As his first restaurant has taken shape over the past few months, Hieu Than constantly heard variations on the same refrain.
“Everyone who saw this place and saw us working on it, they’d ask if it’s going to be, you know, insert-Asian-restaurant-concept-here,” said Than. “I’m Vietnamese, that’s my heritage, but that’s not where my culinary outlook ends.”
That’s why for Kin (4600 Washington Ave., 504-304-8557), the restaurant he plans to open in the weeks ahead, Than evokes ideas of a modern American melting pot cuisine, one where Asian flavors are prominent but not the framework.
“We’re multicultural, not fusion,” Than asserts.
The menu, which he is drafting with chef Nate Nguyen, will have duck confit with Chinese five spice and miso-braised kale, roasted chicken with ginger and soy, oyster mushroom fettuccine, scallops with radicchio, endives and citrus vinaigrette and, perhaps, some house-made French macaroons to end the meal.
With this approach, Than, who is 29, is part of that next generation from local Vietnamese families steeped in the restaurant business that are now finding their own, more contemporary pathways into the industry.
A branch of Than’s family runs Manchu Food Store (1413 N. Claiborne Ave., 504-947-5507), a grocery that has little curb appeal but a strong following for its fried chicken, wings and seafood. Than’s parents encouraged him to seek a different career, but his fascination with the restaurant industry only deepened after living in New York and working at hot spots there like chef Tom Colicchio’s Craft Bar.
“My family was hoping their kids would be doctors and lawyers,” Than said. “They told me ‘You want to cook? Cook at Manchu for a while.’ It was incredibly hard work, but I loved every bit of it. They couldn’t scare me out of it.”
His family is now solidly behind Kin, which they have helped fund, and the restaurant name is a nod to their devotion.
Kin will be a casual, mid-range restaurant housed in a wedge of a building near Xavier University that has seen a succession of soul food eateries in recent years. It’s a small spot with a handful of tables and an open kitchen fronted by what will function as a dining bar until Kin can acquire a liquor license. Initially, Kin will serve dinner Monday through Saturday, with lunch hours to follow. For updates see facebook.com/kinfordindin.
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.