Kiin Thai is a college date night type of place. Like you’re tired of eating in the dining hall, but you want something nicer than pizza or Mexican, so this stylish Thai restaurant hits that sweet spot of serving interesting food at a reasonable price point.
But that “college date night” qualifier says something. In college, you’re not really all that picky about what you eat. Instant ramen noodles and Totino’s boxed pizza were all fair game. But as you get older, you start eating a lot more real food and developing standards, and the college hot spots don’t cut it anymore.
I wasn’t expecting Kiin Thai to be a college date night type of place. I thought it would be many notches above that, as it is run by the owners of the highly regarded Isaan Thai restaurant Somtum Der. But there’s a real difference between the two restaurants. Somtum Der is like the sure footed parent with a strong point of view, whereas Kiin Thai is the people pleasing college kid still figuring it out.
The decor at Kiin Thai is very nice, but it feels a little out of character for a Thai restaurant. There’s a lot of whitewashed wood and mason jars, which to me reads more farm-to-table American than central Thailand. This is the whole people-pleaser aspect that I was talking about earlier. I feel like the owners thought this farm-to-table decor was trendy and was what New Yorkers wanted, and hence they decided to furnish things this way, rather than being driven by authenticity. Maybe things have changed in Thailand, but when I was there several years ago, things weren’t being served out of mason jars…
Here’s an obvious example of Kiin Thai not quite figuring things out–the pad thai did not come fully seasoned. Instead, the peanuts, red pepper flakes and sugar came on the side. I’m a little confused by why the restaurant didn’t have the confidence to assert its point of view and season everything fully beforehand. It’s a cop out, frankly–no one can blame them for the flavors if the diners have to season the dish themselves. I guess on the plus side, because it wasn’t fully seasoned, the pad thai wan’t overly sweet like bad takeout style, but in the same vein, it was also pretty bland.
I did enjoy the grandma’s pork chops, which were served playfully as lollipops. The ground meat was seasoned well, with a hint of coconut, lemongrass and cilantro in the blend, and the patties really came alive with the dipping sauce, which generated a lot of explosive heat.
The biggest disappointment by far was the royal seafood omelette. There was nothing regal about this sad omelette, which had an unappetizing gray color about it. My suspicions were confirmed when I took a bite. I felt like I was eating this weird filler, like industrial powdered egg with bits of canned crab meat mixed throughout. It was so bad, we didn’t even finish it. When you think to how much potential this dish could have had, it made the misstep that much more tragic.
So this is what happens when you run a restaurant that isn’t true to its roots. There’s no strong point of view, other than to cater to as many palates as possible, which results in cooking that lacks soul. Everything looks very pretty, but like a bland pageant queen, Kiin Thai lacks real substance. Not that that bothered the NYU kids around me, who looked like they were enjoying themselves. They’ll know better in a few years’ time…
36 E. 8th St (between University Pl and Greene St)
New York, NY 10003