It is not surprising to find Thai monks from the Buddhist temple in south Miami-Dade eating at Khong River House in Miami Beach. They come for the evolving menu based on dishes from countries along the Mekong River.
Now, they have more to choose from.
There’s still Chiang Mai chicken with green papaya salad and Bangkok boat noodles, but now Khong customers can dip into Cambodian yellow curry and pick apart jumbo Vietnamese salt and pepper prawns.
For a guy who got his start as a dishwasher and line cook in Georgia, owner John Kunkel has come a long way. The CEO of 50 Eggs Inc. (Lime Fresh Mexican, Yardbird, Swine) fell in love with Southeast Asia when his dad, a commercial pilot, took him there as a teen. He returned several years later, learning martial arts and funding his travels by tending bar and teaching English.
At Khong, the lead cook is Clay Miller, but most of the Thai dishes are prepped by Sudarat Laospho, aka Mama Pai. Together, they present the thousands-year-old fusion of Chinese and Indian culinary traditions in Khong’s rustic-modern setting.
New to try: fat, seedless slices of cucumber tossed in hot bean paste, sesame oil and soy sauce; fried Asian eggplant in caramelized miso with crispy mint; and mussels in coconut curry served with French bread toasted with miso-scallion butter.
There also also Yiliang honey roasted duck, a dish from a town in Yunnan, China, near the border of Laos. Half a bird is served in slices with papery pancakes, house pickles and date hoisin with a side of crispy fried duck leg confit. A new fried rice dish comes mixed with pork belly, Chinese sausage, sawtooth coriander, ginger and garlic.
Sweet sticky rice with coconut and fried mung beans topped with mango is enough to satisfy a homesick monk — and anyone else.