Saturday, September 1, 2007

Thai Weekend Part II: Pok Pok

I headed out with my friend Lowrey this evening to check out the wildly popular Pok Pok. It seems you can't swing a dead cat in Portland without hitting a thai restaurant, but for the most part their menus are identical. There are exceptions, places which elevate the cuisine beyond the typical curries and stir fries, Thyphoon and Kun Phic Ban Thai being two which come to mind. With a northern Thai street food inspired menu, Pok Pok breaks the mold as well. They even landed the Oregonian's Restaurant of the Year award this year, so I figured it was about time I gave the place a look.

We started with one of the specials, Tap Waan:


This was a duck liver salad with cilantro, mint, and a fairly mild fish sauce based dressing. I'm not generally a big fan of liver of any kind, but this was quite tasty. The duck liver and mint made for an interesting combination of flavors and textures. Next up were Papaya Pok Pok and Sate Kambing:




The Papaya Pok Pok, the restaurant's namesake, is a salad of green papaya, tomatoes, long beans, Thai chili, lime juice, tamarind, fish sauce, garlic, palm sugar, dried shrimp and peanuts. We ordered it with the optional salted black crab. The salad was a bit hotter than I expected, but it was excellent nonetheless. It didn't come with a very substantial amount of crab, however. The crab is apparently only meant to provide a salty dimension to the dish. Strangely, the sticky rice we ordered at the waiter's suggestion to accompany the salad was served in a plastic bag...

The Sate Kambing, two skewers of lamb sirloin kebabs marinated in cumin, chili, sweet soy, tamarind, garlic and palm sugar and served with a sweet dipping sauce, was good, but not as interesting as the previous two dishes.

At this point Lowrey was done but I had some room left, so I ordered the Coconut Ice Cream Sandwich:


This, I have to say, was something of a disappointment. It wasn't an ice cream sandwich as you might imagine it, but rather four small scoops of coconut-jackfruit ice cream on a sweet bun and drizzled with chocolate syrup, condensed milk, peanuts and sweet sticky rice. You'll notice the sweet bun looks a bit like a hot dog bun. It didn't taste like a hot dog bun, but it had about the same consistency and didn't hold its own against the melting ice cream. The ice cream itself, which is made in-house, was great. If they were to reconfigure this with something other than the sweet bun, it would probably work much better.

Pok Pok is well-known for their Kai Yaang, a charcoal roasted stuffed game hen, and their pork dishes seem to be especially popular as well, so I'll have to make it back at some point to try those.

All in all, it was a good meal. The food was a nice break from the thai standards, the service was attentive, the atmosphere was nice, if a bit noisy. It was a good experience. But restaurant of the year good? I think not. Although I am willing to let that stuffed game hen change my mind at some point down the road...

6 comments:

Julie Ann said...

If you're looking for a Thai dessert recipe to try at home, may I recommend kow neo mamuang, sliced mango on black (purple) sticky rice with sweet coconut milk. So delicious. I've also had little Thai bananas floating in coconut milk, which is good.

tommy said...

That neo mamuang sounds pretty good, I might have to hunt around for a recipe.

But I have to say, I've rarely been wowed by the desserts of Eastern cuisines. While Asian cultures (particularly southern and southeastern Asian cultures) often seem to have a more nuanced approach to combining flavors in savory dishes, especially where heat is concerned, than those of Europe or North America (and arguably South America), I find that in general, Eastern cuisines don't quite measure up to those of the West when it comes to desserts. My feeling is that we just have stronger pastry and confectionery traditions than do our friends on the other side of the International Dateline... Maybe it has something to do with the way that the West's culinary development has been influenced by, I don't know, the cultivation of wheat and cane sugar... Or maybe it just has to do with my own tastes and/or limitations. You've lived in Japan and bummed around Asia some. What's your take on this?

Discuss...

Julie Ann said...

I agree the West seems to do dessert better. Of course, it's a matter of taste. I just couldn't get into most Japanese dessert flavors. Macha, the green tea flavor, is a big yuck for me. Same with the sweet red beans, azuki. I happened to have an extremely rare Dairy Queen in my town in Japan, and they served the green tea ice cream with a red bean sauce, so double yuck for me. Fortunately they also served Oreo Barizado (Blizzard) as well.

The other Japanese sweet I didn't really appreciate was mochi, which is a chewy, pounded rice. However, I occasionally stumbled on ones I liked such as one wrapped in a fall leaf (Am I remembering right?) and a wonderful concoction of cream, strawberry, powdered sugar, and mochi called yuki ichigo.

However, the Japanese know what they're dong with candy and popsicles. Also in Hokkaido I hear they make a decent cheesecake --Western dessert.

Lowrey said...

Yeah, Tommy might have found the lamb a bit bland, but I thought it was yummy, still nice and pink in the middle, and the semi-sweet sauce was a good combination. As I am a capsasin wimp, I enjoyed the lamb quite a bit, though it was certainly the least complex of the dishes.

tommy said...

J - There was a Dairy Queen where you lived in Japan? That's hilarious!

patrick said...

you didn't try the fried egg salad? ???

sounds like you had fun though. btw sticky rice is always served in a plastic bag, though I don't know why.