dancing prawns from aubergine cafe photo by adam rothbarth

First Look: Aubergine Cafe in downtown St. Louis

With its popular takes on dishes like khao soi, pad thai and tum yum soup, downtown staple Kiin Essentially Thai at 550 N. Seventh St. was considered a city benchmark for Thai food. But when owner Phatcharin Wanna's business partner left, she saw an opportunity to evolve, so she decided to close down in March to regroup. “I wanted something different,” she said. Now, the restaurant formerly known as Kiin offers “Thai food with a twist:” regional Thai cuisine adapted to the palates of North Americans. That philosophy drives dishes like the Thai-Bolognese and the smoked salmon carpaccio. 

Wanna had reservations about making the transition to Aubergine Cafe during COVID, but knew she had to push ahead. “I’m excited still,” she said. “I’m positive. What is the perfect time, you know?” For her, running a restaurant is ultimately about finding balance, regardless of what’s going on in the world. “You gotta take the slow days with the busy days – that’s part of the business,” she said. 

Her new menu blends ideas from different cultures, but it isn’t quite fusion – this is still a Thai restaurant. Small plates like grilled aubergine (eggplant), chicken dumplings and smoked salmon carpaccio populate the first part of the menu; larger entrees like street-style beef noodle soup, Phuket braised pork and Isaan chicken sit alongside the Thai-Bolognese, which plays like the child of a Northern Thai noodle dish and a classic Italian pasta with meat sauce. Fans of the old Kiin can still enjoy the pad thai. 

The current bar is modest, with a few wines and a handful of local beers from places like Urban Chestnut Brewing Co. and 4 Hands Brewing Co. Spirits sit quietly atop the bar, waiting to make their debut in Wanna’s in-development cocktail list that she says will be fun and light, with lots of tropical citrus and sweet and sour flavors. 

Aubergine Cafe is open Monday through Saturday for lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and for dinner Tuesday through Saturday from 5 to 8 p.m. There is currently no online presence, but the cafe can be reached by phone at 314.241.9990.

Check out the slideshow below to learn more about Aubergine Cafe.