Lucky Visit in 2019
Today I'm remembering a unique dining adventure, that I failed to write up! Back in October of 2019, we lucked into a memorable meal at Pok Pok, in Portland.
Don and I were visiting our daughter and son-in-law, when Heidi managed to come up with last minute reservations. Little did we know, that exactly a year later, Pok Pok would close down. The pandemic was just part of the reason.
Heidi gave us the scoop before we arrived. Chef Andy Ricker opened Pok Pok in NW Portland, in 2005. Although he wasn't Thai himself, he specialized in Northern Thai cuisine, specifically from Chiang Mai.
There's much more to his story but basically, his food and authentic approach, became a hit quickly. Before long, Chef Andy opened other locations in Portland, as well as Brooklyn, Los Angeles and Vegas. There were James Beard Awards and he was featured on Anthony Bourdain's show.
The Original Pok Pok
Our visit in 2019, was to the original Portland location. The little eatery didn't look all that impressive when we arrived. There were colored lights and the lit up sign, with mortar and pestle image.
The patio was enclosed in plastic, long before the pandemic made that common. It looked like a place that might be featured on Guy Fieri's, Diners, Drive Ins and Dives show. And it actually was.
We arrived before 8 and there was no line. We'd heard a wait of two hours was not uncommon.
Memories of Chiang Mai
We 4 were excited to sample some popular dishes. Less than 2 years before, we had visited Chiang Mai and had been impressed with the unusual North Thai cuisine.
The photos above were taken on that visit. It was January 2017 and we had traveled from Bangkok, after the wedding celebration of our son and his new bride. It was wonderful having Chali's family, guiding us through many feasts.
Cozy Feast in Portland
Two years later, (just months before the pandemic) Don and I headed up the stairs with Heidi and Jamie and squeezed into a tiny room that I assume had once been a porch.
Our table practically touched the other 2 tables in the space. We wished we could have magically made the 2 dining couples disappear. Then we could have magically added Scott, Chali and her family to our gathering. It was sad not having them with us.
It was hard to believe we were in Oregon, not Thailand. Our server Matty, brought dishes that looked exactly like ones we remembered eating. Even the tablecloth reminded me of some we'd dined on. And the water tasted of coconut. Or was that my imagination?
Even the curious choice of music was memorable. It was full of surprises... like some of the music that amused us on our trip. Thai Pop? There were voices that sounded like high pitched Disney characters. Then suddenly we were listening to American Pop music. Elvis!? It was all part of the curious atmosphere!
My Khoa Soi
In a few minutes the other tables vacated and we were able to relax and push our chairs an inch from the table. Suddenly our hushed voices were normal voices, raving about our food.
We had a number of Khao Soi orders at the table. My bowl was filled with 2 pieces of chicken on the bone and slurpy, slippery noodles, all swimming in an incredible sauce. Cilantro and crispy noodles on top! The plate of lime, onion, bok choy, pepper paste, allowed me to dress it up, just like I remember doing in Chiang Mai!
A Photo from Chiang Mai
I dug out these old photos of our first Khao Soi feast, back in 2017.
The broth looks less thick, but oh how I remember the amazing flavors. And lucky for me I was born with genes that love cilantro! I was excited to add my own ingredients!
The papaya salad was a hit! Long beans, fried shrimp, peanuts, Thai chili, lime juice, palm sugar, tamarind... and papaya of course.
The fun bit, was how a mortar and pestle was used to pound the papaya with ingredients. The pounding sound of "pop-pok" is how the restaurant got its name!
Kaeng Hang Leh Pork Belly
Don made an impressive choice when he ordered Kaeng Hang Leh. This sweet pork belly and pork shoulder curry, is a rich and exotic Chiang Mai classic, also.
It came in its own little iron pot, with a container of sticky rice.
Matty was our wonderful server. She was from Bangkok, but said she had never been to Chiang Mai until after she started working at Pok Pok. She said Chef Andy had a very big house there.
Matty said she was happy to be in photo and offered a gracious bow. I'm not sure how I managed to blur so many photos!
Don did a decent job of saying thank you in Thai. Khop Khun Mak Kharab. I hope I got that right. Matty was delighted with the attempt. And she was even more excited when she heard we had all been to Thailand.
Sharing a Photo
I shared a photo on my phone of Chali and Scott's wedding and she smiled and studied the image for a while.
As we left the restaurant that night, we knew we'd have to return another time, when we had more family together in Portland. It's now sad to know we can't do that.
All the Pok Pok restaurants have closed, with no plans to reopen. I guess that means we need to pull this group together for another trip to Thailand! I'm game!
Thai Food Adventure with Chali
When Scott's girlfriend, Chali was in town we were eager to search out the most authentic Thai food we could find. Chali grew up eating Thai food, cooked by her mother and she's also spent much of her life in Thailand. Figured we'd venture away from our neighborhood favorite, Thai Cottage...all the way to the Heights for our dining experience!
Asia Market is really a tiny food shop (on a rather run down part of W. Cavalcade St.) that also prepares meals. On the internet I noticed "grungy" and "hole in the wall" being used by reviewers who also adored the flavorful dishes. As you can see in the photo, the tables are squeezed into the front of the shop where you can eye stacked bags of rice and crowded shelves of goodies while you dine! 3 bonus points for the browsing possibilities! I would not use the word grungy! It just felt like eating in a friend's cluttered home.
Papaya Salad!! Chali was very excited about this, because it is not always served in Thai restaurants. It looks like noodles, but is really shredded papaya with shrimp. We shared this cold dish, using the plastic goods at a nearby table where you also help yourself to condiments and sauces and pitchers of water. Again, I felt like I was getting up from my kitchen table to serve myself from the fridge! Comfy...not grungy!
Another thing Chali was fairly giddy about was sticky rice. I guess it's harder to make than steamed, so her mother doesn't make it as often. In the photo she's teaching Scott to use his hands.
Now about chopsticks... for years I thought using chopsticks in a Thai restaurant showed your ignorance. Chail says she uses them for noodle dishes. 3 bonus points for what I learned!
Tom Yum Soup
I ordered Tom Yum Soup with chicken for my main dish. I am a big fan of coconut milk, so this was a treat! The soup was packed with chicken, veggies and spice. I had heard food can be pretty hot here, but this was just about right. I had a little water in my Styrofoam cup, just in case!
3 points for Tom Yum soup! I actually had enough left over for lunch the next day!
Don is looking very sly about his Pad Thai! We certainly can't give him any bonus points for trying a new and unusual dish, since Pad Thai is about the most common of dishes in Thai restaurants. But he said it was quite tasty!
The photo hardly gives a peek at the other diners, but with only 8 tables you wouldn't expect much people watching. However, by the time we left all the tables were full.
3 points for a very eclectic crowd of diners (as well as food shoppers) We had a policeman and UPS driver. We had a curious Johnny Depp/Carlos Santana guy. A surfer dude trying to dress for business... Less than half the crowd was Asian, which was a bit surprising since the store attracts customers seeking Asian ingredients. But all in all there was a likeable feel to the curious characters we dined near!
Our server Phloi (sp?) added many bonus points to our meal adventure. She was very delighted to learn that Chali's mother is Thai, but even more delighted when Chali told her that her parents had almost named her Phloi!
2 bonus points for Phloi!
Hearing the Thai language certainly added to authenticity. I couldn't understand a word, but wondered why Chali anwered a question with "Nit noi". (that's the name of a Houston Thai restaurant) But Chali said she was just answering Phloi's question of "how spicy?" with "a little bit."
5 Bonus points for Chali helping us have an authentic adventure!
TOTAL OF 19 POINTS FOR ASIA MARKET!
The Dining Blog
This is a blog about Dining Adventures. Sometimes, I talk about food. Below, you can read how this started.
On July 4th 2011, I set a goal to try 50 culturally diverse restaurants in one year! (I knew that was possible, living in the Houston area) I spent the year pulling in friends and family to join me, on some unusual dining adventures. I met some curious people, tried some scary foods and explored places and cultures I never would have otherwise. Even though I met my goal, I learned too much to end my adventures in dining. I have continued blogging about memorable dining adventures of all kinds, near and far... and all the discoveries and funny things I've learned along the way!
Locations and types of dining adventures, are listed further down.