Khong River House has been closed for a while now, yet I still talk about the food and remember it fondly. Chef Bee (Piyarat Potha Arreeratn) didn’t stay with Khong long and his less than amicable departure even picked up several headlines at the time. The concept, though, remained strong enough to carry the restaurant through until its closure last year. Naturally, I had to visit NaiYaRa once I heard of its opening.
Much to the disappointment of the many non-reservation making Miamians that walked in asking how the long the wait would be, NaiYaRa filled every seat on this particular Thursday night. It’s not that hard to reserve…ever heard of Opentable? Or calling ahead? Get it together! But I digress. Clearly, this was the place to be. I can’t imagine the mayhem it must be on weekend nights.
The worldly interiors steal a page from mother earth’s book; rustic and polished multicolored woods co-exist with metals and pops of reds, yellows, and golds are playfully scattered throughout. After checking in with the hostess, I sat at the bar while waiting for a couple of friends. I could not hold back my excitement when I noticed the Killer Bee cocktail front and center on the drink menu. Yes! At Khong, that was my go-to cocktail…albeit spelled Killer B then. I loved it so much that I would request (and get) it even though it was no longer officially on the menu once Chef Bee left. As if at all possible, this version is even better! The new frozen and organic (gin, Kelvin lemon, Thai chili, lemongrass, and ginger) concoction will keep me coming back for more.
The menu, an ode to various regions of Chef Bee’s native Thailand, is broken down into several sections: soup & salad, hot appetizers, entrees, noodle & rice, raw bar, makimono, and nigiri/sashimi. Service was mostly good, albeit a little chaotic. The dishes all came out in no particular order. Of course they did. Isn’t this today’s way of saying “we are too busy to course things out for you?” This, of course, meant that at any given point there was a dish arriving while plates from the last one were about to be removed, right as a server was describing a dish, all while head-bobbing the lifted plates and landing of utensils in his/her way. Got that? Yeah, that’s how it felt.
Very much like the one at Khong, Chef Bee’s Papaya Salad (fried shrimp, tamarind, Thai chili, & peanuts) is a refreshing and tangy starter! Simply, the best. Equally savory were the White Fish Tiradito (garlic, chili, cilantro & lemon), Salmon Tacos (spicy want-to-put-it-on-everything-mayonnaise, avocado, & truffle oil), and White Fish Truffle (lychee, yuzu, Hawaiian sea salt & wasabi caviar) off the Raw Bar section of the menu. Nothing reinvented with the Pad Thai, but still nicely executed and a great choice.
The Tom Kha Gai (chicken, mushrooms, coconut milk, chili, & lemon) underwhelmed me. Not sure why, but the flavors didn’t come through as brightly as expected and the watery texture didn’t help. The Thai Street Dumplings I’d highly been anticipating (fried chicken dumplings, celery, oyster sauce, & Thai chili) were disappointing. All four of us agreed; they were overly fried, tough, and without enough chicken inside. As for the Crab Fried Rice, perhaps the bold flavors I’d been having most of the night couldn’t compete. By the time I tried a bite, it lacked oomph.
In the end, I can usually forgive a mishap here and there as long as you win me over with sweets. Dessert, for me, is serious business. Our waiter insisted we order the Milk Chocolate Pots de Crème, but we ordered the Thai Donuts and Brown Sugar Cake instead. The mango sauce covering the donuts took away from that lightly fried exterior I expected and made it soggy instead. The Brown Sugar “Cake” was nowhere to be found. Was this a play on words? The layered ingredients felt disjointed and not even the guava granita saved this one for me. We now know I don’t play around when it comes to anything guava-related, don’t we? Alas, when I mentioned this to our waiter his reply was “I told you to order the other one.” Blank stare. Thank you Mr. I-told-you-so. Just what I wanted to hear.
So, here’s the thing. I will return. While the highs were high and the lows were low, there are many dishes left on the menu that caught my eye and I need to try. Yes, need. The sriracha wings, Chilean sea bass, duck peppercorn, roasted chicken, drunken udon, burmese sticky rice, and countless amount of sushi all have my name on it. Chef Bee has delivered before and I’m sure he will again. There’s also my aforementioned love affair with that Killer Bee. Hmmm, until then…