When you have a yearning for Thai food, what do you crave? Most people immediately think of mainstays pad thai or chicken satay with peanut sauce. But NaKorn, which recently opened in downtown Evanston, is not your standard Thai restaurant. It’s co-owned by friends and Bangkok natives Mina Sudsaard (now an Evanston resident) and Sam Rattanopas (a Chicago restaurant vet with Oysy and Gioco). Rattanopas tells us her intention was to fill a void. “It’s what I want to eat, and I simply can’t find it here,” she says of the highly flavorful Thai food served at NaKorn. It’s the food she grew up on; many of the recipes are based on her grandmother’s dishes, full of flavor and memory. This is elegant food with a pedigree; the kitchen is presided over by chef Bon, who studied culinary arts in Thailand and has since worked with Michelin-starred chefs Eneko Atxa and Joël Robuchon. He brings an artist’s eye and an expert’s palate to every dish.
NaKorn’s fall menu features the cuisine of Southern Thailand with a plethora of tart tamarind, coconut in many guises, jasmine rice and turmeric. Here, it’s served in a graceful atmosphere, with handpainted surfaces and warm woods all softly lit by clever birdcage fixtures. Start your meal off with the One of Five ($11), a well-balanced, slightly exotic cocktail made with local Koval vodka, fresh lime juice, Bangkok Betty Thai spice bitters and coconut sugar simple syrup, accompanied by pandan tapioca pearl crackers ($9), served with a “relish” of minced chicken and shrimp in tamarind-coconut sauce. The roasted duck breast ($16), slow-cooked in broth with shiitake mushrooms, confit daikon and young coconut, is a revelation. Order Khun Sompit’s Big Fish ($32), a whole crispy branzino with Belgian endive and lime gastrique, and every head in the restaurant will turn. Wet your whistle with a housemade soda (hibiscus, Meyer lemonade or cranberry-ginger) or a bottle from the short but well-chosen beer and wine list. Finish with the coconut cream pie parfait ($8), a scrumptious deconstruction of the classic, and you will want for nothing. That is, until the next time you think about Thai food and find your cravings for the usual suspects totally upended by NaKorn’s vibrant tastes.
1622 Orrington Ave., Evanston, 847.733.8424
Open for lunch and dinner Tue.–Sun.
Bites, $8-$12; mains, $15-$32