“… these chicken wings taste like you need another drink.”
When I heard Pok Pok started taking reservations, I made one immediately. No way I’m hauling my ass to Red Hook just to wait on a long line of unwashed hipsters – even if Chef and owner Andy Ricker opened a whiskey lounge across the street to keep us occupied until a table was ready.
I’d seen the documentary on Ricker and prepared myself for authentic Thai in a purposefully less than fine-dining interior. White table clothes? Nope. Smart move, as many well intentioned restaurants find themselves unexpectedly in the linen business, coordinating laundry, hole repair, folding and counting- which all takes focus away from the food. At Pok Pok, the food, not the ambiance, is center stage.
I have to admit I was excited, and there was no way Pok Pok could live up to what I was expecting, or so I thought.
“We obviously have to get the wings,” Kim says.
Listed on the menu as Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings, they’ve been called the best chicken wings in the country by Epicurious. Marinated in garlic, sugar, and fish sauce, deep-fried and covered with spicy roasted chile paste and caramelized garlic. The result is a chicken wing like no other, and one Ricker owes his empire to – though it ain’t particularly Thai.
Like almost everything on the menu, these chicken wings taste like you need another drink.
“That also explains the super spicy nuts they put out on the table,” I say, gulping down my second delicious Tamarind Whiskey Sour.
Kim went for the Mango Alexander, and it knocked her socks off. Mango, vodka, coconut cream and lime. Yes, please.
The corn on the cob is nicely grilled and slathered with salty coconut cream. Squeeze a little lime and these were gone before you could say “how much did that cost?”
The Lap Pet Issan is a chopped duck salad with duck liver and skin, although it was kinda hard to tell what was what. Sometimes you got something on your fork that threatened to burn your tonsils out, if you didn’t already have them removed.
My favorite dish of the night was the Keng Hang Leh, some pork belly and pork shoulder with palm sugar, ginger, tamarind, tumeric, curry powder, and pickled garlic. It had a hunk of fat on it that was, perhaps, as good as slow cooked fat can be. I tried a little with rice, a little with the pork… it made everything better.
The couple next to us was eyeing our choices, making cutesy faces to each other about how many plates we had on the table. So we ate them too and spit out their smart-phones. I think they were Chinese, or at least they tasted Chinese.
While I had a great time and would go back in a second, I did have a complaint or two. Well, not so much a complaint, but an observation. Seems like this type of cuisine is very forgiving. Ostensibly, the chicken wings were fried pretty hard, so the chicken isn’t really juicy. That dish is more about chicken skin and spices. The duck was also well done, which may be authentic, but my local palate digs softer, more medium consistencies – which I think would improve mouthfeel tremendously.
That being said, I’ll be glad to go back to try their mango salad, pork riblets, boar collar, flank steak salad, and even their whole fried fish. And maybe sample some of their other strong cocktails.
With no room for dessert (next time!) we rolled out of there with our doggy bag and fell asleep standing up on the train back home.