Friday, October 21, 2011
Pok Pok & Ping: Chef Andy Ricker
While working as a painter, Chef Ricker vacationed in Thailand a few times, eventually becoming enamored with its cuisine. He decided to start studying cooking, wanting to replicate the Thai dishes he had enjoyed. But, the primary difficulty was that some Thai ingredients were not available to him, and substitutes often were lacking, not providing the proper flavors he desired. But rather than give up, he decided to keep it simple, relying on those Asian ingredients which he could readily source.
In 2005, Andy started Pok Pok, basically a small Thai take-out shack, located just outside his home. It quickly became very popular and because of the increased demand, Andy eventually had to expand, and now Pok Pok is located inside a different house. It has both inside and outside seating, and still is reminiscent of a family backyard barbecue. As the years have passed, Andy has added other restaurants to his growing culinary empire, including Whiskey Lounge and Ping. Yet Pok Pok still remains the crowning jewel.
SakeOne, took me out to lunch at Pok Pok, and the restaurant has the the feel to me of a New England clam shack. It once was an actual house and it feels like the outside picnic tables have been set up in the driveway and front yard. Such a homey ambiance, and as the weather was beautiful that day, we chose to sit outside at one of the wooden picnic tables. Pok Pok serves primarily Thai food, though there are a few dishes from other parts of Southeast Asia. You won't find common dishes like Pad Thai on the menu but there is plenty to entice even finicky diners.
Pok Pok serves lunch and dinner, and the menus are fairly similar though the lunch menu is a bit smaller. The menus are separated into four sections, with the same three on both menus: Aahaan Phiseht (house specialties), Aahaan Kap Khao (Food with rice as part of a shared meal) and Aahaan Yaang (charcoal grilled specialties). On the lunch menu there is also Aaahaan Jaan Diaw (one plate meals) and on the dinner menu, Kuaytiaw (noodle dishes). There are many enticing choices, and it was difficult for me to determine which dish I wanted to order. Prices are reasonable with lunch prices generally ranging $9-$12.50 and dinner prices from $9-$14.50.
I should note that there is no need to fear the "fish sauce." It does not really add a fishy taste to the dish, but rather raises its level of umami, its savoriness. Phu Quoc is also considered by many to be the king of fish sauces, the best of the best. It is actually a versatile sauce, and really elevates the quality of these chicken wings. Maybe more chefs should start considering it as an ingredient in their dishes.
My visit impressed me, and when I return to Portland I will definitely come back to Pok Pok. I need to have those wings again! But I soon may not need to travel across country for those wings. I recently learned that Chef Ricker plans to open a chicken wing shack in New York City, and it might open later this year. The menu will be small, mostly wings and some sides, plus they will serve the drinking vinegars. Great news for those on the East Coast.
Travel Oregon press trip, I dined the first night at one of Chef Ricker's newer restaurants, Ping and also got to meet the chef as well. I actually had my choice of a few restaurants that evening, but after perusing Ping's menu, and reading a bit about it, it seemed like the most interesting restaurant to me so I opted for it. "Ping" in Thai means "toast" or "grill," and they do have numerous grilled skewers on their menu. With Ping, Chef Ricker wanted to create a neighborhood place, a place to bring people together. The menu has dishes from many different Southeast Asian countries, but is not a fusion place and all of the dishes have specific origins. They also try to use as much local produce as possible.
Bridgeport Brewing Summer Squeeze. Bridgeport is supposed to be the oldest brewery in Oregon and this brew is a pale ale flavored with lemongrass and yuzu. It was very light with prominent citrus flavors, and though I didn't love it, it was something I could drink (which says a lot since it is a beer).
Two of their cocktails impressed me though. The Krogstad Cooler is made from Krogstad Aqua Vit (made in Portland), cucumber, lime, triple sec, and celery drinking vinegar. The typical carroway seed flavor of aquavit was very subdued, and this was more a savory and herbal drink, refreshing and bright. The Shochu cocktail had House Spirits Shochu, red potato drinking vinegar, and soda and was a stronger flavored drink, with more earthiness to it. At the end of the night, I also ordered some iced Teh Tarik, a Malaysian "pulled" tea. The "pulling" refers to the pouring process. The unsweetened black iced tea was quite good, with an exotic taste to it, some kind of herb or herbs I couldn't identify.
Like Pok Pok, Ping also gets my recommendation. Neither is your typical American Thai or Southeast Asian restaurant and Chef Ricker should be applauded for bringing these flavors and dishes to Portland. I can't wait for his wings to come to New York City.