On a recent Friday evening, one when the summer heat had broken and a cool breeze ushered in the coming of fall, the dining room at Kin Kin felt practically empty. The new Oak Lawn Thai restaurant had quite a few diners, but not enough for its size. Kin Kin boasts two dining rooms and a huge patio. A small, traditional dining area with plush and colorful cushions on the floor adds more seating and a massive circular bar adds even more. Numbers that would fill other Thai restaurants in the neighborhood would still leave Kin Kin’s cavernous space feeling desperately empty.
But an ambitious chef needs an ambitious dining room, and Kin Kin’s Eddy Thretipthuangsin is as motivated as they come. The chef quickly made a name for himself in 2013 plating up spicy, authentic curries at Pakpao in the Design District, but left in an instant as the owners readied for expansion. Thretipthuangsin quickly opened and closed a New American restaurant named Bite City Grill in Fort Worth before doubling back and creating his own Thai restaurant. Kin Kin Fort Worth opened in March, Kin Kin Dallas opened later in the summer, and a third location is “coming soon” to Preston Forest Village. Kin Kin IV is in the works for Richardson, along with a resurrected Bite City Grill.
With so much focus on opening more restaurants, it’s no wonder much of the food eats like an afterthought, at least in the Dallas location. Thretipthuangsin’s once punchy creations have been toned down, many of them drowned in an excess of sugar. Tamarind is a souring agent, but here it’s used with so much sugar the ingredient tastes like dessert. You’ll encounter it in a sweet sauce for spring rolls made from crepes instead of rice paper. The crepes soak up the sweetness, and a typically light and summery dish becomes a heavy and cloying one.
The sweet flavor is also featured in a tamarind snapper, which I received after ordering the branzino one evening. I let the error go, because the fish looked delicious when it arrived, but after a few bites that same sweetness became tiresome.
Spring rolls aside, the appetizer menu is easy to get sucked into. The beef jerky was less like the tough, dehydrated meat you buy at a truck stop and more like pleasantly chewy strips of meat. Flavorful chicken meatballs arrived in a shallow pool of heady, yellow curry. Pork sate and handmade dumplings would all go well with a cold, crisp lager.
But much of the menu seems designed to appeal to the widest audience possible rather than fans of big and bold Thai flavors.
Execution across the board can be spotty. My quiet and polite waitress asked me how I’d like my Kin Kin burger cooked. I told her I trusted the chef but wondered why I was even asked when my meal arrived a few minutes later. The burger makes use of two patties that are mildly seasoned and uninteresting. One was pink, the other the color of wet cardboard. The lack of flavor ruined what might have been an interesting presentation — the bun was made of tightly compressed sticky rice.
Thankfully, the branzino I’d ordered the second time arrived as I requested. The steamed fish was scented with garlic and herbs and was easily my favorite dish across three visits.
Finding favorites was tough, though. Much of Thretipthuangsin’s offering has devolved into the ordering and cooking by numbers that can easily grow tiresome. Curries can be ordered in yellow, green or red with your choice of proteins including chicken, shrimp, pork and tofu. It’s a far cry (with fewer heat-induced tears) from the fierce cooking I wrote about when reviewing Pakpao two years ago.
Desserts are uninspired too, and they show another problem with Kin Kin’s pandering menu. Much like how the Big Mac on a McDonald’s menu board grossly oversells that burger in a paper box, the pictures here have a habit of fostering disappointment. A green tea cheesecake is pictured on what looks like a crunchy meringue, but it’s missing from the plate that’s brought to my table. That crunchy texture might have helped what turned out to be a one-dimensional and flat-tasting dessert. The plain-tasting whiskey cake, on the other hand, was beyond saving.
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Kin Kin fronts an exciting dining experience with epic space and menu language that repeatedly points to imaginative, exotic flavors. Outside of a few dishes, though, Thretipthuangsin’s kitchen turns out something much more predictable.
When I reviewed Pakpao two years ago, I described dishes that pushed back against a trend in Dallas for Thai restaurants to offer classics stripped of their fishy pungency and searing heat. Kin Kin marks a step backward and right into a Dallas cliché by offering a menu that appeals to the masses in a space that desperately hopes to be trendy. The results are a restaurant that will definitely appeal to many restaurant enthusiasts, but has no chance of appealing to fans of truly authentic Thai cuisine. Customers looking for bold and compelling dining experiences will ultimately find Kin Kin boring.