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At Nari, a Thai Chef Revitalizes Fine Dining


But Thai restaurants still push up against unreasonable expectations that they be casual and cheap, spicy and scrappy. Many, for the sake of business, serve only a small group of familiar dishes, in familiar presentations, in familiarly decorated spaces. Choose your curry, choose your protein, choose your heat level.

Ms. Techamuanvivit, 49, opened her first restaurant, Kin Khao, on the edge of the Tenderloin in 2014, and subverted many of these expectations. Nari rejects them entirely for a more modern, luxurious, exuberant vision of Thai cuisine.

Servers lap the dining room at a fast pace, in part because it’s so big — two stories and about 100 seats, none of them squashed together. The space, inside the Hotel Kabuki, is stunning, with an extravagance of plant life and light, all smooth, bare surfaces of concrete and wood. At night, when the surrounding businesses go dark, Nari glows.

Meghan Clark, who traveled with Ms. Techamuanvivit to Thailand when she took over the Bangkok restaurant Nahm, and has been cooking with her for years, runs the kitchen as chef de cuisine. Ms. Clark is meticulous, both expressive and obsessive in her deep, continuing study of Thai cuisine.

I spent a few days traveling with the two chefs in 2018, to report a profile of Ms. Techamuanvivit, a former food blogger and jam maker who worked for several years in the tech industry. But I did manage recently to sneak into Nari’s dining room a couple of times unnoticed. (Those meals were just as good, if not better, than the final one, when I was spotted.)

In Bangkok, two years ago, Ms. Techamuanvivit told me that she planned to call her next restaurant Nari, for the women who carried Thai cuisine forward, and shared their culinary knowledge with her. That sounded nice, but a restaurant’s name can be as empty as a tote bag printed with a feminist slogan. What did it mean?

At Nari, it means that a team of women lead the restaurant at every level, buying wine from several women-run wineries along with spirits made by women. Megan Daniel Hoang’s cocktail menu is thoughtful in ways more drinks menus should be — I find it so useful, when choosing a drink, to see each one marked with the shape of the glass that it comes in.

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