Driving down Washington Avenue, past the Blue Plate Artist Lofts, one could easily miss the isolated yellow building in the middle of an awkward triangular stretch of concrete bordered by a canal and the residential streets of Gert Town. The jewel-box sized structure is home to the new restaurant Kin, where owner Hieu Than and chef Nate Nguyen have been turning out an ambitious menu of modern American dishes that showcase the wide talents of a kitchen crew unafraid of taking risks.
The venture could appear risky to some: The semi-industrial surroundings make Kin an unlikely recipient of walk-in traffic, there is no permanent menu and the restaurant doesn't advertise. Yet the petite dining room has remained mostly packed since the restaurant opened a month and a half ago, the likely result of strong word-of-mouth among curious epicures.
Diners are encouraged to make reservations, as the space includes just one long communal table and a smattering of seats — enough to accommodate roughly 25 people. A lacquered wooden bar adjacent to the restaurant's open kitchen works for couples but is awkward for larger groups.
Than, who recently cooked at Gautreau's under the helm of chef Sue Zemanick, and Nguyen, are both Vietnamese immigrants raised in New Orleans. While they shy away from the term "fusion," the kitchen crew takes pride in showing off a wide swath of Asian ingredients while packing in flavors and techniques heavily influenced by French and Italian cuisines.
Diners should be aware that menu options are likely to change on a weekly, and sometimes even nightly, basis as the chefs have developed an affinity for recreating dishes on a whim.
On a recent visit, service began with warm, house-made bread nestled alongside an umami- laden duo of black garlic and sesame oil topped with a dollop of silky butternut squash. Most dishes are visual stunners, and the chefs make ample use of fresh, seasonal produce, decorating plates with a colorful array of baby greens, delicate pea shoot tendrils, petals of sorrel leaves and other items.
A salad of shaved Brussels sprouts is tossed with Parmesan and a light poppy seed vinaigrette, paired with pickled cherries and pecans and topped with thin slices of fried lotus root, delivering the perfect marriage of acid, fat and crunch.
White and green asparagus are served with a poached egg, puffed rice and a touch of spicy yuzu and are finished with miso hollandaise. Lightly battered and fried oysters are combined with crawfish tails and pan-fried gnocchi and nestled atop fennel-orange puree. The medley is draped in beurre blanc, sprinkled with nips of crispy prosciutto and decorated with an array of fresh greens. The result is decadent but not overly rich. A generous portion of braised short ribs and polenta feels heavy but is balanced by the addition of charred sweet red peppers, wilted greens, balsamic-glazed cipollini onions and bright green chimichurri.
Most deserts come paired with homemade ice cream, such as the "tiramiso" — a creative take on the Italian classic. Miso is added to sponge cake that's interspersed with layers of creamy mascarpone before getting topped off with a quenelle of smooth coffee ice cream and flakes of Maldon salt, an excellent mix of salty and sweet.
While Kin's culinary style and ambience evoke fine-dining quality, the prices won't break the bank. Most appetizers hover around $10, and the most expensive entree on the menu was below $25.
Despite some of the restaurant's more oddball traits (currently, children under 10 are not permitted) and the slightly cramped communal seating, those hungry for a fresh dining experience are likely to find it here.
A more casual lunchtime ramen program is in the works and may begin in May. The restaurant is still in the process of applying for a liquor license, and diners are encouraged to BYOB.