During the pandemic, Kinkan’s Los Angeles chef Nan Yimcharoen became an underground take-out sensation with exquisite chirashi bowls and multi-layered bento boxes she made at home. The appeal was obvious: Even at a time when sushi all over the city offered beautiful take-out, Yimcharoen’s artfully constructed and memorable food stood out. Opening and then eating one of the jewelry box creations she assembled with pristine raw fish, uni, wagyu, crab and ikura was a special occasion, even if it was a Wednesday night and you watch King tiger while you were having dinner on the couch.
Kinkan is no longer underground, but it’s still a DIY business that looks both like a promising business and an art project. In June, Yimcharoen opened a Virgil Village restaurant, which she finances with her savings and an inheritance from her grandmother. She still cooks her wonderful take-out, but the main event at the new Kinkan restaurant is a revealing Thai-Japanese omakase in which the chef uses the same premium ingredients while exploring her Bangkok roots.
For now, reservations are only available to those who have already ordered take out. Yimcharoen wants to build relationships with customers before they sit down in her 25-seat restaurant for a 10-course, $ 150 tasting menu that includes madai, red tuna, and Ōra King salmon as she ages her. -same.
Her first omakase is called Hommage à grand-mère. It includes a seasonal crab curry that Yimcharoen describes as “crab on crab on crab”. She obtains female crabs and uses the innards and eggs for the soul-warming sauce. Then she puts a snow crab claw and blue noodles (made with butterfly pea flower) on the curry. When they’re in season, she adds a sawagani, a small, soft-shelled freshwater crab, as an exclamation mark.
Another standout dish is a tuna larb which Yimcharoen calls “Kinkan’s rose” because she carefully slices the bluefin tuna and layers it in a flower-like manner. She is there to break stereotypes. She wants people to know that Thai cuisine can be as stylish as any fine cuisine. She also wants guests to know that Thai food doesn’t have to be too spicy. Its omakase is nuanced and balanced, with acidic, sweet, salty, and umami notes, but nothing here makes your face feel like it’s melting.
“My family lived with my grandmother in Bangkok and they made Central Thai cuisine,” Yimcharoen says. “It was in the style of Bangkok. There was nothing quite so spicy, nothing more than a sweet level.
Yimcharoen’s grandparents traveled with Thai ambassadors and his grandmother, Chaleam, cooked for dignitaries and also ran a dinner cruise business. At home, Chaleam insisted the family eat together at 7 p.m. and taught everyone good table manners. Yimcharoen enjoyed spending time with her, especially when it came to planning meals.
“My grandmother was a big seafood eater, and we would go to the market and pick crabs,” she says. “When she was making dinner, I liked being in the kitchen and trying to help her. She would teach me. I started to cut fruit and my hand had a lot of scars.
For an afternoon snack, Yimcharoen’s grandmother would often make rice crackers which she would sun dry, fry, and serve with shrimp and pork. This is the inspiration for a Kinkan omakase dish with a rice cracker topped with lobster alongside a spring roll.
In many ways, Yimcharoen has taken an unlikely path to become one of LA’s hottest new bosses. When she moved to the United States ten years ago, she thought she was going to lead a domestic life.
“I was looking for a cooking class to become a perfect housewife before I moved,” she says.
Yimcharoen spent a few weeks in a Bangkok restaurant learning the techniques from a friend who had attended cooking school in New York City. She shows me a notebook with recipes from this restaurant, Mango Tree. Then she smiles and says her marriage hasn’t worked out and her ex-husband recently came to Kinkan for a meal.
Yimcharoen is self-deprecating by nature. The first time I told her about take out, I mentioned that I had heard a lot about her from friends and wanted to know more. “I’m nobody,” she replied, even though she had started a take-out business that was frequented by savvy screenwriters like Matthew Koma, Hillary Duff, Joey King and Albert Hammond Jr.
When she opened her restaurant, Yimcharoen had no idea how customers would react to the gourmet riffs of Thai cuisine made from ingredients typically found in expensive sushi bars. But last night I had dinner at her seven seat counter, she got some important validation from other guests.
“There were Thais here,” says Yimcharoen, who adds that the table included the owners of a local Thai restaurant. “I went to talk to them. They said, ‘This is how it’s supposed to be.’ One of them said, ‘This is so good. It gives me goosebumps. The flavor is perfect. I don’t like spices, and none of it is spicy.
Yimcharoen has also been strengthened by the relationships she has forged with other businesses in the area. Kinkan shares a backdoor alley with Hot Tip Courage Bagels, and restaurants are sending food to each other. Ken’s Ramen has been another ally in the village of Virgil. Yimcharoen decided to try her luck in the area after visiting the Melody Wine Bar and seeing how lively it was, and she is now in group chat with Courage, Melody and Rick’s Produce. The night I visited Kinkan, the dessert included dragon fruit from Rick’s Produce, which is down the road and gives him a discount. After a year of cooking meals at home, Yimcharoen is thrilled to be part of a thriving food community with other independent entrepreneurs.
Its underground atmosphere remains. She says she’s in the middle of a smooth opening, but she might just keep things as they are indefinitely. Her staff includes friends and someone who works at Courage during the day. Things are busy in Kinkan, and there are days when Yimcharoen starts making 60 take out orders at 10 a.m. and then has to get ready for his omakase. She will stay in the restaurant until midnight before relaxing. Limiting your omakase to previous clients keeps Kinkan in check.
“I’m happy,” Yimcharoen says. “Every day is good now. Some of my guests offered to partner with the restaurant, but I wasn’t sure. I didn’t want it to be more like business. Making food for people during Covid was where I had my happiness. My guests know me. They followed my journey on Instagram and saw me find a space, pick up furniture and buy flowers. I think most of them know my story very well.
And for those still learning the story, Yimcharoen is happy to explain why she fuses Thai and Japanese cuisine.
“People often ask me ‘Why is this Japanese?’ “, she says. “I appreciate cooking so delicate in the way Japanese chefs take care of every ingredient. Thai cuisine is complex. So when you combine the two cuisines together, they sublimate and you get beautiful dishes. It’s like pairing good wine with good food. One plus one equals three.