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Starry Kitchen reopens for dinner as permanent pop-up spot

By Hayley Fox
Published: Monday, August 20, 2012, at 03:40PM
courtesy Nguyen Tran

The popular Singaporean Chili Crab at the new Starry Kitchen.

Starry Kitchen, the Pan-Asian restaurant that grew from a North Hollywood apartment into a four-star hit on Yelp, shut its Downtown doors at the end of July... only to reopen last week in the form of a permanent pop-up.

Now serving dinner Tuesdays through Saturdays, Starry Kitchen is using the kitchen inside 9th Street's Tiara Cafe, during the hours when the cafe would otherwise be closed.

Last Thursday was the new spot's inaugural night, and owner Nguyen Tran said so far, the clear favorite on the family-style menu is the Singaporean Chili Crab -- even with its much higher price point. The item has become so popular it often sells out early in the night, leading to a few disgruntled and disappointed customers, said Tran.

But he points out, there's an "ultra-high learning curve" when it comes to running a restaurant. When he and his chef wife Thi opened their first official place in DTLA a few years ago, he had no restaurant experience.

"You grow; you fall on your face," he said.

In only about two weeks since closing, Starry Kitchen is back on its feet with a brand new menu -- a turnaround Tran attributes to doing less thinking and more doing.

“Thinking is overrated,” he said.

Kitchen's new menu is playful in its words and flavors: The Niman Ranch Ribeye Beef Satay Noodles with Dried Shrimp (which Tran says is only for adventurous eaters), is accompanied on the menu with a sidebar that reads: "WARNING: This dish is VERY Asian + almost tastes like Asia itself." Other menu items include Crispy Tofu Balls, Burmese Chicken Wings Confit and Double Fried Sweet Ginger Chicken wings (or as it reads on the menu, WAAAAANGs.)

Tran said their restaurant is a pop-up in that it's sharing a kitchen and housed in another restaurant, but he is planning for a long haul in the cafe space. He does have an offer in on a smaller place in the California Plaza, but said Tiara's expansive kitchen and extra storage space make his current situation pretty simple.

Tran seems most satisfied in the fact he was able to keep all of his staff -- about eight people. When Tran found out the original SK would be closing, he said his first concern was giving options to his employees.

“We ask staff to give us two weeks notice, why don’t we give them the same thing -- because they live off us,” he said.

Starry Kitchen first opened in Downtown in February 2010, and quickly added dinner service to their formerly lunch-only shop. The Tran's new spot is only open for dinner, from 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. The LAist reports that they kicked off their new location with free Singha beer the night of the opening.

Starry Kitchen is open inside Tiara Cafe at 127 E. 9th Street

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