Call it a pilgrimage if you like, tonight’s dining experience is no less than a holy act as far as I’m concerned.
As anyone who’s anyone knows, Pok Pok is THE absolutely, nonnegotiable, must-visit restaurant in Portland. Whether you’re in town for a few hours or to make a life, Pok Pok damn well better be a first, if not the first stop on any visit to Portland.
Just ask my friend Andrea Wolf; after years of cajoling and lobbying, Andrea came out to Portland for a long weekend hiatus from Nashville. Arriving late after a whirlwind week of coast to coast travel, naturally my first question was (as any good Southern-raised host knows) “are you hungry?” Thank my lucky stars the girl brought her appetite along with wet luggage on that 10 hour journey: to Pok Pok we alighted, post-haste!
Upon arriving we (well, I) ordered at least 4 dishes, fruity som (drinking vinegar–better than it sounds) and proceeded to gorge ourselves. Before we’d even finished we both paused, looking across our plates and silently, knowingly and wholeheartedly agreed that just one order of Ike’s fish sauce chicken wings was not enough.
Seconds ordered, then rapidly consumed and faces stuffed, Andrea turned to me and said “we’re going to eat here for every meal, right?” I knew she was 100% serious; for this was a woman who had had her first taste of the holy magic that is Pok Pok and she needed more.* I don’t know if Chef Andy Ricker sold his soul to the devils at a midnight crossroads to cook like that (it was worth it!) or worked his way out of indentured servitude in this very Chiang Mai kitchen. Whatever the case, his cooking is sublime and so too it the case here at SP Chicken. And my ordering is proceeding much like it did that night with Andrea in Portland. (When at the fountain of the Gods, drink up!)
At first I ordered the Thai papaya salad (spicy) with dried prawns and then the cashew chicken with green onions. And a green fanta. Upon my first bite of the salad I realized Pok Pok is taking it easy on us farang. Don’t get me wrong, the Pok Pok salad is fiery hot but this, this waltzes into that special title I reserve for the most spicey, unquenchable and full-body-sweat-inducing heat that only comes with dragon’s breathe. Yum. I’m going to need more food.
With that I ordered the BBQ spare ribs and a side of sticky rice. Just as the salad was of familiar culinary heredity, the rice was too; a picture perfect resemblance to the cant-put-it-down sticky rice of Pok Pok. I would have liked a little more sauce, marinade or flavor in the ribs but I do declare that they were succulent, juicy and crisp: heavenly with a puff of clouds and cherubs playing harps.
Was it the best food I’ve ever had? Maybe not. Was it transcendent none-the-less? Without a doubt.
Alas, no amount of desire can change the fact that I have but one gullet. I’ll have to save the rest of the menu for another day (or three, or ten–maybe every meal til I leave CM!).
*pok pok is in the opiate food group: potent, causes sweats and highly addictive