I'm a friend of Nat's from when he first started a supper club to "go eat some food on Tuesdays together" in New York City back in 2000. Along with styles such as Indian and Ethiopian, our group enjoyed Southeast Asian restaurants like Tara Thai (137 1st Ave., Manhattan), Cambodian Cuisine (87 S. Elliot Place, Brooklyn), and Tibetan Yak (7220 Roosevelt Ave., Jackson Heights). Since I moved to Bellingham, WA from Manhattan in 2003, Nat asked me to act as nonresident contributer to this blog. We both had read positive reviews of the Thai restaurant called Pok Pok, which is in southeast Portland, Oregon. So I was excited to sample the fare during a road trip (for those interested read more about my carbon offsets for the drive) to southern Oregon. I also wanted to partake in my first Khao Soi!
The Whiskey Soda Lounge portion of Pok Pok is downstairs, and there's take-out and table seating upstairs. The lounge has tight quarters, which turned out to make the meal feel more communal. Because of my fairly central location sitting in the lounge at the bar, the staff buzzed around me while I smelled and eyed the spicy tidbits near by. The wait staff and bar tender were friendly and knowledgeable about the ingredients. One waiter suggested I eat my Khao Soi using chop sticks and a large spoon, much like the variety of Japanese udon wheat-noodle soups I sometimes eat. My mild-curry brew was multifaceted, and the utensils were helpful to sift through the many layers. From the menu:
Khao Soi Kai, Northern Thai mild curry noodle soup made with our secret curry paste recipe, natural chicken on the bone and house-pressed fresh coconut milk. Served with pickled mustard greens, shallots, crispy yellow noodles and roasted chili paste. Chaing Mai specialty with Burmese origins. Vegetarian [option]
I'm sure you all know that "Kai" is a common English spelling of the Thai word for chicken. My vegetarian version contained oyster mushrooms, which were meaty and satisfying. There was fresh cilantro on the side, along with the pickled mustard greens, shallots, and roasted chili paste. I consumed all the garnishes concurrently with broth. The combination of mustard greens, tofu, oyster mushrooms, rice noodles, and crispy yellow noodles was a daring textural counterpoint, while the roasted chili paste blazed with flavor.
I also drank a glass of Thai iced tea, and a bottle of Chang beer; when I overdid a dab of chili paste, the milky tea helped extinguish the spice on my tongue. Halfway through the mixture of tastes made me feel euphoric. By the end I had feasted on the entire, sizeable bowl, but I was craving more. It's clear to me why Khao Soi is a common Thai street dish; it's an audacious and epicurean treat!
Pok PokThanks, Tom!
3226 SE Division St
Portland, OR 97202 Get Directions
For other things Thai food related, there is a fun little video on the New York Times where I talk about my first trip to Chiang Mai and extol the virtues of my favorite fruit, the Mangosteen, which you might enjoy.