Next of Kiin
At their new restaurant, T.O.’s champions of Thai food deliver elaborate and pictorial fare
I have been to Thailand three times now. They say an army marches on its stomach, and this I, as a frequent traveller, can confirm.
I learned to love the fragrance of lemongrass, the sweet exotic tang of Thai basil, the salty back story of fish sauce against the sweet of palm sugar, all with the crunch of toasted peanuts. It’s a cuisine of great complexity, of big flavours in careful balance. If you can get past the chilies.
Chef Nuit Regular and her husband Jeff have made a delicious niche in Toronto catering to us, the not-so-hotchili people. And now Kiin, their fourth restaurant (after Pai, Sukhothai and Sabai Sabai), a pale and lovely room.
Kiin’s focus is royal Thai cooking, although they do other Thai food as well. Royal cooking is what happens when normal Thai cooking becomes more painstaking and detailed, fruit and veg deseeded, fish deboned, presentations get pictorial and elaborate. Fit for a king.
The signature app is roy Thai, a jewel of a platter with four small bites, each prettier than its neighbour: mha hor is sweet pickled turnip carved into a pineapple flower and stuffed with savory/sweet coconut and peanut paste. Chor ladda is a purple flower-shaped dumpling (made from jasmine rice dyed with butterfly pea blossoms) topped with crispy deep-fried Thai garlic. Rhoom is delicate lacy egg net wrapping up minced seasoned chicken. Thoong thong is a cute little deep-fried wonton filled with beautifully spiced minced chicken and shrimp and sitting in a cucumber box. One bite each, all wondrous. I’ve eaten lots of appetizer platters in Thailand, specially in the north, where they favour such things, and none has come close to this opus.
But it’s small, so bulk up apps with their warm sweet/savoury spread of peanut, tamarind and coconut studded with satisfying chunks of shrimp and crab, to spoon onto crisp rice crackers.
I rarely think of rice as a main course, but khao yum is a contender. It comes in a big golden bowl, three slender pyramids of dyed rice: red from beets, purple from butterfly pea flowers and yellow from turmeric. Around the pyramids are small piles of finely chopped lemon grass, long beans, Thai sawtooth coriander, kaffir lime leaves, cucumber, toasted coconut, pomelo (kissin’ cousin to grapefruit), fried chilies, sunflower sprouts and Thai white turmeric. The server tosses it all together with a sauce of tamarind and soy paste. We inhale it gratefully.
The other main we favour is gaeng boombai nua, beef short rib braised, gentled into moist tenderness with tamarind, cucumber and cute little pearl onions. This too was inspired by the kitchens of the royal family.
To be eating Thai royal cuisine at this moment of history, in Toronto, is surely an homage paid to her homeland by Nuit Regular.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand died in October 2016, and the country declared a yearlong period of mourning. During his long reign, the king was revered throughout Thailand. There is still black and white bunting with His Majesty’s picture every few blocks all over Thai cities. Kiin seems a fitting memorial to a lost and beloved monarch.
Clockwise from top: Jeff and Nuit Regular at the Kiin opening; the vibrant khao yum, the roy Thai platter
JOANNE KATES Joanne Kates trained at the Ecole Cordon Bleu de Cuisine in Paris. She has written articles for numerous publications, including the New York Times, Maclean’s and Chatelaine.