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.
The tropical chic style of Nari. All photos: Photo: © tablehopper.com.