NIGHT + MARKET is the Thai food empire of Angeleno native chef and wine director Kris Yenbamroong, whose primary quest as a restaurateur is to facilitate good times. It’s a tantalizing nexus of LA’s most enticing high-low pleasure principles at work: super casual settings, super casually delivering phenomenal food and wine at low-key party prices. This is all executed across three technicolored outposts: the original NIGHT + MARKET in West Hollywood, NIGHT + MARKET Song in Silver Lake, and the recent NIGHT + MARKET Sahm in Venice. Each features the same spunky breed of inventive, flaming-hot Northern Thai street cuisine that earned the love of Jonathan Gold (RIP) and the James Beard Foundation alike, with a wine list that shows off the joyful surprises that natural wine can offer. Their by the glass offerings rotate, but remain centered around heat-abiding vins de soif by the self-appointed rule of “aharn glam lao,” which basically translates to “eat, drink, and kick it with your friends.”
All of this is served up in high-decibel dining rooms that look like post-ironic stoner basements with framed bombshell portraits, bubblegum pink wall paint, and electric tropical aesthetics. There’s always a wait, but you can grab a glass of wine and linger in the lobby where there are couches to perch on, or spill onto the sidewalk as you would for a breath of air at a house party. It manages to be extremely cool, yet unpretentious—a glorious ground zero for trying new pours and reimagining what wine’s function in a meal can be. Here, it’s for fun. Prefacing a recent Wednesday night visit to NIGHT+MARKET Song in Silver Lake, Sprudge talked to Yenbamroong about how he and his team flex their creative license to gleeful, party-ready results.
What was your personal entrance into natural wine?
Foillard Morgon Côte du Py 2008.
You’ve talked about the freedom you’ve got to explore at NIGHT+MARKET restaurants—the absence of any Thai winemaking tradition that would hold you to an expectation of what you’d “have” to serve. What liberties has that absence allowed you to take?
It’s not only that there is no winemaking tradition in Thailand, but there really isn’t a wine drinking tradition either, beyond “status” wines. We generally don’t pour a lot of the wines people expect with boldly-seasoned Asian food—i.e. German whites with sweetness. To be clear, I think those wines are fantastic with Thai food! But I don’t have a real interest in consuming them, so I don’t put a ton of them on the list. Everything about NIGHT+MARKET is extremely biased. I believe that when you make some sort of work, be it a restaurant or a painting or piece of music, you are essentially saying, “here’s my take.”
What are the ultimate wines for Thai food?
Gluggy chilled reds, simple sparkling wine with a natural sweetness, and whites with maceration.
Though it’s super short, you have one of the dopest natural wine lists in Los Angeles. Do you follow a less-is-more philosophy in that regard?
My life philosophy is “Keep it simple, stupid.” I believe in this so much that I even have this phrase tattooed on me! The list is representative of what I want to drink. Although we try to have a balance so that most people could come in and order something off the list and be totally happy, we don’t feel a pressure to be everything to everyone. Same goes for the food part of the menu.
As both chef and wine director, what does it mean to you, to have control over all menus? Who do you collaborate with when you are building your wine lists?
For eight years, I’ve laid the foundation for the NIGHT+MARKET wine program. Over those eight years, my wife, Sarah [St. Lifer], has been along for most of the ride and has developed a great palate herself. She understands what the list is about and for the past six months or so, has been pretty much running it on her own. I give input when it is needed but she’s already doing a great job.
Wine as a refreshment is a theme of the N+M wine lists. What sparked your attraction to this kind of chill ’n’ chug approach? Was it a natural response to the fiery food, or did it come about from geeking about young wines?
It was purely pragmatic, like everything we do. It happened to be that “chilling and chugging,” as you put it, was the path towards maximum deliciousness and enjoyability with most of the wines that we pour. The exception to this is with bigger whites, which I insist we not chill as much. Generally, we pour our reds a little cooler than one might be accustomed to, and our whites a little warmer.
What gives you the ultimate feeling of restaurateur/wine director satisfaction?
Anytime I see someone really enjoying wine at our restaurants, it is a great feeling. It does not matter whether that particular bottle is a personal favorite, or whether it fits my criteria for what is cool or interesting. I just like to see people drinking and having a good time! I guess more specifically, I like when I see groups with a bottle of white and red on the table simultaneously, and whenever magnums go out (which is pretty often these days), it always puts a smile on my face.
I’m about 98% positive NIGHT+MARKET Song was the place I encountered natural wine for the first time. It was my first experience with a vin de soif, glou glou kind of wine and it changed the way I thought about wine’s function in a meal. Do you feel a sense of authorship about changing people’s minds about wine? In helping to grow America’s interest in natural wine?
We have been pouring natural wine since I was failing miserably at running my family’s restaurant (Talesai) in 2008. A lot of people have actually approached me and shared a similar story to yours, but honestly, I feel like it would be douche-y of me to lay claim to any sort of natural wine throne. I am more than happy to contribute to the conversation, and to use our platform to turn people onto delicious wines. “Natural wine” as a label is definitely an easy way to communicate what we do, but I have never put much emphasis on supporting these wines from a philosophical stand point. It is purely pragmatic—the wines we pour taste really good with our food and you will have a good time drinking them. To me, that is the best entry point to natural wine, not necessarily dogma or philosophy.
Photos by Devin Pedde.
Dylan Tupper Rupert is a freelance journalist based in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in Rookie, the Guardian, MTV News, Billboard, and the Pitchfork Review.