Our trip to Oregon last week landed us in Portland. We've spent time in Portland before, and wanted to focus on exploring Central Oregon and particulary, Bend, this time. But it took steely determination not to get distracted by all the food carts, restaurants, and groovy shops that Portland has to offer. We did take time for lunch, though, on our way in. On our last trip, I'd read about the Thai restaurant Pok Pok, but we didn't get to try it. So this time, we went to Pok Pok's little sister restaurant, Pok Pok Noi.
Chef Andy Ricker, winner of this year's James Beard Foundation's Best Chef Northwest award, started the original Pok Pok at his own house. His focus on Thai grilling and street food led to lines around the block. Now there are several restaurants, including Pok Pok Noi, where we ate lunch.* This outpost of the Ricker empire is a little neighborhood joint with a few seats at the counter and a patio out back, complete with heaters at every table. (The staff offered to turn on the heater at our table and we politely declined. Just off the plane from Austin, we were still radiating heat and enjoying the cool breezes.)
I was eager to try everything on the menu, but apprehensive that there might not be many gluten-free offerings. But I shouldn't have worried. I asked about gluten-free options and was offered a special list noting the dishes that used common allergen ingredients, including gluten. Their menu also includes vegetarian options. Here's what we tried:
• Kai Yaang (half bird): game hen rotisserie-roasted over charcoal; stuffed with lemongrass, garlic, pepper and cilantro; served with sweet and sour sauce and tamarind sauce. This is one of Pok Pok's signature dishes. The half bird was the perfect amount for the two of us to share. The meat was juicy and very tasty. We really like it dipped in the sweet tamarind sauce.
• Neua Naam Tok: salad of spicy flank steak with shallots, lemongrass, mint, cilantro, toasted rice powder, and fish sauce, lime and chili powder dressing. Get your mouth ready. This one will blow your taste buds away. It's hot and spicy from the chili, earthy and pungent from the garlic and fish sauce. Loved the texture of the toasted rice powder. Big flavor!
• Pork braised in soy sauce and sugar served over coconut rice with a salad of long beans, tomatoes, peanuts, Chinese celery, cilantro, dried shrimp, garlic, lime, palm sugar and fish sauce. This was our favorite dish and the one we want to try replicating at home. It was the perfect contrast to the stronger flavors of the beef salad. This one was softer and rounder. The pork was addictive. It was smooth, softly sweet and comforting, with the coconut in the rice adding another layer of flavor. The salad added a bright zing and crunch to the softer textures of the braised pork and rice.
• sticky rice (in the little baskets)
• Thai tea with lime (instead of sweetened condensed milk; it was incredibly flavorful and refreshing)
Pok Pok has been the object of much hype and discussion and it's a hot spot. So I was curious if the food would live up to its billing. And it did. It was such a gift to be able to indulge in the flavors of Thai food again without worrying about the gluten in soy sauce making every dish on the menu off limits for me. The flavors were big and bold and powerful. Next time we're in Portland, we'll be back. Until then, I want to experiment with that pork dish at home.
Pok Pok Noi
1469 NE Prescott Street, Portland
*Note: I just noticed on their web site that starting Aug. 1, Pok Pok Noi will no longer be serving lunch. Get dinner there 5pm-midnight, 7 days a week.
Stay tuned. More from our trip to Bend coming up.