egg salad is a lovely, oozy nest of warm yellow yolks and crispy shallots. Mint jogs through as a strong flavor, softened by peanuts and a sweeter chili jam dressing. The texture is wonderful: crackling and soft, spicy and warm.
The crab sen chan is less exciting, and the closest thing you’ll find to pad thai, or any of the Thai food you actually know. The dish is simple, a nest of wok-fried rice noodles dressed up in small pinches of Dungeness crab. Crab fat imparts a familiar, sinister richness that keeps your fork twirling into it like a broken record.
The cocktails — conceived with the help of The Bon Vivants — are reliably delightful, too. The Rasa Umami pitches sweet Oloroso sherry against a very peppery finish. The Hua Hin is maybe the most playful. The terrific and creamy mix of dark rum, stout, coconut milk, lime and salt is served up in a bright tin cup smashed full with crushed ice.
Because Kin Khao is different, it feels more authentic than most Thai restaurants. But really, Kin Khao is what happens when authentic Thai influence meets the hands of a Manresa chef. The food is bound up in polished technique and fancy whims, which, in view of where San Francisco is right now, might be the most authentic expression of Thai you’ll find around. Happily, it’s very easy to love.
Location: 55 Cyril Magnin St. (enter at corner of Mason and Ellis streets), S.F.
Contact: (415) 362-7456, www.kinkhao.com/
Hours: 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.; late-night menu 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. daily
Price range: $7 to $26
Credit cards: All major
Recommended dishes: Khun Yai’s Green Curry with Rabbit ($22), Gaeng Som Sour Curry ( $22), Kua Kling Ribs ($15)