Hieu Than opened Kin last year in Gert Town. Situated on a little triangle where Washington Avenue and S. Clarke and Clio streets meet, the tiny yellow building is a place you’ve passed a million times and never seen. There are massive billboards on the roof, a warehouse behind and a charmless drainage canal across the street.
Inside, the dining room is about 400 square feet and the open kitchen about 200. There is one communal table with 10 chairs, most of which are branded with the name of friends and relatives (hence, kin). The rest of the seating is at two bars, one L-shaped that faces the bar and seats 12. The other bar lines the window and seats four. Plan to stand in line. And, bring your own booze.
Bespectacled and New Orleans born to Vietnamese immigrants, Than trained at New York’s French Culinary Institute before interning at Corton and Craftbar, prior to working under Sue Zemanick at Gautreau’s.
Kin had me as soon as I sat down at the cramped bar. I could feel the passion that had been poured into the place and sense how Than and had labored over the little things that make the diminutive space come to life: an ink-blue ceiling adds dimension; the subtle pearl finish on the silver-hued walls gleams in the sunlight and glows behind a candle; wine crates carefully nailed to the wall behind the bar create cases for the cookbook collection and storage for the lovingly polished wineglasses.
A splurge here – weighty cutlery, fresh flowers, original art – a scrimp there, though none of it really obvious to the uninitiated. But those of us who have had to rely on skills, raw talent, favors and creativity to make a dream come true, see it and feel it right away: the endless trips to Home Depot, the combing of thrift stores, maxing out your credit card, holding your breath. We get it.
The result is elegant, polished.
Than and his culinary partner, Nhat “Nate” Nguyen, also a New Orleanian born to Vietnamese immigrants, take risks. The Asian influence is the only constant in a sea of flavors and techniques that encompass French, Italian and Louisiana heritage cuisines.
Changes recently happened at Kin. An eclectic selection of six or seven ramen options – most based on either viscous tonkotsu or lighter tankatsu broth – will now be served all day, and the ever-changing menu of haute cuisine entrées will now appear as small plates. We recently settled on umami-rich short ribs served with a cooling cucumber salad, kimchi vinaigrette and berry crème fraiche. A seared duck leg was paired with gnundi crafted from creamy cojita and served with pico, squash, corn and adobo sauce. Boudin is made with wild rice, wrapped in wonton skin, fried and served with a Tabasco-tinged mango purée. A lamb T-bone was grilled and served with fresh garganelli pasta, mint pesto, roasted baby vegetables and a sauce of coconut and galangal. The five-spice duck confit is usually on the menu, recently with a kaleidoscope of stir fried spring vegetables and fragrant rice atop a bed of cashew purée. Stunning. One memorable ramen option paired the silken noodles in a play on crawfish bisque – tails, crispy stuffed heads, a crawfish cake and smoky tomato broth with dashi.
The diminutive space dictated the need for greater simplicity, Than says. When a second location is identified, the ramen operation will move there and the original location will return to its fine dining format.
Geoffrey Meeker recently expended his French Truck Coffee empire with the opening of French Truck Café, where he’ll also serve breakfast and lunch. Look for a croissant sandwich with bacon, egg, cheddar and tomato jam; a waffle sandwich topped with egg, prosciutto and goat cheese; a Provençal white bean soup with pesto and prosciutto brittle; and a Provence sandwich with prosciutto, brie, melon, basil and arugula – among other delights.
Kin 4600 Washington Ave., 304-8557
French Truck Café 4536 Dryades St., 298-1115, FrenchTruckCoffee.com