Your next dinner should be this family-style Thai party

Your next dinner should be this family-style Thai party

Sarah Yenbamroong had just managed to pack her whole life and squeeze it into her little Acura when she received a text message from her then-boyfriend, chef Kris Yenbamroong: “Hey, I need you to save some room in your trunk to wine.” It was 2011, and Kris flew out of Los Angeles to New York City to pick up Sarah and help her move across the country – but meeting his request meant he sacrificed an entire suitcase of shoes. The couple stopped at The Ten Bells, a natural wine bar in Lower Manhattan, and picked up three crates of wine from Noëlla Morantin before heading down the road. “I was bitter, he took up so much space in my trunk,” she says with a laugh.

The story is symbolic of how far Kris, an F&W best new chef from 2016, is willing to go to buy bottles for the now married couple’s Thai restaurant, Night + Market (and its three offshoots, including a new location in Las Vegas ). The restaurants, which are known for no-rules, magnificent Thai cooking, have long had some of the best and most cross-border wine lists in the country. They have also won two James Beard Award nominations in the Outstanding Wine Program category for their curation, which reflects Kris’ passion for natural wines and small producers.

Kris’ love affair with natural wines dates back to 2008, when there were only a handful of seats with them in LA and even fewer distributors. To build his collection, Kris went on wine shopping trips to France, where he showed up at a winemaker’s doorstep and said, “Hi, my name is Kris. I have a restaurant; we’re pouring your wine. I was hoping to meet you and taste.” It was also in 2008 that he took over his family’s now closed Thai restaurant, Talésai. Enthusiastic about serving the obscure wines he loved so much, Kris put them on the wine list.

He quickly ran into trouble. “I had to compromise on everything and try to balance what had existed for 25 years and satisfied the existing customer while trying to do this new thing,” he says. “It never succeeds.” Kris was also up against rigid notions of what wines could combine with Thai food. “There is no shortage of Asian restaurants that have an extensive Riesling list,” Kris says. “I do not have to be another of them.”

Kris attributes the pressure on dampening spicy Asian cooking with sweet white wines to the absence of a long history of Asian winemaking traditions. “At one point, some cunning winemakers decided that with Asian food, this is what you need,” he says. “All the books write the same thing.” He could not understand why people never thought of pairing dry wines with Thai food.

These frustrations marked his approach to Night + Market, which Kris opened in the empty space next to Talésai in 2010. “I was probably the only one who saw it this way, but I saw it as a place of wine,” explains he. He launched with later opening hours, an eight-course menu centered around simple Thai drinks and a wine list featuring 30 of the wines he loved dearly. It was unlike any other restaurant in Los Angeles – and it was an instant failure. “I pursued this thing, which was like a completely foolish form of imagination, and then no one came,” he recalls.

After nearly a year, Kris accused Jonathan Gold, the late legendary food writer and restaurant critic, at an event and begged him to come by. Kris won him over, and after Gold’s brilliant review ran in LA Weekly, the rest of the city followed suit. The tables began to fill up, and as Kris, who had no formal culinary education, grew in confidence, he began to expand the menu to include a list of dishes, such as Prakas’ Rib Eye (named after his father, Prakas, who created recipe), a boneless rib eye steak marinated in Thai spices and topped with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, which was less dependent on tradition and more driven by taste – and more suitable for pairing with his favorite wines.

Unexpectedly, Yenbamroongs’ approach to wine pairing takes beer as an inspiration. “In Thailand, Thai food basically has one drink, which is a Singha Light beer,” Kris explains. “It’s really simple, really clean, refreshing, and it does not burden you.” The wine list is formulated with the idea of ​​refreshing: slightly chilled red, dry white, orange wines from Georgia, pet-nats. Most importantly, to combat the notion that sweet wines are the ideal accompaniment to Thai cuisine – when in fact they often dampen its complex taste – the couple is looking for wines that enhance these flavors instead.

It’s not uncommon to find three or four different bottles of wine on the table at Night + Market, where the food is served in a family style, and Sarah and Kris encourage diners to walk back and forth among the wines while walking back and forth among dishes. “It has like its own rhythm,” Kris says. “You might want a little bit of something and then try it with one wine, and then get a new bite and try it with another wine. And that’s part of the fun. It’s not like ‘OK, quit this so I can handle it all and we can bring out the next wine. ‘”


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