In the realm of ultra-pricey, raw seafood-centered meals, a focus on painstakingly sourced ingredients can—sans deft approach—almost eclipse a chef’s more personalized artisanry. Among omakase’s upper echelons, creamy uni, pearl-like ikura and soft shell crab are, at the end of the day, still just really, really good uni, ikura and crab. The overarching focus for a restaurant’s kitchen team in that culinary endzone can become simple: don’t drop the ball. For Kinkan, a buzzy pandemic era pop-up turned brick-and-mortar Virgil Village restaurant, however, those final yards make every bit of difference, elevating a special occasion meal to the level of sheer brilliance.
Inside an intimate space full of mismatched wooden furniture and dried flowers, chef Nan Yimcharoen transcends American sportsball metaphors with a unique, Thai-Japanese prix fixe meal that glides, skips and ambles where others might break into a tense sprint. Presented on antique plates and glassware, the team at Kinkan uses high-quality seafood as a canvas that seamlessly melds flavors from both cuisines, plus seasonal and hard-to-find Asian produce, into high art. This granny-like interior design is oddly fitting for a meal at Kinkan, whose most commonly offered dinnertime menu is a 10-course ode to the chef’s grandmother. No matter what menu or time you decide on, you’ll need a reservation, which will be followed up by a separate phone confirmation by a polite reservationist the day before your meal.
Though separate tables are also available, the best seats at Kinkan are at the chef’s counter, where the communal dining air, absent for so long during the pandemic, can make you feel borderline conspiratorial with the other patrons at the bar as you anticipate the next course. Pending the restaurant’s BYOB liquor license status, servers will happily uncork and serve whatever wine and beer you might bring in, as well as steaming hot green tea. Those who arrive empty-handed but would like to drink with dinner might be pointed towards Kinkan’s natural wine shop neighbor, Melody, located two doors down.
Like the poet Adrienne Rich’s earlier works, the dishes at Kinkan “speak quietly but do not mumble, respect their elders but are not cowed by them, and do not tell fibs.” Poignant and expressive despite the meal’s overall subtlety, each dish in Yimcharoen’s homage to her grandmother tells a different story of seafood and spice, from a peppery tom yum soup garnished with a flower made of sea bream, to the yuzu kosho-topped scallops served alongside vermicelli and both halves of a delicate, bright green umeshu plum. Come time for dessert, the servers will likely produce a plate of small Thai sweets, including a corn-flecked pandan tapioca hidden underneath coconut jelly and a separate sweet coconut patty, or maybe pieces of refreshing seasonal fruit.
No one dish truly stands out, because Kinkan is the rare restaurant where this distinction means consistency, all-around excellence and pure delight. At a push, however, Yimcharoen’s whimsical bluefin tuna rose, served in a light fish sauce, and the naturally blue butterfly pea noodles topped with soft shell crab (plus a baby one!) are captivating both in terms of visuals and the synergy of Thai and Japanese flavors. Setting the tone for the meal, however, is Kinkan’s adorable first course: a trio of finely minced fatty toro, sake-marinated ikura and bright orange uni served out of a teacup with fresh ground wasabi. The phrase “casual fine dining” might sound like an oxymoron, but it’s simply the most accurate description for Kinkan, where the cozy meets the connoisseurial.
The vibe: Unpretentious, relaxed and surprisingly homey, a visit to Kinkan is like visiting your grandmother’s house—if your granny also happens to be a skilled purveyor of edible fine art.
The food: A blend of Thai and Japanese cuisine, although Kinkan’s “Sensei to Issho” menu, lunch items and takeout menus more closely adhere to a purist interpretation of Japanese sushi-making.
The drink: For last-minute bottles of wine, sake and beer, look to sceney natural wine bar and bottle shop Melody two doors down.
Time Out tip: Book far, far in advance, particularly for birthdays, anniversaries and other big nights out, and ensure you make a note in the reservation—the team at Kinkan may have a sweet surprise for you and your dining companions.
Nov 15 correction: A previous version of this review misspelled Yimcharoen's first name and incorrectly stated the restaurant had a BYOB liquor license. In actuality, Kinkan is in the process of acquiring one.