Quite frankly, Pok Pok got off to a rocky start. The 45 minute wait-time for a table wasn't an issue: everyone already knows about this ("We love you but...") So we put in our name, left our number and sauntered around the block, surveying the unfamiliar Red Hook/Boerum Hill/Clinton Yards neighborhood (it seems undetermined what neighborhood Pok Pok is actually in), anticipating great things. When we finished our lap back in front of Pok Pok, a couple in front of us who had done the same thing had lost their reservation. The reservationist swore she had called them twice on their mobile, but they never got the call. Even showing there were no missed calls on his cell phone did not get her to budge. "It's policy," she said, her face flat at The Great Wall. The pair finally surrendered, saying they'd never come back. I nervously approached her station, stating I was just checking my status, and she brightened up "Oh! We were just about to call you." Well, glad not to have had to risk some weird missed unmade vs. unreceived call, we were ushered in to a dining room, where we found at least four tables empty, and no one else physically waiting outside to fill them. This, as the poor duo who had waited nearly an hour went in search of alternate eats. Regardless of what really happened, it put a sour taste in my mouth. Luckily, all the sour from that point forward was the intentional, balancing-sweet or playing-off-salty type. So let the food begin.
But overall it boasted a piquant brightness that married brilliantly with sticky rice. The rice was a joy in and of itself, arriving smooshed into a woven box, the dense wad wrapped in plastic to retain it's form and moistness (actually, I try not to get my food that up-close-and-personal with plastic, so if they can figure out another way to do this it would be awesome). And speaking of rice, the table was set with a glass carafe and two simple steel tumblers for water... which was noticeably.... ricey. At first, I thought "is it supposed to taste like this?" but in waiting for the waiter's reply, I decided I kinda liked it that way, and hoped it wasn't just dirty rice water. Well, maybe it was, technically, but it was intentional dirty rice water, and it tastes refreshing and nourishing at the same time. In Chinese, I know the words for "rice" and "food" can be one in the same, so at Pok Pok having rice and drink intermingled didn't seem in any way strange. And speaking of DRINKS! They are simply not to be missed. If this place was closer, I think it'd be my go-to drink spot. We tried the Rhubarb Blush, a grapefruity tasting pink gem with gin, Aperol, lime juice and rhubarb bitters that seemed to instantly reduce body temperature by ten degrees, if only in my mind. Stone Fence was a little manlier, but the smoothest, suavest gentleman you could imagine, with Applejack and draft cider mixed with one of their famous drinking vinegars, Som Apple. It had so much character it made Clint Eastwood seem average.
Het Paa Naam Tok took spiciness up another notch. The salad of forest mushrooms retained a rustic texture with gently cooked mushrooms and scruffy herbs, seriously kicked with a fiery chili powder dressing. Not so hot that I didn't finish off the entire plate practically single-handedly, though. Red Fire Water Spinach wasn't as spicy as the mushrooms... unless you lanced one of the Thai chiles directly and then, in moments, it kicks you right in the back of the throat. But then again, that's what the rice is for. The menu includes fascinating little anecdotal footnotes: for this dish it describes how traditionally it is served flung from the wok and caught by the waiter on the drive-by... which would've been an exponentially more amusing delivery. Ours was just set on the table on its plate. Its flavor made up for any lack of pomp and ceremony- reminiscent of Chinese water spinach preparations, brothy and heavy on the soy with a nice edge of funk from preserved yellow beans.
Kung Op Wun Sen's footnote specified its heavy Chinese influence as well. Four behemoth Carolina white prawns hid beneath a tangled spool of bean thread noodles flavored with ginger and soy, with Chinese celery, onions and impressive chunks of fat-riddled pork belly. I liked this dish better drizzled with sauce from the water spinach, which gave it a zesty boost and lubricated the sticky noodles. Served in a sizeable clay pot, it could easily serve as dinner by itself, maybe even for two with a vegetable dish. Not to worry: it reheats swimmingly the next day.
Desserts are on the sweet and starchy side. I was kind of searching for something cool and fruity, but the cools were creamy and the fruities starchy. So we went blind with our waiters suggestion of Khao Niaw Mamuang... very authentic sounding and fruit-inclusive. It arrived as a very sweet, creamy yellow mango (not the tangy variety to which we are accustomed in America) swathed in rich, salted coconut cream and bedded in pandanus (a vanilla tasting pod) scented sticky rice sprinkled with roasted sesame. I should've asked for a lime- a bit of tang would've lightened up the concoction. But a good strong, Stumptown French press helped it down with its roasty charm.
At this point, the table next to us was finally filled.... not by the couple that walked away, unfortunately, but another deuce noticeably excited to be there. And while I totally condone the rejected pair's departure, they sure missed out on a fine repast. I feel bad that a Portland-rooted restaurant (West Coasters are supposed to be nicer than Easties!) would be so snooty and deny them- policy or no policy- especially since there were vacant tables inside. I mean, sure- I get it, from both sides. But I hope they can overcome the rejection and give it another try. Trust me, it's worth it.
Open Daily 5:30pm-10:30pm
127 Columbia St, Brooklyn, NY 11231
Phone: 718 923 9322