This is Pok Pok
What began as a shack serving a handful of Thai street food items now encompasses a full restaurant in chef Andy Ricker's remodeled house and the Whiskey Soda Lounge bar across the street.
This is What Pok Pok Sounds Like
The namesake Papaya Pok Pok is prepared in a wood or 50-pound granite mortar. Pok Pok is the onomatopoeia for the sound when pounding the green papaya salad in a mortar and pestle. In Thai/Spanish it's pokeando.
Tending to the Birds
Pok Pok cook Margarito reloads the rotisserie from Thailand while the glazed game hens stuffed with pepper, garlic, cilantro, and lemongrass rest.
Daytime with Iggy
Since the restaurant opened Iggy has been the man behind the hot line at lunch. On Fridays and Saturdays he has another person with him, but otherwise it's a one-man show. Here he is breaking down the station after lunch.
After marinating in whiskey, soy, honey, ginger, and spices, the ribs hit the Traeger wood pellet grill for several hours of smokiness.
Did I Mention the Wings?
Before opening Whiskey Soda Lounge, where most prep is now done, all the product had to be carried up and down Pok Pok's stairs twice. Now it's just wheeled across the semi-busy Division Street, and upstairs only once. I'm told there has only been one spill on the street. I'd lick the curry off the asphalt, wouldn't you?
Salty Sweet Addiction
On the Whiskey Soda Lounge menu, the menu description simply says, "Yes, these are the wings you have been looking for." This is the spicy version.
A Side of Peanut Sauce
This was my project every Friday for six months, and it's still happening on Fridays. Cook coconut cream until it thickens and breaks, then add curry paste, palm sugar, coconut milk, tamarind, and simmer for a couple hours, then add ground peanuts and cook longer. This is served as a side to the pork sateh. A lot of work for a side of sauce, but the initial reduction of coco cream and long cooking give it a rich, caramelly flavor.
This is what's left to do on the prep list. Prepping two restaurants, no problem. At least the wings are already done.
Local produce is far from a reality at a restaurant specializing in Southeast Asian food in Oregon. However, these Thai chiles grown by a Hmong community in Damascus, southeast of Portland, are a good example of the distant flavors coming from nearby.
Pile of Duck Liver
Angel makes short work of poached duck livers that will go into Laap Pet Isaan, a spicy warm duck salad with fried shallots and garlic, rice powder, chile powder, herbs, fish sauce, lime, and cracklings.
The humble shack where Pok Pok began can now be viewed in the upstairs kitchen by video. The two kitchens communicate via walkie-talkie to coordinate food pick-up with runners across the makeshift space. And here you thought the French Laundry (in Napa) and Per Se (in NYC) were the only restaurants that communicated via video.
Vallery eyes some tickets as the window is filling up with chicken wings. They sell 80 to 90 orders on a good night. Things are calm now, but they just fed most of the restaurant, before long tickets will be all anyone sees.
Pork and Corn
Pork Sateh with a cube of backfat sizzles over Malaysian charcoal. It's served with cucumber relish, peanut sauce, and white toast. The grill also chars an ear of local corn that will get brushed with salty coconut cream and served with a lime wedge.
A cook talking on the phone while digging into Kaeng Hung Leh, a sweet Northern Thai curry with pork belly and shoulder. It's getting cool, stomach is filling, and the night is far from over. Lines are growing, charcoal smoking, Poks pokking, birds spinning, wings frying, palates tingling, all is alive. But for some, it's break time.