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Pok Pok Empire Expands, first to Brooklyn then Los Angeles

Pok Pok Empire Expands, first to Brooklyn then Los Angeles


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Andy Ricker moves Pok Pok Phat Thai to Brooklyn, completing his Waterfront trifecta, and discusses where else Pok Pok is headed

Andy Ricker will open Pok Pok LA and another Pok Pok Phat Thai, both in LA's Chinatown.

This week, Andy Ricker, Parts Unknown: Thailand guest and the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef Northwest 2011, closed Pok Pok Phat Thai in Manhattan on Rivington Street in preparation for the move to a bigger space in Brooklyn.

Phat Thai is headed for the former Pok Pok Ny space at 127 Columbia Street in Brooklyn’s Waterfront District.

In its new location, Phat Thai joins the same block as Ricker’s other New York restaurants, Pok Pok Ny and Whiskey Soda Lounge, but that’s not the only move the chef is working on right now.

Ricker will expand the Pok Pok empire, which began in Portland, with two more restaurants in Los Angeles, and rumors point to yet another future outpost in Hawaii. So far, Ricker confirmed to The Los Angeles Times that LA’s Chinatown would become home to Pok Pok LA and another Pok Pok Phat Thai.

“If all goes well,” Phat Thai LA could open as soon as late November in the same shopping center where Roy Choi’s Chego is located, while Pok Pok LA is slated to open in spring 2015.

For the latest food and drink updates, visit our Food News page.

Karen Lo is an associate editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @appleplexy.


Andy Ricker’s Groundbreaking Thai Restaurant Pok Pok Ny Will Close

Jeremy Repanich

Jeremy Repanich's Most Recent Stories

Photo: courtesy Pok Pok Ny

Andy Ricker isn’t Thai, but he’s obsessed with regional Thai cooking, having devoted years of his life to bringing the flavors of Chiang Mai to an American public whose knowledge of the cuisine doesn’t extend much further than pad thai. He started his Pok Pok mini-empire in Portland, earning raves for his faithful recreations of dishes he studied abroad. In 2012, he brought Pok Pok to Brooklyn, where solid reviews and long lines followed.

But now, with the lease for Pok Pok Ny about to expire, and faced with the economic realities of operating a restaurant in New York in 2018, Ricker has decided to not renew. He’ll be closing the doors of the restaurant for the last time on Sept. 2, signaling the end of his time in the city.

When Pok Pok Ny first opened, the best Thai restaurants were largely confined to a pocket of Queens. The restaurant offered a welcome expansion of Thai cuisine in the mainstream dining public’s imagination. Since then, great regional Thai food has proliferated thanks to restaurants like Larb Udol, Uncle Boons, Ugly Baby, and more. In some ways it created a double-edged sword Pok Pok helped make Thai food more popular, but that also allowed people to not have to trek to Pok Pok’s slightly inconvenient location on the Columbia Waterfront to get their Thai fix.

On a Facebook post announcing the closure, Ricker wrote that while the restaurant is currently profitable, its financial trajectory was trending downward. But he also cited issues he discussed back when his Los Angeles-based Pok Pok was struggling (it has also since closed).

In a lengthy interview with writer Alyson Sheppard, he made headlines in 2015 by speaking out about challenges that could spell doom for many in the restaurant world, but ones that industry insiders had largely been talking about only amongst themselves: labor shortages, rising wages, food costs, tipping, and more. “This is a huge conversation amongst the restaurant professionals and it&rsquos been something that&rsquos been really difficult for the public to grasp. But it really is something that is approaching crisis levels for the restaurant industry. We&rsquore a very low-margin, a very thin-margin industry,” he told Sheppard.

Ricker isn’t totally retrenching though. He still operates six restaurants in Portland, and is expanding to Las Vegas with a Pok Pok Wing in the new food hall being built inside the Cosmopolitan.


Share All sharing options for: Eater Elements: Pok Pok's Fish Sauce Wings

Pok Pok chef/owner Andy Ricker says the recipe for his beloved Ike's Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings came from reverse engineering and collaboration. He didn't "create" them, he explains, but rather "like almost everything at Pok Pok they came from somewhere else." In this case, the wings came from Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), where Ricker visited during a four month trip to Southeast Asia.

On the trip, Ricker took notes about various dishes in a notebook which he unfortunately lost. Left only with his memory of the wings (which he says were "so simple and delicious [he] couldn't forget them"), Ricker experimented with making them on his own, knowing the ingredients but finding his final product still falling short of what he remembered. He turned to his neighbor and first employee Ich Truong. Truong, a Vietnamese immigrant, helped refine the recipe, adjusted the ratios of ingredients in the marinade, and taught Ricker a few key tricks "that made all the difference." The wings, now named for Truong, have remained a staple of the Pok Pok menu in both Portland and Brooklyn.

The wings, Ricker says, are "essentially just umami bombs" with fish sauce being particularly high in free glutamates that create umami at the molecular level. What makes the wings stand out, though, is that despite inducing an "umami overload," the flavors are built and layered so that the chicken comes through. The wings also "hit all the sensory things important to Westerners" in being crispy, sweet, salty, meaty, moist, and savory. Ricker is certainly onto something. He estimates that in the busy Summer season this year, his restaurants in Portland will go through some 4,000 pounds of wings per week, with virtually every table at lunch and dinner ordering a plate.

Eater PDX editor Erin DeJesus offers insight into the insanely popular dish, which has helped land Pok Pok on the Eater PDX 38:

Below, the elements of the Ike's Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings at Pok Pok:

1. The Chicken

In both Portland and NYC, Ricker uses whole bone-in, skin-on chicken wings. In NYC, he uses Amish wings from Pennsylvania and in Portland he uses Draper Valley wings from Oregon, both of which are all-natural and fresh. Ricker likes that the meat on these wings tends to be a little bit darker and that the wings are consistently sized. Ricker keeps the skin on and the bone in to keep the wings moist through the cooking process. The meat itself adds another layer of umami flavor.

2. The Marinade

Before any frying happens, the wings marinate for a few hours in a mix of fish sauce, sugar, and garlic water. Ricker relies on Phu Quoc fish sauce, a Vietnamese brand, because it is "light, aromatic," and "some of the finest." He also likes the fragrance of Phu Quoc, and points out that its lightness is in contrast to heavier Thai fish sauce, which wouldn't have been the right fit. The fish sauce acts like a brine, helping the chicken retain moisture. Adding garlic water as opposed to straight garlic was a critical tip Ricker learned from Truong. Ricker originally added garlic to the marinade, but then tasted burnt garlic in the finished product. On Truong's advice, he now soaks the garlic in water for 10-15 minutes and then uses the water squeezed from that garlic. This water imparts that same garlicky flavor to the wings, but it doesn't burn during frying. Though he used to use palm sugar, Ricker now uses standard sugar to sweeten the marinade.

3. The Crust

To create a satisfyingly crispy crust, Ricker coats the wings in a mixture of rice flour and tempura flour. Ricker explains that rice flour is often used for deep frying in Southeast Asia as part of a mixture. Tempura flour is also a common deep frying flour in Southeast Asia, and Ricker uses a Thai flour brand called Gogi. Achieving a crust that's perfectly crispy (but doesn't fall off) isn't just a matter of proper flour. As Ricker puts it, the crust is all about "frying your chicken for the right amount of time at the right temperature, and then tossing it in the glaze for the right amount time." To that end, Ricker fries the wings in rice bran oil, which has a high enough smoke point to allow the wings to get crispy as they cook without burning the sugars in the wings. Rice bran oil also has a light flavor and is a relatively healthy frying method.

4. The Glaze

The wings go straight from the fryer into a pan with a fish sauce glaze. The glaze includes fish sauce, garlic water, sugar (the ingredients from the marinade), plus crispy fried garlic, and ground roasted chilis if the wings are ordered spicy. The sugar in the marinade caramelizes in the pan, which makes the glaze a bit sticky. Glazing the wings is a way of "doubling down" on umami, giving the wings a final flavor blast before they hit the plate.

5. The Vegetables

Ricker serves the wings with a Vietnamese table salad, which he says is a simple way to describe a platter of vegetables and herbs that is typically served with meals in Vietnam. Ricker serves raw green leaf lettuce, cucumbers, and a sprig of rau ram (a Vietnamese cilantro-like herb), along with carrots and daikon radishes simply pickled in vinegar, sugar, and salt (the combination of pickled carrots and daikon is called cu cai). Western customers, Ricker laments, often don't know how to incorporate the vegetables into the dish, either attempting to make wraps or ignoring the vegetables altogether. Ricker explains that eating the vegetables balances the "over the top salt-sugar-protein" flavors of the wings by cooling your mouth down. Ricker says it's too bad that more customers don't partake, and estimates that 80% of finished plates come back with the vegetables untouched.


Mission Chinese Food and Pok Pok NY

Before I returned to New York this fall, I started a little folder in my browser called NYFood. I read my EaterNY, my Grub Street, and then bookmarked in my special folder any place I felt like I had to visit. Most prominent among my selections were Mission Chinese Food and Pok Pok NY.

Both restaurants are transplants from other cities: Mission Chinese from San Francisco, Pok Pok from Portland. Both are phenomenons. Both have enormous lines. Yet I told myself these were places I had to visit before returning back to L.A. or I’d be forced to hang my head in shame. Now I can go back to L.A. with pride because I Mission Chinesed, I Pok Poked and lived to tell the tale.

The line outside Mission Chinese began around 5 o’clock on a Saturday night. I got there around 5:15 and soon the crowd behind me was enormous:

Actually, that’s the crowd in front of me. Behind me it was that times 3.

The joke of Mission Chinese is that the storefront looks like a typical Chinese take-out restaurant:

There’s even a person standing there answering phones and playing with a cash register:

But once it’s your turn, you’re whisked away to a back room that has the feel of a speakeasy, or a party in a friend’s basement. Also: the lighting is very, very red.

In fact, the lighting is so red back there that I almost decided to delete the Mission Chinese portion of this post because the pictures are just so, so red.

The smashed cucumbers with salt chili, sesame paste and garlic don’t look so red or the string bean dish:

But this is a horrible picture of the sizzling cumin lamb breast with watercress, charred dates and chili pickled long beans:

Can you trust me that it tasted absolutely wonderful? The cumin so pronounced, so prominent it made your entire face feel like a dirty sock…in the best possible way.

You hate this very red picture of the salt cod fried rice with slow cooked mackerel and Chinese sausage:

It’s a shame, because that’s the best fried rice I’ve ever eaten in a restaurant. It’s the closest thing I’ve experienced to the life-changing fried rice Grace Young taught me to make for my cookbook. In both cases, the quality that sets the fried rice apart is its clean, clear flavors. There’s nothing brown or gunky about it. It’s all about purity of ingredients it honors the rice.

There was a lot more food that we ate, this night at Mission Chinese, but the pictures get worse from here so let’s end with this picture of the table covered in food:

I loved everything about the food here it was all exciting, reasonably priced (comparable to Grand Sichuan) and memorable. Plus, the bathroom has a Twin Peaks theme:

It even plays that haunting theme song while you pee.

Now fast forward a few weeks that Mission Chinese meal took place back in November. Last week, here in December, I made the journey out to Brooklyn to eat dinner at Any Ricker’s Pok Pok a place that Anthony Bourdain said, on his show, that serves the most authentic Thai food he’d experienced outside of Thailand.

I was joined by two very esteemed colleagues: Emily Fleischaker, the Buzzfeed Food editor, and J.J. Goode who co-authored one of my favorite cookbooks from last year, April Bloomfield’s A Girl and Her Pig. J.J.’s currently collaborating with Chef Ricker on the Pok Pok cookbook, so we were treated like royalty upon arrival. (Try to eat dinner with a restaurant chef’s co-author when you can.) Here’s Emily, modeling the entryway:

In the category of comfort, Pok Pok easily beats Mission Chinese. At the latter, I was constantly jostled by waiters who seemed annoyed that I was sitting at my table eating dinner. (My seat was, through no fault of my own, blocking a pathway the servers needed to take past the bar to other tables.) At Pok Pok, the tables are more nicely spaced apart. You can actually hear yourself think.

Right away, Pok Pok blew me away with its cocktails. I absolutely loved my Khing & I (in the foreground) made with Mekhong, lime, and house made ginger syrup on the rocks.

That ginger really packed a punch. But I liked JJ’s Tamarind Whiskey Sour (at 12 o’clock made with Tamarind, fresh lime juice, palm sugar and Bourbon) so much, I ordered it for round two.

Emily, who cut her teeth running Bon Appetit online before moving to Buzzfeed, suggested I take the drink picture from this angle:

I think I had it right the first time, but don’t tell her I said that.

Pok Pok is famous for its wings, something that I knew going in, but it wasn’t until I took my first bite that I realized how much these wings live up to the hype:

Totally crispy and crunchy and then coated in a sauce that’s equal parts sticky, spicy and sweet, I could’ve eaten this whole plate, the wings were so good. Instead, I did the decent thing and shared.

This, here, is a wing bean salad. If you’ve never had a wing bean before, look closely and you can see where it gets its name–the beans looks like wings:

I think I preferred this fruit salad, which came dressed in a potent vinegar mixture and dusted with spices. J.J. explained that the normal papaya salad treatment happens to all kinds of different fruit in Thailand. This salad illustrated that very well.

These Brussels sprouts were refreshing, both in the sense that they were steamed but also in the sense that they weren’t deep-fried—something too many restaurants are doing these days (to great effect, I should say deep-fried Brussels sprouts are amazing, but not particularly healthy):

Just steam your sprouts and dress them in a vibrant dressing, and you have a healthier but no-less-tasty alternative.

This dish was my 2nd favorite of the night, after the wings. It’s called Kaeng Hung Leh and it’s Northern Thai sweet pork belly and pork shoulder curry with ginger, palm sugar, turmeric, tamarind, Burmese curry powder and pickled garlic:

It was unbelievably rich and flavorful and, after all of the spicy food we were eating, refreshingly sweet.

You must order the Sai Ua Samun Phrai, which is Chiang Mai sausage with herbs, aromatics and Burmese curry powder charcoal grilled and served with Naam Phrik Num (spicy green chile dip), Khaep Muu (Thai pork rinds) and steamed crudites:

I knew we had to have sausage because when my friend Patty went to Thailand and did a guest post for me, that was one of the main things she wrote about–the prevalence of sausage there. And this dish did not disappoint.

Also, the spicy green chile dip is a good opportunity to explain Pok Pok’s name: as J.J. explained to us, it’s the sound that’s made as the mortar hits the pestle when making a spicy paste like the one we ate here*. Having been featured in an NPR segment about mortars and pestles, I nodded my head knowingly.

[* Update: J.J. e-mailed me to say, “The ‘pok pok’ actually refers exclusively to the sound of making papaya salad!” Oh!]

At this point, I was getting pretty full, but when you’re eating dinner with a chef’s co-author, more food tends to come out. Like this Laap Pet Issan: Spicy Northeastern Thai chopped duck salad with duck liver and skin, lemongrass, herbs, toasted rice powder, dried chiles, lime juice and fish sauce.

And, another duck dish, a braised duck leg (Pet Pha Lo):

Here’s J.J. and Emily with a giant Thai feast in front of them:

And here’s an overhead shot of the table—this time it worked, Emily!

Looking back at these meals, I feel extraordinary lucky to be living in a time and a place where you can hop on a train for 20 minutes and eat a meal that instantly transports you halfway around the globe, whether to China (at Mission Chinese) or Thailand (at Pok Pok). What an embarrassment of riches available to us here in New York in 2012. I’m so glad I bookmarked these places when I did they didn’t disappoint.


CASUAL GREATNESS

The bacon melt at Cochon Butcher

Restaurants that don’t need white tablecloths and wine programs to qualify as destinations

Cochon Butcher's muffuletta

New Orleans, LA

Cochon Butcher

Donald Link, one of the Crescent City's pivotal chef-restaurateurs, first conceived of his sandwich shop both as an adjunct to his pork paean Cochon and as tribute to the Cajun groceries he grew up visiting near Lake Charles, Louisiana. The boudin (rice-studded pork sausage) that Link serves is an ambassador of the form, true to his people's traditions but on the gentle end of the spectrum. Savor it before devouring bready marvels like a redefining muffuletta (stacked with housemade charcuterie on a billowy sesame loaf) and the bacon melt (layered with tender stewed collard greens, making the construct a sort of Southern polemic on toast). This past April, Link and business partner Stephen Stryjewski added 2,000 square feet to Butcher. The space now seats 120 and includes a full bar, but the line for ordering continues to trail out the door. Read the Full Review Here

Barbecue platter at Franklin Barbecue

Austin, TX

Franklin Barbecue

After standing for hours in the unforgiving Austin sun, you’ve earned a tray full of every smoked meat that America’s most famous barbecue joint offers: peppery pork ribs, sausages that pop against the teeth, turkey bathing in butter to counteract its leanness. Just be sure to order extra brisket for later. It’s Aaron Franklin’s masterwork, a feat of smolder and flesh that reset the already towering standards in the Lone Star barbecue world. Not only is the brisket so silken that, beyond the charred exterior, it has an almost pudding-like texture. It’s also incredibly consistent. Throw on sides of mustardy potato salad, meat-flecked pinto beans, and a slice of bourbon-banana pie and you have a lunch that’s downright patriotic. Read the Full Review Here

The exterior of Prince's Hot Chicken Shack

Nashville, TN

Prince's Hot Chicken Shack

Nashville hot chicken is, well, catching fire nationally. It shines like a radioactive artifact from Mars, this bird first fried and then coated in cayenne paste. Chefs in cities as diverse as Atlanta, Philadelphia, New York, and Chicago are serving fiery versions. These days Nashville is littered with hot chicken joints. A trip to Prince’s — run by the family whose ancestor, Thornton Prince III, likely invented the genre in the 1930s — is mandatory. It resides in a nondescript strip mall, but a line always trails through the room. Choose from among mild, medium, hot, and extra hot. The latter is known to cause whole-body discomfort, and I gushed sweat while eating the hot option. My nose tingled and my scalp prickled, but I ate every morsel. Read the Full Review Here


KevinEats

I took a brief trip up to the Portland/Seattle area recently, and it was actually my first time in either of the two cities. First up was Portland, and naturally, I spent a good amount of time considering the various dining options in the vicinity before deciding on perennial favorite Pok Pok for my introduction to the PDX food scene. Pok Pok is, of course, the game changing Thai restaurant from Chef Andy Ricker that was one of the first to really bring the cuisine of northern Thailand to the limelight.

About the Chef: Ricker was born in 1964 in North Carolina, but spent his formative years largely in Vermont, raised by a mother who was, in the Chef's own words, a "pot-smoking hippie," but also a cook at a local restaurant. He started in the business at age 15, serving as a dishwasher at a Swiss fondue joint, and worked at a number of places in the area throughout high school. Ricker moved out to Vail, Colorado the day of his graduation and got a job there as a short order cook, then made his way up the ranks, eventually reaching the level of sous chef. He later relocated to Los Angeles, though not for culinary reasons, but left the United States to see the world in 1985. He was abroad for four years, landing in New Zealand, Australia, various parts of Asia (including Thailand in 1987), and even Europe, where he cooked at Raymond Blanc's Michelin-ranked Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons in England.

Ricker got back Stateside in 1989, and eventually secured a position at Christopher Israel's Zefiro in Portland. He ended up burning out, however, and, after a short stint as a bartender, took an eight year break from the restaurant business and started a painting company. Ricker's obsession with Thai cookery, thus, came almost accidentally in 1993, when he visited his old friend Chris and his wife Lakhana in Chiang Mai. He tasted a revelatory local puffball mushroom curry called kaeng het thawp, which got him hooked on the bounties of regional, seasonal northern Thai cuisine, and would return many times to further study the food there. After splitting his time between Portland and Thailand for nearly a decade (with a brief detour in 2003 to New York), he launched Pok Pok in 2005 as a take-out stall selling grilled game hens and som tam in the southeast portion of the City (at his own house). The shack garnered quite a following, which led Ricker to turn it into a proper restaurant the next year.

Pok Pok became a huge hit, even scoring the "Restaurant of the Year" award from The Oregonian in 2007. This success allowed Ricker to debut Ping in 2009, a pub-y sort of eatery that made Alan Richman's list of top 10 best new restaurants in the country, and was also The Oregonian's pick for "Rising Star." Ping was followed up by Whiskey Soda Lounge later that year, which had previously resided in the basement of Pok Pok. It served as a bar/lounge serving ahaan kap klaem, or drinking food. In January 2010, Ricker stepped away from Thai for a bit and opened Foster Burger with partners Daniel Mondok and Kurt Huffman, and soon thereafter, got a double dose of James Beard, nominated both for "Best Chef Northwest" and for "Best New Restaurant." In September however, he relinquished his stake in Foster Burger, ostensibly to focus on other projects such as his line of drinking vinegars, which went on sale that December.

March 2011 saw the debut of Pok Pok Noi, a take-out place (though it eventually turned into a full service restaurant the following May). This was followed by Ricker's snagging of James Beard's "Best Chef Northwest" award, and in September, he took over a spot just a few blocks from the original Pok Pok with the goal of transforming it into a curry place. He also announced his New York intentions around this time, and in October, Eddie Huang broke the news that a wing-focused eatery would be taking over his old Baohaus space in the Lower East Side. Meanwhile, Ricker also finalized plans for a full-service Pok Pok in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, and simultaneously bowed out of his responsibilities at Ping, citing his growing work load. Pok Pok Wing ended up opening in January 2012, while Pok Pok proper bowed in April. However, the wing joint didn't last long, closing in August and quickly replaced by a pad thai restaurant called Pok Pok Phat Thai.

2013 started with Ricker scrapping the idea for his Portland curry place Pok Pok Lat Khao. Instead, he premiered Sen Yai, a Thai noodle house, in May. Getting back to NYC, the Brooklyn branch of Whiskey Soda Lounge came to fruition that August, and the Chef released his cookbook Pok Pok: Food and Stories from the Streets, Homes, and Roadside Restaurants of Thailand, written in collaboration with JJ Goode, in October. Toward the end of the year, Pok Pok New York moved to a larger space just a few doors up the street, and the old space is reportedly turning into an event space called Suan Pok Pok. 2014, finally, will see the debut of Farang, a feature length documentary detailing Ricker's obsession with Thai cookery and the process of opening up Sen Yai.


Pok Pok's menu focuses on northern Thai, though the kitchen does deviate quite often (hell, the famous wings aren't even Thai). Most of the items are meant for sharing, and many tend to go well with sticky rice and booze. To drink, you'll find a legit cocktail list, a selection of lighter beers, a couple wines (Ricker doesn't seem to be a practitioner of the Night+Market school of pairing wine with Thai), and an impressive selection of whiskies corkage is a reasonable $10 per bottle. Click for larger versions.


Tamarind Whiskey Sour [$9.00] | Tamarind, fresh lime juice, palm sugar and bourbon on the rocks.
Since it was my first time here, I had to give Pok Pok's signature cocktail a go. It didn't let me down, conveying a wonderful sweet spice against a balance of tart citrus, all underscored by the boozy weight of bourbon. Definitely worth a try.


Ike's Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings [$14.00] | Half dozen fresh whole natural chicken wings marinated in fish sauce and sugar, deep fried, tossed in caramelized Phu Quoc fish sauce and garlic and served with Vietnamese table salad. Our signature dish. Based on our daytime cook Ike's recipe from his home in Vietnam.
Naturally, we had to try the restaurant's much-talked-about wings, and it was quickly obvious why they've remained so popular throughout the years. They were largely the work of Ricker's first employee, Ich "Ike" Truong, and helped get Pok Pok off the ground in the early days. The wings were some of the best I've had: succulent and tender, with great crispy caramelized bits and a taste that perfectly commingled the inherent goodness of the chicken with just the right amount of sweetness and umami-laden funk of fish sauce. Accompanying the meat was a Vietnamese table salad--pickled carrots and daikon, cucumber, lettuce--that helped even out some of the strong flavors at play.


Plaa Neung Buai [$29.00] | steamed branzino with salted plums
Next was one of the evening's specials, a steamed whole Mediterranean seabass that I found tender, flaky, and delightfully delicate tasting. There were some great herb-y aromatics going on here that really elevated the fish without overpowering it, and I was especially fond of the richness of the mushrooms, as well as the sharp pricks of heat provided by the bird's eye chili.


Yam Thua Plun [$12.00] | wingbean "salad"
Another special brought us a plate of winged beans (thawphu), which I liked much more than I thought I would. The dish was super well-integrated and balanced, conveying some really elegant, yet bright and vivacious flavors, and was satisfying texturally as well.


Kaeng Hang Leh [$14.00] | Northern Thai sweet pork belly and pork shoulder curry with ginger, palm sugar, turmeric, tamarind, Burmese curry powder and pickled garlic. Rich and exotically spiced, a Chiang Mai classic with Burmese origins.
A Northern Thai stew gave us gorgeous chunks of pork that recalled hongshao rou, an explosion of deep, sweet, and savory flavors over a balance of tender, fatty, gelatinous flesh. Comforting and utterly gratifying.


Phat Khanaeng [$9.00] | Stir-fried brussels sprouts with Thai chilies, garlic, oyster sauce, soy sauce and fish sauce.
I'm quite the Brussels sprouts fiend, and this was certainly a worthwhile rendition of one of my favorite veggies. I was a big fan of the crunchy, satisfying bite on the sprouts, and how their astringency paired with the rich umami flavors present.


Sai Ua Samun Phrai [$14.00] | Chiang Mai sausage with herbs, Burmese curry powder and aromatics. Charcoal grilled and served with Naam Phrik Num (spicy green chile dip), Khaep Muu (Thai pork rinds) and steamed crudites. Rustic and spicy, should be eaten with sticky rice.
Sai uah's one of my favorite types of tubed meat, and Ricker's was a classic presentation of the style: rustic, gritty, and just teeming with herbaceous, spicy notes that were amped up even more by the heat of the nam phrik num, all while the veggies strived to temper the experience.


Hunny [$10.00] | Fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice with lime. Som honey drinking vinegar and tequila.
Our next cocktail featured Ricker's Som drinking vinegar and was quite delicious, giving us a balance between jolts of tart citrus and an undercurrent of honeyed sweetness, the tequila adding just enough gravitas to the mix.


Lord Bergamot [$10.00] | Smith Teas bergamot tea infused vodka. Som honey drinking vinegar, orange liqueur and soda on the rocks.
This next drink also incorporated drinking vinegar, and displayed some great tea-like aromatics that really enveloped the drink's base of honey and orange.


Cha Ca "La Vong" [$15.00] | Catfish marinated in turmeric and sour rice, fried in turmeric oil with scallions and dill, served on rice vermicelli with peanuts, mint, cilantro and mam nem. Our stab at the famous dish from La Vong Restaurant in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Ricker returns to Vietnam here with his take on the legendary namesake dish of Cha Ca La Vong restaurant. It was a surprise winner, and quite possibly the best catfish I'd ever tasted. The fish was perfect texturally, and showed off a mouthwatering depth and complexity to it that melded seamlessly with the vibrant, verdant flavors of the various greenery here, all while the rice noodles moderated the entire interaction. Great crunch from those peanuts, too.


Hoi Thawt [$13.00] | Crispy broken crepe with steamed fresh mussels, eggs, garlic, chives and bean sprouts, served with Shark Sri Racha sauce. Thai street vendor's specialty, popular in night markets.
Yet another surprise hit of the night was the crepe, the dish showing off an almost hash brown-esque savor to it that really hit the spot, a perfect stage on which the brine of the mussels could really sing. Countering that was the lightness and crunch of the chives and sprouts, while the hot sauce added a fantastic bit of heat to complete the dish. Excellent--you can almost think of this as the best banh xeo that you've ever had.


Papaya Pok Pok [$9.00] | Spicy green papaya salad with tomatoes, long beans, Thai chili, lime juice, tamarind, fish sauce, garlic, palm sugar, dried shrimp and peanut, made to order in the pok pok (mortar and pestle). Our namesake. Needs Sticky Rice!!
Our final savory was Pok Pok's signature som tam, a laudable execution of the classic that gave us a mélange of disparate textures and a flavor profile that brought together sour, sweet, and a creeping undertone of spice with the bright nuances of papaya, the dried shrimp adding just the right amount of funk to the fray.


There are only a handful of desserts on offer at Pok Pok, which are joined by a surprisingly lengthy list of digestifs. Click for a larger version.


Pok Pok Affogato [$7.50] | Condensed milk ice cream drowned in a shot of Vietnamese coffee, served with patangko, fried Thai-style savory crullers.
Ricker's pathongko were superb with their combination of sweet and savory flavors and crisp bite, and ate very similarly to Chinese style youtiao. I thoroughly enjoyed them alone, but the application of affogato added another layer of goodness to the dessert.


Coconut Ice Cream Sandwich [$7.00] | Coconut-jackfruit ice cream served on a sweet bun with peanuts, sweet sticky rice, condensed milk and chocolate syrup. Found on any Thai street, especially in the markets.
We had to end with Pok Pok's ice cream sandwich. What set this apart I think was the jackfruit, which imparted another facet of fruitiness to things that really permeated the dessert. Everything just came together nicely here in sort of a light-hearted, multifaceted sweetness accented by a few savory bits here and there.

Pok Pok was a great introduction to the Portland food scene, and just a great meal in general, one filled with bold, yet balanced flavors that nonetheless managed to convey a certain elegance and finesse that you might not typically associate with Thai cookery. I can see how Ricker's cooking is helping change the face of the cuisine in the States, giving diners a taste of dishes that really weren't represented before, and still aren't for the most part, at least with the dash of bravado you find here. Can't make it to Portland? Kris Yenbamroong's Night+Market is like Pok Pok's brother from another mother, and has the benefit of Kris' own unique take on the food to boot.

4 Comments:

Please tell me you went to Le Pigeon!

You'd be remiss to skip Castagna. If you want another Portland Thai joint, Chiang Mai is excellent. Doesn't get the press Pok Pok does, but it's really fantastic. HA & VL is another favorite. Don't much care for Le Pigeon, but I love Little Bird. If you are downtown, try Clyde Common for both cocktails and food. Kask and Racion are also great places to drink. Teardrop Lounge and Rum Club are tremendous. That ought to give you enough for a few nights of merriment.

This food looks way better than night market. Taste?

Anon: Of course I did!

Anon: In addition to Le Pigeon, I did make it out to Castagna, and also had a lunch at Nong's Khao Man Gai. I did get to Kask for cocktails as well. Wish I could've stayed longer.

Anon: That just may be due to the photos though. Taste-wise, they're probably pretty close, going back and forth depending on the particular dish.


ISO: brooklyn recos

toronto hound here . i'm in brooklyn for a few nights for a conference (staying at the marriott brooklyn bridge). i'm with a coworker who has some dietary restrictions (no dairy, gluten, sugar, soy, eggs) and she has a knee injury! as a result, she can walk but not quickly. i eat anything and i'm not nursing a knee injury :). i'm looking for the following recos:

1. two dinner restaurants within walking distance of the hotel one of these dinners will be paid for by a vendor so we could consider something fancier! :) on one of the evenings, we are attending a dinner at colonie.
2. breakfast restaurant in DUMBO where some of us from the conference will be gathering one morning before we all fly home. (my tourist-y plan is to walk across the bridge after breakfast and then head back to the hotel, grab my bags and head out to the airport).
3. somewhere to grab take-out lunch that i can take with me to the airport (i'm flying out of LGA and the food options weren't great when i was there this summer). is there somewhere in DUMBO to grab a tasty lunch as i head back from the bridge to the hotel?

the last time i was at the hotel for another conference, i grabbed breakfast down the street at the vegan place just down the street (awesome oatmeal!) and i went out to dinner one night at gallitos (very yummy).


Andy Ricker, chef and owner of Pok Pok

At five Pok Pok locations throughout Portland, Oregon, and one in Brooklyn, New York, Andy Ricker serves hundreds of diners his take on Thai food each week. Until March, his empire included a restaurant in LA’s Chinatown. Ricker closed up shop here for a number of reasons, including intense competition for good Thai food in Los Angeles and the high density of Asian restaurants in Chinatown. Pok Pok’s Portland business is made easier by having a commissary kitchen to service all five restaurants. “If three restaurants serve, say, the chicken wings, and you can cook them all in one spot and then drive them to the different locations and finish them at the location, instead of three different locations all needing the equipment, the labor, the raw materials that get delivered to each individual location to do exactly the same thing, you can see how there is an economy of scale there.”


Pok Pok’s Andy Ricker On How to Order Thai Food

Andy Ricker brought authentic, spicy, street-style Thai food to North America with his perpetually buzzing Pok Pok restaurants in Portland, Brooklyn (which boasts a Michelin star), and, as of late 2015, Los Angeles. He's currently at work on a pair of books—one about Thai noodle dishes, the other about Thai drinking culture—and just launched a line of Thai-style charcoal, Thaan. He spoke with Condé Nast Traveler about where to get good Thai food both at home and abroad, some spoilers on the books, and the places he always goes back to.

You’re in Chiang Mai as we speak, and spend about three months there every year. What keeps you going back to that specific city?

It’s still got the good things I remember from the old days. When I first came in 1992, I stayed with a friend behind CMU [Chiang Mai University] on this country lane that was pretty quiet. Now it’s an insane row of shops and restaurants and 5-8 story-high dorms, hotels, condo-type places. The development is going along at a pretty crushing pace, which I have mixed feelings about. A lot more traffic, a lot more tourists. But you can still drive down the road and find an incredible larb restaurant, with people cooking outside on a grill. The same type of food that’s been around for a long time. The temples are getting busier and more focused on collecting money to grow bigger, but they’re still old, beautiful temples. You still run into the old folks and a friendly vibe remains. The people in the North are a friendly bunch, and they’re playful. You go to the market and it's still a fun place to be.

What is your second favorite Thai city?

I really like Lampang, which isn’t that far from Chiang Mai. It’s very old, and at one time was a center of culture and commerce. It’s a beautiful place with a really great food culture, some lovely old shophouse architecture, wooden buildings that have been preserved, and shady streets. Also, some of the most important temples in the north. It’s great.

What should first-time visitors to Thailand know about ordering street food, especially if they’re picky or have nervous tummies?

Basically, Thai people also have stomachs: their physiology is the same as ours, and Thais get sick, too. So make sure to go somewhere there are a lot of people eating, because that’s a good sign the food is good and it’s a healthy place. You actually have a better chance of monitoring how clean and how good the food is eating in streetside restaurants, where people are cooking in front of you. I’ve had what I think were intestinal issues from eating in a hotel restaurant, because it’s behind closed doors and you have no idea what’s happening back there. At a street stall, if you see a line of people waiting to eat and they have a relatively clean setup and are going through food quickly, you can feel pretty assured that you’ll have a good time and not get sick.

But what about food poisoning?

The thing is, people aren’t that educated about how they get food poisoning. They randomly decide, oh, that place got me sick, when they actually have no idea. The only way you know for sure is to pump your stomach and take a culture of what’s in there. Other than that, you’re just guessing. You could’ve gotten a stomach virus from touching something. If you’re going to deny yourself eating some of the world’s greatest cuisine because you’re worried about having to shit a few extra times a day, you’re really missing out.

If I can’t get to Thailand, what should I try to order from my local Thai restaurant that isn’t just Pad Thai or papaya salad?

It really depends on the type of restaurant. In Thailand, most restaurants specialize in a certain kind of regional Thai cuisine or number of dishes. What happens in the west often is they also offer a whole bunch of other things to appeal to the broadest audience they possibly can. For instance, in L.A., there’s a place called Love To Eat Bistro and they have the typical Thai menu, but also a bunch of southern Thai stuff, which is what they specialize in. That’s what the Thai people order when they go, and that’s what you should order. If Thai people are going to this one place known for a particular dish or cuisine, that’s what you should go there for. Order that specialty.

Have you been to any cities in North America where you were shocked to find a genuinely good Thai restaurant?

No. To me, there’s very tasty Thai food to be had almost anywhere if you know what and how to order. The most important thing to do is try and convince whoever you are ordering from that you’re willing to eat anything. The general consensus is, Americans can’t handle funk and heat, and there are certain recipes you can’t fake your way through. For instance, if they have khao kluk kapi, it’s rice mixed with shrimp paste and various other things like mackerel, egg, and sweet pork. Now, rice mixed with shrimp paste you can’t make without putting shrimp paste in! So if you order it, you’re going to get some form of real flavor and people make it in varying degrees of aplomb, but you can’t fake it with that dish.

Do you plan to open Pok Pok locations in more cities?

At the moment I’m not looking to open another restaurant in the U.S. The atmosphere there is extremely uncertain, and we have our hands full getting things on track in L.A.. It would be suicidal for me to open another before L.A. is stable.

You have two more books on tap, due in 2017 and 2018 respectively. What can you tell us about them?

It’s about the drinking culture of Thailand and how food is so interwoven with it. We’ll do a really cool chapter on how to make Lao Khao, distilled rice whiskey that’s essentially the basis of drinking culture in Thailand. As a tourist you see beer everywhere, but for the vast majority of the country beer is considered a luxury item and expensive compared to Lao Khao, so a lot of the food developed around drinking has been for drinking Lao Khao. The book will have a step-by-step process so you can see exactly how it’s made. We went to a rice liquor factory and photographed the whole process.

And the second, inspired by your Sen Yai noodle joint in Portland?

You’re going to be able to make a couple of noodle dishes taste just like they do in Thailand, complete with the option of putting MSG in it. We’re not going to have a lot of "go to the store for fishballs." There will be a recipe for fishballs. And like the Pok Pok cookbook, yes, it will be more labor-intensive and you’ll need a deeper pantry and to think ahead and make stock ahead, but what you’ll get in return is extraordinary.

How a European Cult Brewery Is Changing Bangkok's Craft Beer Scene

Speaking of recipes, what is your recipe to avoid jetlag?

The best thing you can do is adjust your sleeping pattern before you leave, but it’s really hard. I try, and it never works, so my remedy is when I arrive, try to stay awake until it’s a normal time to go to bed and wake at a normal time. Anthony Bourdain preaches a cocktail of drugs and eating habits. I get there through various combinations of sleep aids, caffeine, and booze. And drink lots of water!


Markets Sprouting Around the Region


There are a lot of large, beautiful, historic and disused buildings in the Hudson Valley, and it’s hard to ignore the buzz surrounding New York City’s Smorgasburg, Chelsea Market, Gotham Market or Anthony Bourdain’s hotly anticipated Pier 57 market project (which has been delayed until 2019). Further, such markets are often embraced by local governments because they support local agriculture while offering opportunities to small, start-up businesses. Not surprisingly, there are several similar market projects in the region at various stages of rumor or initial planning.

In June 2015, a trio of investors purchased the 17,700-square-foot former Woolworth Building at 311 Wall Street (also in Kingston) with the intention to create a year-round, indoor food hall. In Poughkeepsie, a 22,000-square-foot brick building (ca. 1874— initially built to house a foundation garment manufacturer) is being recast as the Underwear Factory. It will house North River Roasters and North River Roaster Café. Additionally, the site will contain POK (Poughkeepsie Open Kitchen), a shared-use commercial kitchen available for rent to “small food entrepreneurs, food retail operations, caterers, food truck operators, food educators and chefs seeking space for pop-up restaurants.”

That said, there have also been well-publicized failures. In New Rochelle, in 2012, the legendary chef Jeremiah Tower—subject of Anthony Bourdain’s recent documentary, The Last Magnificent—headed up a project to transform the city’s Depression- era Naval Armory into a multiuse food hall on the Long Island Sound. Though the city initially greenlit the project, its trajectory ended when its organizers couldn’t demonstrate sufficient financial resources to undertake the work.

Yet Butler is unfazed by the idea of competition or failure. “I think the idea of markets was pretty new when we first started doing it, but the concept has now been around for a while. There are certainly a lot of food halls popping up. And look at music festivals and sports arenas—they’re trying to upgrade their food. None of that was done when we started having food at the Brooklyn Flea in 2008. Obviously, Smorgasburg put it on a different level, but food has always had a communal aspect to it, right? You go and there’s a discovery process, there’s a feeling like you’re part of something, you’re meeting your neighbors. And I think one of the great things that has happened in the last 10 years is that people are more interested in the food that they eat. In most cases, at Smorgasburg, you’re buying your food directly from the owner—the person whose idea it was and who is actually making it. You can talk to him about it, and the owner is excited for the direct contact. There’s a certain immediacy to that. It’s fun.”


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