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 

Pok Pok NY on Urbanspoon

Yebisu Ramen


Address: 126 North 6th Street, Brooklyn NY

Phone: 718-782-1444

The city's ramen craze has finally caught on in our neighboorhood, Williamsburg. The weekend late night only ramen special at 1or8, the Kinfolk Studio pop-up "mazemen" place at Yuji Ramen and not to mention the often rotating ramen stalls at the Smorgasburg. Yebisu ramen had finally arrived and it had already become the extension of our dining room. As the maitre'd, Masa-san, said to me the other day to me, "This is your home". In the past few months, Gan and I have been getting our Saturday brunch ramen fix at the Smorgasburg Yebisu Ramen stall. In fact, we were such loyal customers that the trio: Akira, Masa, and Reiko had started calling us their favorite customers (though I think they're more amused with Gan's obsession on eating ramen, cold dry version or even piping hot ramen broth in the middle of the hot NY summer).

Yebisu Ramen had finally opened their brick and mortar restaurant this week a block away from Bedford Ave on North 6th St, a couple of blocks down from our apartment. Gan and I have been back twice, and have tried almost all the ramen offered on their menu! It's a no frills menu, with hardly any appetizer (one option: chicken salad) and no deserts. The main focus is on the ramen and they do have a few options: Miso Ramen, Shio Ramen, Shoyu Ramen, Yebisu Ramen (seafood broth) or Abura Soba that are just as good as the ones at Totto Ramen or Ippudo in Manhattan. It's hard to pick our favorite here, but we both agreed that the rich porky miso ramen stood out the most. The noodles are springy and the miso+pork+seafood broth are made to order and heated up in the wok with onions and bean sprouts. It was heavenly. The yebisu ramen (seafood ramen) on the other hand is lighter and comes with generous servings of crab legs, shrimp and mussels. Not that cheap at $17 a bowl, but I'd say it's the ultimate ramen for seafood lovers. Our you-can-only-get-it-here yaokui recommendation is to add on the really delicious soft boiled egg and char siu to go with your ramen.

So what's the secret to yebisu ramen being so amazing? Its the team! Ramen chef Akira hailed from Yakitori Totto where he used to work at as the head chef. Yebisu Ramen is actually a collaboration between the Totto group and the Chai Thai restaurant next door. I'm already plotting to convince Yebisu to serve yakitori as appetizers one day, to fully utilize chef Akira's talent! Masa-san mentioned chef Akira also makes killer desert... I think there's room in the menu to include that as well!

So to all you ramen lovers who have asked, is yebisu ramen good? The yaokuis think it is. And as our fellow yaokui friend YH accurately puts it, "Totto equivalent with no wait must be sweet"... and we couldn't have sum it up better!!

Shio Ramen 

Miso Ramen 

Yebisu Ramen (Seafood) 

Ramen Yebisu on Urbanspoon

Paul Qui @ City Grit, New York City


The first thing I told Chef Paul Qui when I had a chance to speak with him at City Grit for his one week cooking event was "I knew you were going to be the winner of top chef since episode one!" I think I may have made him blush a little, but my praises were sincere and true. Having been to Uchi in Austin, I know how exciting the food at Uchi/Uchiko is, and Paul Qui is said to be one of the most talented and creative chef in the Uchi empire. He also impressed the judges and tv audiences with his cooking on Top Chef Texas, taking the Top Chef title, and later on winning Best Chef: Southwest for James Beard award! After months of speculations as to where the chef will open his first brick and mortar restaurant (with New York city being one of the contenders), chef Qui announced that it will be Austin. It is his home after all. Since I was also promoting my neighborhood Williamsburg shamelessly at City Grit dinner, I hope he remembers Brooklyn when he is looking to expand to NYC next time!

City Grit, is a NYC supper club founded by chef Sarah Simmons that hosts a series of dinners weekly, prepared by chef all over the world. For one week only, chef Qui prepares a 7 course menu including a dessert for $95 per person at City Grit. The tasting menu is not entirely cheap but it's considered a pretty good deal for New York City standard. Starting from the first course, tuna jamon (tuna wrapped in jamon drizzled with olive oil and melon) to the lightly caramelized pork jowl served with corn, coriander and black lime, to the rice milk with coconut, panda and parsnip dessert, Chef Qui showed us why he was the Top Chef Texas winner and James Beard Best Southwest Chef award winner.

tomato water with mussel, celery and basil

The refreshing and delicious tomato water also reminded me of the one we had at the one Michelin star Alkimia restaurant in Barcelona and the sunchoke dashi with uni, squash and crime fraiche soup was "lick-your-plate" good.  Quail dish with beer, miso and strawberry was cooked and seasoned perfectly, absolutely fantastic!

Perhaps it was the lightly smoked trout that reflects his recent visit to Copenhagen. According to the chef, he was inspired by the new nordic cuisine and techniques learned while he was there, and realized that he still has so much to learn/change for his new restaurant's menu. But everyone knows that Chef Paul Qui is a genius when it comes to making something better -- like how he made a better and more creative version of the pork buns at his East Side King food truck in Austin after tasting David Chang's famous pork bun at Momofuku restaurant; and like how his mentor Tyson Cole admitted on Top Chef that what makes Paul Qui great is his ability to make a dish better than Tyson's own creation/original ideas. After finally having the chance to taste Paul Qui's cooking at City Grit, we have to say that he is definitely the chef to watch, and we are big fans. 
sunchoke dashi with uni, squash, creme fraiche
quail with beer, miso and strawberry
pork jowl with corn, coriander and black lime

Red Farm


Address: 529 Hudson Street, New York, NY

Phone: 212-792-9700


Chinese food history is perhaps just as colorful and complex as the Chinese history itself. The cuisine is approximately 5000 years old, and on a high level can be divided into northern Chinese and southern Chinese cuisine; and between these two regional cuisines, it can be further classified into Cantonese, Szechuan, Shandong and Jiangsu Cuisine. Growing up as a Malaysian Chinese who has never been to China, I won't pretend to be the expert of Chinese food but we do have a lot of good traditional Cantonese food in our country that I grew up eating. However, it's only after I moved to New York City when I was first exposed to Northern Chinese cuisines.

Compared to the other cuisines, Chinese cuisine is actually pretty adaptable; There are traditional cooking techniques that chefs will always use, but the dishes are often adapted to the local palate and preferences. You will notice differences between the Chinese food here in America and those in South East Asia, in Europe or anywhere else.

After becoming out of favor for a while (and after years of becoming just the reliable-but-not-exciting takeout cuisine), New Yorkers have once more find authentic Chinese food interesting, and have been flocking to flushing Queens, the mecca for adventurous foodies, to get a taste of real good Chinese food. As demand for good Chinese food becomes more prominent, and as people become more exposed to other types of Chinese food besides the ones you find at the takeout places, more and more good modern Chinese restaurants are making their way to New York City. Hakkasan from London and Mission Chinese Food from San Francisco should be opening here in Spring or Summer.

One of the most interesting development in modern Chinese food in New York City however, is the opening of Red Farm restaurant by Chef Joe Ng of Chinatown Brasserie and Chinese food expert Ed Schoenfel. Chef Joe Ng and co-owner Ed Schoenfeld's intention when opening Red Farm was not to create an authentic Chinese restaurant which competes with those in Flushing. Instead, Red Farm makes Chinese cuisine inspired dishes, using seasonal and local ingredients. Their main focus is to make food that is delicious, regardless whether it taste like Chinese food or not. I like that.

What I like even more are Red Farm's creative dishes that taste just as good as they look. Shu Mai Shooters, Shrimp, Scallops and Mussels with Rice Wine, Tomatoes, Basil and Very Thin Rice Noodles, kowloon filet mignon tarts, Kumamoto Oysters with Yuzu-lemon ice, 'Pac Man' shrimp dumplings, pork and crab soup dumplings are just some of the dishes we ordered when we went there last time. The Kowloon filet mignon tarts were flavorful and the beef was cooked perfectly, the pork and crab soup dumplings are delicate and juicy, just like good xiao long bao should be and the 'Pac Man' dumplings are so cute and taste delicious as well. Our favorite dish there is none other than the Shrimp, Scallops and Mussels with Rice Wine, Tomatoes, Basil and Very Thin Rice Noodles. A perfect example of combining Chinese and Western cooking technique and ingredients to create the most amazing and luxurious seafood noodles. We have similar dishes like this in Malaysia so this noodle dish at Red Farm definitely reminds me of home every time I eat it. Needless to say, Red Farm is one of our favorite restaurants right now.

The restaurant doesn't take reservation, so go early if you want to score a table!

Recommended dishes: Shu Mai Shooters, Kumamoto Oysters with Yuzu Lemon Ice, Shrimp, Scallops and Mussels with Rice Wine, Tomatoes, Basil and Very Thin Rice Noodles, Pork and Crab Soup Dumplings, Kowloon Filet Mignon Tarts.

Shu Mai Shooters
Kumamoto Oysters, Yuzu-lemon Ice
Shrimp, Scallops and Mussels with Rice Wine, Tomatoes, Basil and Very Thin Rice Noodles
Pork and Crab Soup Dumplings
Kowloon Filet Mignon Tarts
'Pac Man' Shrimp Dumplings
Red Farm on Urbanspoon

Cocoron Soba


Address: 61 Delancey St, New York, NY (Between Eldridge St & Allen St)



This tiny soba shop on Delancey Street at Lower East Side call Cocoron is probably one of our favorite restaurants in New York City these days. Cocoron (which mean "warm heart" in Japanese), makes the most original and delicious soba dish in town. When the weather is cold and freezing, nothing beats a nice bowl of homemade soba served in the most amazing broth ever. Cocoron offers a selection of cold soba and hot soba soup, but our favorite there is the stamina dipping soba with chicken meat balls -- a bowl of homemade broth and chicken meat balls served on miniature hot pot, with a plate of cold soba on the side to be dipped into the lovely broth just before eating. Normally, there is a region where a certain style of soba/ramen are from in Japan; but when asked about where stamina soba was originated, the owner proudly told us that it was a NYC creation! Thumbs up!

Just like most soba restaurants, Cocoron does not take reservation and it can get pretty crowded during week nights. So make sure you go early!

Cocoron on Urbanspoon