Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Restaurant Review: Pok Pok/Whiskey Soda Lounge

Voted Portland's Best Restaurant of the Year for 2007, Pok Pok is something of a cult following. The lines for a Friday night began well before 6:00 (a good indication of something really good in the kitchen) so I was excited to experience what all of Portland has been talking about for almost 2 years.

Pok Pok isn't anything more than a take out shack with picnic tables and an indoor seating area that owner/chef, Andy Ricker added almost a year after he first introduced Portland to his take on SE Asian fare. It's still not very sophisticated, yet the food more than makes up for the ambiance. The Whiskey Soda Lounge (indoor seating) is small—with seating for around 30—"think" cozy without feeling claustrophobic. Decorated with stained-wood paneling, black booths and subdued-but-adequate lighting give the room a friendly, jazz-bar atmosphere. We sat outside in the setting sun - a perfect July night in Portland.

The menu takes you on an Asian food odyssey. Vietnamese fish-sauce wings; yam sumun prhai (herbal and nut salad); cha ca "La Vong" noodle bowl; duck leg with pickled mustard greens and sour yellow chili sauce; wild prawns in clay pot with pork belly and bean-thread noodles. Nothing like I have ever experienced in my food travels.
Dinner Crew: Brian, Maddie and Bryan

Since Bryan and Maddie had been before, we let them lead with their favorites. Here was our entire menu:
Tamarind Whiskey Sour Cocktail - Tamarind, line juice, palm sugar and bourbon on the rocks
Papaya Pok Pok - Green Papaya Salad with tomatoes, long beans in a Thai chili lime juice.

Khanom Jiin Tam Taeng Kwaa - Spicy cucumber salad with tomatoes, garlic, lime, naam plaa and palm sugar - served over rice vermicelli noodles

Sii Krong Muu Yaang - Carlton Farms baby back ribs marinated in whisky, soy, ginger, honey and Thai spices
Neua Naam Tok - Spicy and sour Isaan style grilled Cascade Natural flank steak salad with ground roasted dry chilies, lemongrass, fresh shallots, toasted rice powder, fish sauce, lime juice and mint
Ike's Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings - Fresh natural chicken wings marinated in fish sauce and palm sugar, deep fried and tossed in caramelized Phu Quoc fish sauce and garlic

Cha ca "la Vong" - Catfish marinated in turmeric and sour sticky rice, fried in tumeric oil with scallions and dill. Served with rice vermicelli, peanuts, mint, cilantro and nouc cham.

Hoi Thawt - Crispy broken crepes with steamed mussels, eggs, garlic chives and bean sprouts
My favorite has to be the wings, which I devoured and then dreamt about the entire weekend - scheming about how I might get back for more.
Most of the food served at Pok Pok is meant to be eaten "family-style" with everyone sharing. The food is clean, small portions (which means a party of 4 can reasonable try 5-7 entrees) and exotic.
Each item had it's own signature spice - flavor; which set it apart from anything else on the table.
Most dishes are best when accompanied by rice: Northern and Northeastern Thai dishes with sticky rice, Central and Southern Thai dishes with Jasmine rice. In Thailand, only a spoon and fork are used: the spoon to eat with and the fork to push food onto the spoon. Some things are traditionally eaten with your hands.

The menu is so large that I believe to get a true sense of the food, you need to go back at least 2-3 times.

**** (4 out of 5 stars)


POK POK and the Whiskey Soda Lounge
address: 3226 se division, pdx
telephone: 503 232 1387