Pok Pok Ny


Address: 127 Columbia St, Brooklyn, NY 
Phone: 718 923 9322 
Recently, I overheard a man telling his friend that he knew someone who is planning to open a Balinese restaurant in the city. His friend asked if the Balinese restaurant's chef/owner was from Bali, and he said no. He was then asked how his chef friend learned to cooked Balinese food- did he live there for sometime or have at least eaten Balinese food? His answer, which didn't surprise me at all, was that his friend probably learned how to cook Balinese food from a cook book without actually been to Bali or have eaten Balinese food. (Note to self: Avoid new Balinese restaurant opening in the city whose chef is not Balinese at all cost!)  It's not always the case but sadly, there are chefs in the city who makes terrible South East Asia "inspired" cuisine which clearly did not work! One of the reasons why it did not work is because the secret to making good South East Asian dishes lies in the availability of fresh, local seasonal ingredients, which a lot of times are not available outside of the region. Even the so-called common ingredients such as lemongrass, lime and garlic which seem to be readily available in the US, do taste differently than those we have in South East Asia. As a result, recipes had to be carefully modified to bring back the true harmony of a dish which the original recipe has already been perfected over the years through trial and error by the locals, and it takes skill and true understanding of the recipe and ingredients to be able to do that well.

Zak Pelaccio certainly did not impress us with his so called Malaysian cooking at Fatty Crab, although Herold Dieterle fair a little better at his Thai restaurant, Kin Shop. But Andy Ricker's Pok Pok Ny from Portfolio Oregon is the one that really changed our minds on how a non-Thai chef can cook Thai food in the US really well, and in fact cooking it better than a lot of the typical Thai restaurants around town, that has modified their menu to adapt to the American tastebuds! First opened in 2005 in Portland before finally being exported to New York City in 2012, Pok Pok Ny (Pok Pok's name came from the sound that mortar and pestle makes and ny means "in the city" in Thai) is a true gem for any NY foodie who loves and appreciate good Thai food that are not modified in any form for the sake of just selling food.

Before having a brick and mortar restaurant, Pok Pok actually started out as a bbq shack set up outside of the chef's home in Portland, which later on expanded to an actual restaurant (and more) because the food was so good. The legendary Pok Pok madness finally arrived in our area in 2012 with Pok Pok Wings opening in Lower East Side (Pok Pok Wings is now closed and reopened as Phat Thai that serves only Pad Thai) and Pok Pok Ny opening in Brooklyn. Chef and owner Andy Ricker's journey to discovering real Thai cuisine (specifically Issan food, from the Northeastern region of Thailand) began when he traveled to Thailand and his friend brought him to a local restaurant to try a wild mushroom dish that was only available when wild mushrooms are in season. From there he realized that Thai food is much more than the typical Pad Thai and Green Curry that he is used to, and it can be seasonal too. He then became an avid student of the cuisine and went back to Thailand every year to learn how to cook. Local chefs there were willing to share their recipes and skills because according to the chef, since he's not Thai, he's no competition to them. Thanks to that and thanks to the chef's passion and relentless pursuit of perfection in the cuisine outside of Thailand (he's famous for only using fresh ingredients that he can import from Thailand or replicate exactly the same way here), we were finally able to get such good Issan food in NYC.

Pok Pok Ny is opened daily from 5.30pm-10.30pm, and there's usually a wait since the restaurant is tiny. Expect to wait more than 1 1/2 hour during the weekends, but once you've survived it, everything on the menu is a treat. Go early on a weekday and you can perhaps get seated in just a few minutes. True to the yaokui style, Gan and I ordered any dishes that stood out to us, which meant that we ended up with 5 entrees and a dessert for the two of us. We had the Khao Soi, a Northern Thai curry noodle soup similar to the Malaysian curry laksa, with chicken instead of prawns. That dish was by far our favorite and it's perfect. Pok Pok Ny prepared their Khao Soi using house-pressed fresh coconut milk and their own curry paste, which is how it's done back home, and they got it right. We also ordered their famous Ike's Pok Pok wings, which has the perfect blend of sweet and sourness, they were finger licking good. The Yam Makheua Yao dish, which is smokey grilled egg plant drenched in a spicy dressing made with fish sauce, palm sugar, chili and lime was a tease to our tastebud. Imagine babaganoush with papaya salad dressing. Delicious! Dessert was a nice plate of Mango and Sticky Rice soaked in luxurious house-pressed fresh coconut milk. Everything was so fresh and we were very satisfied. The only blemish of the night though was the Cha Ca "La Vong" dish, which is actually a Vietnamese (Hanoi specialty) dish and not Thai. We felt that the dish just didn't work for us as the turmeric marinate was too strong and there were too much dill on a small bowl. We can only hope the real dish in Hanoi is not like this one.

That aside, Pok Pok Ny and Chef Andy Ricker (who is James Beard's award 2011 Best Chef Northwestern) deserve a thumbs up for cooking Thai food so beautifully, and respecting the ingredients that makes Thai food amazing. I'm sure Thais who grew up in Thailand would think that it's outrageous to charge so much for "commoner" Thai food at the Pok Pok restaurants, but for us here in New York, the cost of getting the best bowl of Khao Soi is still cheaper than flying to Thailand to eat it. So the cost is totally justifiable.
Khao Soi - Northern Thai mild curry noodle soup made with Pok Pok Ny secret curry paste recipe. Amish natural chicken on the bone and house-pressed fresh coconut milk. Served with house pickled mustard greens, shallots, crispy yellow noodles and roasted chili pasta.
Ike's Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings- Fresh Amish natural chicken wings marinated in fish sauce and palm sugar. deep ried tossed in caramelized fish sauce and peanuts made to order in the pok pok (mortar and pestle).
Cha Ca "La Vong" - Vietnamese Catfish marinated in turmeric and sour sticky rice, fried in turmeric oil with scallions and dill, served on rice vermicelli with peanuts, mint cilantro and mam nem.

Yam Makheua Yao - Smoky charcoal grilled long eggplant salad with spicy dressing of Thai chilies, lime, fish sauce, and palm sugar. topped with boiled egg, dry shrimp, shallots and crispy garlic 
Sticky rice and mango dessert 

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