I have been friends with Pim Techamuanvivit on Facebook for years, so I had a feeling that on a recent trip to visit family in the Bay Area I’d wind up at her one-star Michelin restaurant Kin Khao in San Francisco.
I had a rather sizable lunch at Cambodian spot Nyum Bai in Oakland, when fellow food nerd Yamini Eats, a recent S.F. transplant, told me I needed to have a second solo meal at her favorite Thai spot, Kin Khao.
“You should go,” she said spurring me on when I groused that they closed for lunch at 2 p.m. Soon enough though I was on the BART and even sent Chef Pim a note that I might be stopping in. Truth be told I was feeling the need for a long walk and the restaurant was a little too close to the BART to fit that in.
Nevertheless I bit the Thai birdseye chili and made my way over to the restaurant in the Parc 55 Hotel to find it still hopping at 1:30 p.m. Soon I was seated at a communal table perusing Kin Khao’s menu and eying the chicken wings in front of the couple next to me. “They’re really hot,” the dude said of the trio of meaty flappers that the menu dubbed “Pretty Hot Wings.” Moments after that Chef Pim herself stopped by to say hello.
“It’s a pretty warm for San Francisco,” she said when I told her I was thinking about ordering the pork bowl, a pork shoulder and crispy belly soup. “You should order something you can’t get in New York. Try the Yaowaraj noodles. We make our own XO sauce.”
“These are from the chef,” the server said placing an order of the aforementioned wings before me. They certainly lived up to their name. On their own they had a wonderful spicy sour kick. For good measure they were garnished with birdseye chilies.
“I love fried wings, I love Buffalo wings, I love wings of all kinds,” Chef Pim said when I asked her about the dish. “At Kin Khao I wanted to do something fun with wings that’s still Thai,” she said of the bird, which the kitchen glazes with Thai Sriracha Panich and tamarind before finishing with lime zest for added zing.
I cut my teeth on pan fried noodles in Manhattan’s Chinatown, so I was excited to try the Yaowaraj noodles named for Bangkok’s Chinatown. The tangle of noodles came with a sidecar of chilies and rice vinegar. Normally I would have poured the whole lot on top, but my mouth was still humming from the wings. The XO sauce was lovely, but it turns out it’s not traditional in Thailand.
In Yaowarat, the dish is made with a dried squid that Chef Pim says she really doesn’t like, so she decided to make an XO sauce with dried shrimp, dried scallops, and dried ham. “It has the same kind of land and sea quality to it,” she said of her take on the dish.
After a taste of Bangkok’s Chinatown I took a longish walk through San Francisco’s Chinatown. On the outskirts, I headed to China Live, where I chuckled quietly at the sight of a gal who had included it as part of a food tour. I was there because of a hot tip about sheng jian bao.
There were lots of other great sounding dishes on the menu, including stone oven roasted Peking duck with seasonal fruit glaze, but as a very full solo diner I had just enough appetite left to try one thing, and I’m glad I did. I’m more of an XLB man, but the crispy bottomed pork dumplings were simply amazing. Thanks to a finish in a miniature cast iron pan the bottoms had a burnished golden brown mantle that shattered like porky peanut brittle.
Soon it was time to return to my brother’s house for a pizza feast prepared by my nephew Ted. Somehow I managed to reach down to find the additional appetite to enjoy the meal. Anything for food and family.
Kin Khao, 55 Cyril Magnin St., San Francisco, (415) 362-7456
China Live, 644 Broadway, San Francisco, (415) 788-8188