Jack Benchakul opened his coffee shop Endorffeine in Chinatown's Far East Plaza last year, after transitioning out of a career as a biochemist. The plaza is bustling with food and drink options, including big names like Andy Ricker’s Pok Pok and Roy Choi’s Chego. So it makes sense that Benchakul would want to keep his coffee shop open into the evening. “I knew that, once created, Endorffeine would serve two functions—coffee bar by day, and intimate food service at night,” he says. But instead of just extending his hours, he's come up with a creative idea: to offer a reserved-seating, coffee-oriented dessert-and-cocktail nighttime course.
Called simply “9”—a reference to the number of available seats—the evening program features a seasonally driven menu that seems simple, but is actually intricate both in the coffee cocktails and the desserts. Benchakul, who is from New York but whose parents are from Thailand, adds that the number nine is lucky in Thai numerology, and “because I was raised on Thai cuisine, there are always Thai flavors present in the edible courses, as well as in the cocktails.”
The intimate crowd size and the cafe's bright lights add to the experience—you’ll feel as if you’re in a science lab where you can really observe the food and be able to note all the details. Just like in the daytime, when Benchakul is the only one making the coffee drinks, at 9 he is cook and bartender, making and assembling all the food and cocktails. He says he learned about food during his time working at a pharmaceutical company. “During my career as a biochemist in San Francisco, I attended culinary school in the evening and on the weekends. Later, I staged at Miette patisserie and at Rubicon restaurant in my spare time.”
The three courses at 9 are each paired with a cocktail. For the fall menu, the program starts with an Indian black tea soup and black sesame-date dumplings, teamed with a sparkling coffee blossom gin drink. The flavors are mild, and the interesting textures and mellow sweetness act as a nice introduction to the courses. Up next is smoked-persimmon khao tom mut with fried mung beans, paired with a sparkling cascara lager. This course brings out the seasonal aspect of the menu and is a bit more savory than the first. The last course is the most playful and unusual: pandanus–aquafaba meringue and a tamarind-tofu mousse paired with a Thai chili sake. The meringue is the most unexpected—it's almost like a sweet, airy cracker that melts in your mouth. Benchakul utilizes various imported and hard-to-find ingredients to make the experience what it is. “Andy [Ricker, of Pok Pok] has always been generous whenever he returns from a trip to Thailand; he's my de facto coffee blossom supplier. I've also been fortunate to have wonderful regulars who chronically gift unique edible—and drinkable—items to me.”
To look out (and sign up) for future 9 events at Endorffeine, follow Benchakul’s Instagram account. “Beginning in 2017, I will launch a Monday evening cocktail-plus-savory-edibles menu,” he says. “Teas and coffees, in all forms, will continue to play a prominent role in the cocktails.” Stay tuned.