My friends and I were lucky enough to snag a few tickets to the soft opening of Pok Pok LA, a Portland staple by Andy Ricker, now opening in LA. Since I had seen and heard so much about Pok Pok, I was super excited to taste what all the buzz was about. In the future, reservations will only be made by ticketing service, and you have to put $20 non-refundable deposit on your reservation (I don't know how I feel about that, but I understand why they're doing it).
The restaurant is located in a strip mall in Chinatown, which is a pretty depressing place to be on a weeknight. There is not much to be said about the ambiance of the location or area, but again, we're here for the food, so let's dig in:
First up was probably the best dish of the night - the Pok Pok Special. This is in the running for the best rotisserie chicken in LA. Soft, tender and just delicious. That sauce you see on the right is really sweet and delicious, and then after 2 seconds - BANG - a perfect heat that you just start craving after a while. I really loved this, and it is definitely a must order here.
DishRanker Rotisserie Chicken Score: +3
Next up was the Naem Sii Khrong Muu Thawt, sour cured pork riblets deep-fried and served with some papaya salad. These little pork bites were extra chewy, and really lacked the flavor you want from your pork ribs. Really dry too. It's a good beer drinking snack, but not really something to order here.
DishRanker Pork Ribs Score: -2
This dish came with some papaya salad, but we also got a separate full order (always have to get papaya salad), and it was fantastic. The heat on it crept up on you, especially since you take some hoping to get a relief from the other spicy dishes, but it is just the relentless silent killer on the table.
DishRanker Papaya Salad Score: +3
The signature dish at Pok Pok is Ike's Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings, and we obviously couldn't resist. You can order them spicy - and we did. These things are marinated in tons of fish sauce, sugar, and garlic and then deep fried. I'm really surprised that these are their "signature dish". They were good, but not something to be the best wings in town. They had minimal meat on them being really skinny wings, were dried up to a crisp, and the fish sauce flavor was pretty overwhelming. I still prefer the Party Wings at Night + Market, which are more saucy and include drumsticks - gotta have drumsticks!
DishRanker Hot Wings Score: +1
Here we have Muu Paa Kham Waan - boar collar meat rubbed with garlic, coriander root and black pepper, served with mustard greens. The idea is to take a leaf of the greens and make yourself a little sandwich, or what we Persians like to call, a "loghmeh", and go to town. These had a depth of flavor that was just awesome, and they had a good kick at the end.
DishRanker Boar Score: +1
This is Jin Tup Roht Dii, low and slow grilled flank steak with some salt and MSG, pounded with a sledge hammer, and served with some dipping sauces. I get the idea, but nothing to write home about. It's probably just fun watching them pound the crap out of meat with a sledge hammer.
DishRanker Steak Score: -2
My favorite of the night, along with the Pok Pok Special, was the Laap Pet Isaan, a spicy duck salad with duck liver and skin, lemongrass, herbs, and lime juice (The pic doesn't do it justice). This was served with some more leafy greens and herbs to make your personal loghmehs, and it was fantastic. The spice level was perfect, and the mix of all of those spices with fresh herbs like mint and thai basil, was just extraordinary.
DishRanker Duck Salad Score: +3
Since we were a group of 6, and everyone got to order 2 dishes, we had a few more to go. Next up we had the Sai Ua Samun Phrai, a Chiang Mai sausage with herbs, Burmese curry powder and "aromatics". It was served with a green chile dip and thai pork rinds. The sausage had a delicious funk to it, and the chile dipping sauce reminded us of a cool chile verde. The pork rinds were a nice addition to the dish. Overall, good snack food with your cold Singha, which they have on draft.
DishRanker Pork Sausage Score: +1
Our last savory dish of the night was the Kaeng Hang Leh, a curry with pork belly, pork shoulder and lots of spices. Based on this dish, I think curries might be the way to go with this place since it was pot of hearty goodness, and the meats were perfectly braised in the curry. We also saw a lot of other tables with numerous bowls on their tables. I was able to snag a piece of pork belly before the group cleaned out the pot, and it was especially tasty.
DishRanker Pork Curry Score: +2
On to the desserts - my favorite!
My wife went to Pok Pok in Portland earlier this year, and she would not stop raving about this Coconut Ice Cream Sandwich. It is coconut-jackfruit ice cream served on a sweet bun with peanuts and sticky rice, and then drizzled with condensed milk and chocolate syrup. Yea, it was that good. Night + Market does something similar, but this one blows them away.
DishRanker Ice Cream Sandwich Score: +3
The Pok Pok Affogato was a crowd favorite, where guests are invited to dip the patango, fried Thai style savory crullers (think deep-fried custard balls), into the condensed milk ice cream drowned in a shot of vietnamese coffee. A friend suggested they change the name to Pokogato - which I think Chef Ricker should definitely adopt. This was delicious.
DishRanker Affogato Score: +2
Our bonus dish of the night (since we ran of dishes, but just asked the waiter to be nice to us), was the Sangkhaya Thurian - sweet sticky rice with durian scented coconut/palm sugar custard. The custard on this was just ok - nothing special. But the the sweet stick rice on the bottom had so much condensed milk in there that it reminded me of some amazing rice pudding. They should just put that rice pudding on the menu by itself.
DishRanker Rice Pudding/Custard Score: +1
All in all, it was a decent meal, but wouldn't necessarily drive all the way to Chinatown from the Westside, especially when we have Night + Market right around the corner. Side by side, I still think N + M has the LA Northern Thai market cornered for now.