In real, chronological, honest to goodness actual time, WE ARE BACK IN AUSTIN! And trying desperately to find space for the eleventy boxes and full Honda Fit's worth of stuff we brought back with us. Lots of trashing, lots of donating.
BUT in blog time, it is still July (holy hell, Rachel!) and we are still in Portland, Oregon, for one more meal.
That meal was so good that I'm not sure what to say about it, three months down the line.
I've loved Thai food in most forms since I was a kid. In our Chicago neighborhood in the '80s, we were lucky enough to have four Thai restaurants, and my family were regulars at two of them. Logan fell hard for Thai when we were in college, eating many a bowl of mussuman curry with tofu.
Of course we had to pay Pok Pok a visit. The place, run by a white dude named Andy, is supposedly the home of some of the most authentic Thai eats in the entire country. So.
Waits are long. Luckily, while you hold out for your Pok Pok table, you can walk kitty corner to Whiskey Soda, the restaurant's sister establishment. The two places share some menu items and many drinks.
Whiskey Soda has a welcoming outdoor seating area behind the restaurant, shaded and protected somewhat from the elements. On the day we were there the weather was perfect.
The menu is so tempting, but we knew we had to save some space for Pok Pok's dishes. We didn't limit ourselves as much as we should have, though! Shocking.
First, of course, drinks: a tamarind whiskey sour (tamarind, lime juice, soda, and bourbon on the rocks) and a daily special called 96 Tears (coconut pandanus vinegar and pimms, served up).
Oh wait! I didn't mention their house macerated vinegars! Turns out they have house macerated vinegars in a changing roster of flavors. On the night we were there we had eight flavors to choose from, from honey to pomegranate to rhubarb and tamarind. You can have them mixed with soda water for a refreshing, not syrupy pop. Such a delicious nonalcoholic thirst quencher!
Bring on the apps!
Khang Pong, mae hong son style green papaya fritters with lemongrass, shallots, chilies, and turmeric. Isn't that bright yellow gorgeous? (Actually, it makes me think of Crystal's recent Hill-Bert's post - now THAT'S yellow!)
One of Pok Pok/Whiskey Soda's most famous dishes is Ike's Vietnamese Fish Sauce wings, which are sticky and spicy and moist and a bit crunchy and perfect for a good face-stuffing.
We also had a dish that we'd seen all over Thailand, swaying from railings attached to carts pushed by hawkers. I still don't know why we never ordered it there, but perhaps we've somewhat made up for our lapse now?
Plaa Meuk Ping: charcoal toasted dried cuttlefish. And that's exactly what you get, but with a side dish of phrik nam plaa, fish sauce with chilies and lime juice.
Think cuttlefish jerky - you have to work hard with this, tearing and chewing. But it's worth it, as the toasty flavor goes perfectly with drinks. Like tentacled beer nuts of the sea.
So we ordered another round. Of course!
My drinking vinegar was delicious. I might need to figure out how to make one of my own so I can enjoy it with the trusty home carbonator. Logan's rhubarb blush, with rhubarb drinking vinegar and aperol, among other ingredients, was nicely balanced between bitter, sour, and sweet.
Soon after, we had a call that our Pok Pok table was ready. Bye, Whiskey Soda! I think I could while away many an hour in your comfortable back garden.
And, one 90-minute wait down, on to Pok Pok!
What goes better with Thai food than an ice-cold beer? I suppose some Thais would argue whiskey - I remember it being very popular. So Logan got both. I stuck to a beer Lao.
This was a really difficult menu. Not to parse, but to whittle down into a reasonable order for two, especially after all of our Whiskey Soda appetizers.
I think we were able to do a fairly wide cross section of the menu, for only ordering three dishes and a couple of sides of sticky rice, which was a complete necessity and fun to eat with the fingers.
Tam Khai Yaang: "roasted game hen salad with long beans, tomatoes, peanuts, Chinese celery, cilantro, Thai chilies, dried shrimp, garlic, lime, palm sugar, fish sauce. Made in the pok pok, the Thainglish name for the Isaan mortar and pestle."
This had it all: spicy hot lip-tingling heat, good Thai balance of hot, salty, sour, sweet, all overlaid with the char of the bird. Not to mention all of the contrasting textures - raw, crunchy long beans and peanuts, chewy meat, leafy herbs.
The beautiful Yam Makhuea Yow: "smoky charcoal-grilled Chinese eggplant with boiled farm egg, fried garlic and dry shrimp, cilantro, shallots and dried chilies in a spicy sweet and sour dressing. A seasonal Pok Pok favorite."
I just gotta order eggplant when it shows up on my menu.
This was a good bit less spicy than the Tam Khai Yaang, but was just packed with wonderful flavors and the funkiness of true Thai food. I think I want to invite Pok Pok to come grill things at my house. Think they'd do it? We did just get the second bedroom cleaned out, though there isn't an actual BED in there yet. Per se.
Our last dish was a nightly special - Kung Phat Phong Kari, or giant sea prawns with curry and egg. What to expect? (By the way, those little bamboo steamers in the back contain our sticky rice. The perfect accompaniment.)
It was totally impossible to enjoy this dish in a dainty, ladylike fashion, given that the juicy prawns were shell-on. Lucky Logan and I know each other pretty well and weren't trying to impress the other party with our eating prowess. The prawns were nuzzled by curry-scented soft scrambled eggs. The dish was somewhat difficult to enjoy due to all the peeling (I don't yet know how to peel a prawn in my mouth) but the flavors were all very nice.
Going to Pok Pok and Whiskey Soda was a great experience, with delicious food. I could easily see heading over to Whiskey Soda pretty much all of the time for snacks and a drinking vinegar, and touch of the booze. After all, I didn't even get to try the fried anchovies, or the tamarind pods served with a chile salt and sugar dip.
Pok Pok proper, while being totally impressive, does loose a bit of allure when you factor in the routine crazy wait times. Luckily, I've just read that the proprietors are opening up a to-go window elsewhere in town, making the restaurant's foods easier to enjoy. Cool.
But what I'd like to hear is whether there are any plans to open a Pok Pok ATX. Well? Guys?
Pok Pok is open 7 days a week and is located at 3226 SE Division St, Portland, OR 97202. 503.232.1387.