August 13, 2019

August 13, 2019
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The tropical chic style of Nari. All photos: Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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Plants abound in the airy, open dining room.

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The Kinnari cocktail, named after a half-bird/half-woman character in Thai literature.

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The outstanding gaeng gradang snack (fried bites of Northern Thai headcheese).

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Mah hor snack with stone fruit.

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The spicy squid and sticky pork jowl dish.

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The turmeric-scented rawaeng curry, with a whole Cornish game hen and roti on the side.

Last week, I was thrilled to be invited to a friends and family preview dinner at ~NARI~, the latest restaurant from chef-owner Pim Techamuanvivit of our city’s much-adored Kin Khao (and Nahm in Bangkok). It’s a spacious step up from Kin Khao’s casual atmosphere: Nari is a 100-seater in Japantown’s recently renovated Hotel Kabuki, with a chic, tropical 70s style (UPDATE: this was my impression of the aesthetics, but after reading my piece, Pim shares the 70s weren’t a part of the design plan—but they did want to invoke a sense of dining in a tropical garden or greenhouse). It’s from Lundberg Design (Mourad, Hard Water, and Maum)—founder Olle Lundberg is a big fan of Kin Khao, and Pim worked closely with designer Caroline Nassif from Lundberg. There’s also a bar and lounge on the mezzanine upstairs (with room for up to 40), and a private dining room (room for up to 30).

The airy space is full of plants and natural light, with plenty of nooks and booths for larger parties, which reflects the family-style format of the menu. There are beautiful wood tables of reclaimed teak from old Thai houses, bench seats made from reclaimed floorboards from homes and boats, and banquettes upholstered with a shimmery silk from Jim Thompson Fabrics, truly a Thai classic. There are French light fixtures from Constance Guisset that look like flowy hats, and birdcages that remind me of dining in Thailand. While the overall style and atmosphere is more upscale than Kin Khao, there’s some fun energy with the upbeat music and friendly service.

Nari is Thai for “women,” and the Bangkok-born Techamuanvivit is honoring the women in her life who taught her so many traditional recipes and dishes, which she really has more room to explore here with the significantly larger kitchen. She is working with chef de cuisine Meghan Clark and bar manager Megan Daniel-Hoang (Whitechapel) upstairs, whose cocktails are named after female characters in old Thai literature and stories. Nari is a celebration of women in many forms and touchpoints throughout the experience.

The heritage-driven menu is based on Thai dishes, techniques, and preparations, but also integrates California seasonality and Pim’s own modern and personal updates. (The mah hor snack exemplifies this perfectly: wedges of pluot are topped with a delightful paste of pork, shrimp, peanuts, garlic, coriander root, and coconut sugar, an amazing version of this dish which I fell in love with in Thailand.) Pim is known for her painstaking sourcing and commitment to making everything by hand, from her sauces to curries to pastes. The plating here is elegant and appetizing, served on pottery from Nathiya Prathnadi (a local Thai ceramicist), and colorful pieces from Sven Ceramics.

You’ll want to try as many of the snacks on the menu as you can (there are six in all), from the beautiful and delectable miang (betel leaves adorned with a treasure of ingredients, like stone fruit, cured trout roe, Makrut lime, coconut, cashews, lemongrass, and more; $14); outstanding and crispy veal sweetbreads glazed with an incendiary sriracha-tamarind sauce ($9); and the can’t-miss gaeng gradang (fried bites of Northern Thai headcheese; $10). The snacks were a perfect match with the Kinnari cocktail (tree sap liqueur, fino sherry, blanc vermouth, gin bitters; $14).

All of the snacks are available in the upstairs lounge, and psssst, there are a few larger dishes upstairs you can’t get in the dining room, like sai ua (Northern-style sausage; $23) and tom yum with rice noodles ($22), a family favorite dish from Pim’s childhood, with her grandmother’s chile jam. (Quite perfect if you live in the neighborhood and just want to swing by for something a little substantial for dinner and a drink.) Check out the bar menu here.

Five starters range from $15-$19, and include a winning spicy squid and sticky pork jowl dish that is like it came over from Kin Khao and graduated into a new form, as well as khao tung and some vegetable dishes. The pricing of the mains will remind you they are meant to be shared, from the turmeric-scented rawaeng curry—a whole Cornish game hen, so succulent and savory, served with irresistible roti ($47)—to a massaman gae curry of lamb shank, grilled onions, and nectarines ($52). There are some dry curry dishes, and if you want to get down with some Thai funk, there’s the kapi plah plate ($25), with seasonal vegetables you dip into a smashed Gulf prawn and shrimp paste relish—this is definitely an advanced Thai dish.

The cocktails are very food-friendly, and Thai spice-friendly too. You’ll find a section of sessions cocktails (low-proof), large-format punches ($45), and zero-proof as well, which cost as much as the sessions cocktails ($14). Many feature Thai ingredients, and range from bright to spiritous.

The wine list is a collaboration between Kin Khao’s wine director Sam Zelver and GM Caleb Taft, who you may recognize from Arlequin. The list includes wines from female winemakers and female-owned wineries, with a focus on small producers, and some non-intervention and biodynamic picks, but you can also find a classic white Burgundy and rieslings too. The by-the-glass selections range from a mineral Serbian corvina from Maurer to a rosé from our own County Line (both $15). You can also explore some cider, beer, and soft drinks.

Open Mon-Sat 5:30pm-10pm. Lunch will be coming soon, like in a couple months. And yay, parking in the Japantown Center Garage is super-cheap and easy, just take the elevator up to the Hotel Kabuki. 1625 Post St. at Laguna.

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Tosca’s open kitchen, flanking the dining room. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

In the last tablehopper, locals were reeling over the news of the sudden closure of ~TOSCA CAFE~, and now we have news of who the new owners are: Nancy Oakes (Boulevard, Prospect), Anna Weinberg (Big Night Restaurant Group: Marlowe, The Cavalier, Leo’s Oyster Bar—although Weinberg is working outside of the restaurant group on this project), and designer Ken Fulk, a frequent collaborator on Weinberg’s restaurants. The Chron reports they plan to reopen the beloved North Beach landmark, which dates back to 1919, this winter.

It couldn’t be in better hands, really. It ends up Oakes grew up in North Beach, and she’ll be bringing some authentic nostalgia for the neighborhood to the menu development, which will remain Italian American, leaning on classic Italian simplicity and great ingredients, with daily updates.

The dining room will have a few refreshed touches, like reupholstered booths, and will potentially be widened a little. The private back room, which is full of memorabilia, will most likely remain the same as well. But Fulk will be having some fun with the small, upstairs private dining room—start placing your bets on whether there will be his trademark taxidermy in there or not. Perhaps a little fox in its den. And there’s no word on plans for the former Lusty Lady, also part of the deal.

Stand by for more. I know I’m not the only one exhaling over this news—I’m glad this storied business is back in some good hands.

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Great Gold’s tomato bread is reportedly a can’t-miss dish. Instagram photo via @greatgold_sf.

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The Nashville spicy chicken-inspired banh mi at Howard Taps. Yelp photo by Cherylynn N.

I’ve already mentioned the details on the new, modern Italian-American red sauce joint, ~GREAT GOLD~ in the former Foxsister, and hey now, it’s open. Check out the menu here. Open Mon-Sat 6pm-10pm and Sun 6pm-9pm. 3161 24th St. at Shotwell.

There’s a new Vietnamese gastropub in SoMa, ~HOWARD TAPS~, in the former Gaslamp Cafe, serving banh mi (like Nashville spicy chicken banh mi) and bun (vermicelli bowls) for now. Once their license kicks in, they’ll be serving SF microbrews, plus an expanded menu with wings, rice plates, and more. They’re all about local ingredients and products, like the espresso they use for their Vietnamese coffee. They’ll also be serving brunch (jook!), lunch, and happy hour (with tacos, 3 for $7). There’s outdoor seating (it’s pet-friendly!), and they will be playing sports on big-screen TVs. It’ll be a good spot if you’re getting your car fixed in that area. Happy hour will be 4pm-7pm. Open Mon-Fri 11:30am-9pm, Sat 10am-10pm for now. 1599 Howard St. at 12th St., 415-812-1863.

Also in SoMa, the fast-casual ~SOWL BOWLS THAI STREET FOOD~ has opened in the former Split Pea Seduction, serving Thai-style rice bowls (with white rice, brown rice, garlic rice, or garlic noodles as the base), sticky rice burgers, and satays. There’s also a party spread for three people ($22.75), lemme know if you want to party! :) Open Mon-Fri 11am-5pm. 138 6th St. at Minna.

There’s a new South Indian spot in the Mission that has a good-lookin’ menu, ~ADITI INDIAN CUISINE~. The menu includes dosas, vadas, frankies, and there’s a pomfret fish fry that’s catching my eye. Let me know if anyone dines here before I have a chance to check it out! Open Tue-Thu 5pm-1am (check out those late hours!), Fri-Sun 11:30am-3pm and 5:30pm-1am. 1101 Valencia St. at 22nd St., 415-401-8959.

Over in the Marina, there’s a new chicken and waffle spot called, easily enough, ~CHICKEN N WAFFLE PLACE~. The hormone-free chicken is soaked in buttermilk and breaded and fried to order. There are other breakfast and lunch items on the menu as well, from omelettes to waffle sandwiches. Open Mon and Wed 7:30am-2pm, Thu-Fri 7:30am-2pm and 5pm-8:30pm, Sat-Sun 7am-3pm. 1968 Lombard St. at Webster.

A third location of ~STREET TACO~ has opened in Potrero, serving their classic Mexico City-style tacos with housemade tortillas. Open Mon-Sat 10am-10pm, Sun 10am-8pm. 980 16th St. at 7th St.

And another location of ~SUPER DUPER BURGERS~ is now open in SoMa. Breakfast sandwiches, Mr. Espresso coffee, burgers, shakes, they’ve gotchoo. Open Mon-Fri 8am-10pm and Sat 10am-9pm. 117 New Montgomery St. at Minna.

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A pic of Tsuta Ramen (via Tsuta Philippines on Facebook).

A few things to look forward to: last year, word came out that ~TSUTA~ ramen was opening in The Metreon, and they have now set the opening for mid-September. The Michelin-starred restaurant (the first ramen restaurant to earn a star) originates in Sugamo, Tokyo, and has two locations in Singapore. Chef-owner Yuki Onishi has created a signature shoyu soba: the soy base is from a special blend of shoyu that includes his housemade, custom-brewed shoyu from Wakayama Prefecture and a specially sourced white shoyu sauce. He blends it with the dashi and finishes it with a black truffle sauce. He will be creating a San Francisco-specific dish, stand by for more. 135 4th St. at Mission.

A tablehopper reader noticed a sign in the window in the former Schmidt’s in the Mission (no, it’s not a sign from the angry neighbor upstairs). The sign mentions ~BASE CAMP NEPAL~ is coming soon, featuring Nepali tapas from the Dancing Yak folks (located at 280 Valencia). I reached out for details, stand by. Hopefully the landlord isn’t gouging them like they did to the former Schmidt’s owners. 2400 Folsom St. at 20th St.

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Jay Foster doing his magic at Isla Vida. Photo: Melissa de Mata.

Damn, am so sorry to report ~ISLA VIDA~ has closed in the Fillmore after a year of giving it their all. Co-owners Jay Foster, Matthew Washington, and Erin Traylor were turning out some mighty tasty Afro-Caribbean food and tropical vibes, but unfortunately operational costs proved to be too much for them to stay open, plus slow foot traffic, and other challenges. You can read more in the Chronicle piece. Sorry it didn’t work out, there was a lot of heart in this project, and pride in opening a black-owned business in the Fillmore. 1300 Fillmore St. at Eddy.

Broke-Ass Stuart reports on the closure of SoMa’s ~CREPES A GO GO~, which has gone gone. Sorry, late-night crêpe fans! (Their North Beach location, which opened earlier this year, is open.)

A couple remodeling updates as well: shocker of shockers, beloved hole in the wall ~YAMO~ is currently closed for a refresh. No word of when one of SF’s best bargain meal counters is opening back up (oh, those garlic noodles!), hopefully soon (the phone line is just endlessly busy). 3406 18th St. at Mission, 415-553-8911. [Via Hoodline.]

And just in case you’re wondering when your Champagne headquarters is coming back, ~THE RIDDLER~ is closed for a mandatory seismic retrofit, and is taking the opportunity to refresh a few things. Look for a reopening after August. 528 Laguna St. at Fell.

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