Pok-poking in Portland
Event – one lunch this winter at the popular thai restaurant Pok-Pok in Portland, Oregon accompanied by close friends.
While the desserts were last in the menu, let’s start with them first. With a little more salt than you expect and a little less sugar than you want, the dessert at Pok-pok is what I imagine Thai desserts are like – wildly tropical flavors, and rich with coconut milk. One was a brioche bread stuffed with coconut sticky rice, topped with jackfruit ice cream and garnished with crunchy salted peanuts. The other was a durian custard served on top of sticky rice and drizzled with salted coconut cream. While I haven’t eaten durian outside of a restaurant yet, jackfruit has always been a seasonal favorite growing up in India. And these dollops of jackfruit ice cream on a winter afternoon in Portland reminded me of hot a summer day in Kolkata.
Sound of a flock of chicken would sound a bit like pok-pok, pok-pok-pok-pok …wouldn’t it? The restaurant has organically spread and seemed to have many nooks and crevices where one can tuck in. It was cold and drizzly, and we were rather glad to be seated inside. We started with their tamarind vinegar. Also called Som, my namesake and in India, referred to as an elixir. It was tamarind vinegar, as advertised. I think it is more of a summer drink but I wasn’t complaining at the time.
Menu had none of the regular red curry, yellow curry, green curry or massaman curry. We asked for advise and ended up sampling quite a few dishes. Starter was their chicken wings. Marinated in fish sauce, these were perhaps the juiciest, and most umami wings we had all eaten to date.
The rest of the savory dishes came family style. Phat Si Ew is what I had next, a local wide rice noodles stir fried in smoking hot pot. This is one mutha fuckin smokey dish. Small amounts of pork, and big amount of smoke. The papaya salad was a cool offset to the smokiness. This quintessential salad not only works as a palate cleanser, it also brings in a medley of fresh textures and flavors – crunchy, spicy, cool, acidic, sweet and salty and lots of umami flavors via the fish sauce. Muu Sateh – pork Loin skewers served with peanut sauce, was overcooked. I could have killed the skewer operator with one of those sateh sticks. But the mind-blowing ground catfish curry more than made up for the faulty sateh. I have cooked out of Kasma‘s, “It Rains Fishes“, and on rare occasions when I can find all the ingredients and a lot of energy to pound away at the spices, my red curry falls a little short of this gem.