Sunday, March 29, 2015
Pok Pok - Believe the Hype
Our friend Adam was in town recently, and although his stay was very brief, we managed to get together for dinner. As he was the guest in our fair city, we encouraged him to pick the place. Adam decided Pok Pok was the way to go; he'd been there before on a previous visit to Portland. We were up for it, as we hadn't eaten there yet, despite the restaurant's sterling reputation both locally and around the country. Let me begin by saying that it's a reputation that is very well deserved.
Pok Pok is located on SE Division, amidst several other wonderful establishments; this corridor is one of the true centers of the impressive culinary scene here in Portland. The restaurant itself seems pretty quirky, with an eclectic feel to the decor and the layout. There are several dining rooms as well as an outdoor seating area. We checked in with the hostess, and she brought us outside, around the corner, and up the stairs to an intimate area with about six tables or so. The place was pretty busy, even for the middle of the week, and I'm sure this is usually the case, but our little area was quiet enough that we could enjoy each other's company as well as our food.
We were pretty hungry, so we ordered a variety of dishes to split between the three of us. We got two salads, an order of the boar collar, and their famous wings. Basically everyone in the city of Portland has told us that we neeeed to try Pok Pok's wings, and I was excited for the chance, although wary that they'd been built up too much in my mind.
Wings - I'd say it isn't possible to build these wings up too much in one's mind. They deliver on their promise and then some. The flavor is pretty unique, with that tangy, wonderful Southeast Asian essence coming through in every bite. Apparently they soak the wings in fish sauce for twenty-four hours, and this combined with the perfectly fried texture and the sauce they are tossed in makes for a singular wing experience, and they're served with some pickled vegetables which help balance out the plate. The more I ate, the better they tasted, and at the end of the meal when we were all full, I seriously entertained the idea of ordering some more for the road. I managed to restrain myself, but barely.
Boar Collar - Officially called Muu Paa Kham Waan, the dish was quite interesting and the meat was deliciously tender and savory. I've had boar sausage before, but never grilled pieces like little chunks of steak. The boar is served with ice cold mustard greens and a hot chili sauce; our server told us the way to eat this dish was to alternate bites of the meat with bites of the fresh chilled greens to really open up the dish and help cool it down at the same time. The overall experience was excellent. I highly recommend it.
Eggplant Salad - This dish's real name is Yam Makheua Yao. It sounds like a mouthful, and it is. The grilled eggplant that is the base is then covered with a variety of seafood and a delightful fish sauce, and the entire plate works wonderfully together. The heartiness of the eggplant and the shrimp, pork and prawns make for a very filling and satisfying dish. There are also lime and chilis that give the flavor a little kick in the butt and put it over the top. We got some sticky rice to go with it, to help balance out the flavor, and cool off the palate when things go a bit too hot.
Steak Salad - Neua Naam Tok is a leafy green salad with a delicious dressing of lime and chili, and the flank steak on top is then covered with the fish sauce that seems to be Pok Pok's not-so-secret ingredient. Again, the tangy beef and snappy fresh greens made for a wonderful tandem of flavors, and this dish is particularly hot. The sticky rice helped immensely in this case to make each bite as enjoyable as possible. Another top-notch dish.
Service and Cost:
The service was fine, but nothing to rave about. It certainly wasn't bad service. Honestly, most of my attention was on the food, and all of that was so good, maybe I just didn't have a wide enough attention span to notice our server. As far as cost, I'd say it falls into the reasonable category. The quality of the food is stellar, and each dish carried a price tag of around $15.00. The wings go for $14.50, which sounds like a lot, but the life-changing nature of them more than offsets the cost. Beer and cocktail prices are pretty standard as well. If you go, you will definitely spend some money, but it is well worth it.
3 Mmmms (plus 1 extra Mmmm just because)
3226 SE Division Street Portland, OR 97202