If you have never heard Lou Reed sing “Heroin” (“Heroin, it’s my wife and it’s my life”) on Velvet Undergound’s first album, “Velvet Underground and Nico,” you should have a listen. In protopunk style, Reed nails the junkie insanity of anticipating his fix then rushing through his run and falling back to earth again–pathetically and inevitably. Reed lurches through high-low lyrics culminating with crazy-bowed strings and heartbeat drums ascending in a wild dash, followed by a final crash.
What the hell does any of this have to do with food? Well, it is the best way I can relate to Andy Ricker’s new Pok Pok dining room, or more accurately, the over-syllabled Whiskey Soda Lounge. The place has only been open for, what, two months, and I’ve been in a dozen times so far with “more” as my sole and recurring agenda item. There have been multiple lunches and dinners and one late nighter with only a few other crazies in attendance, most of the food bloggies having already tucked into their keyboards or under their covers after the usual gotta-beat-the-crowd, early-in-early-out meal.
The helluvit is I can’t stop thinking about the place and all the truly great dishes they are dealing. The anticipation builds, then I go and sit and eat until I’m full and have to stop and then go home and start thinking about the dishes I have had and the others I have not tried yet, then I contemplate going again as soon as I possibly can because I must. It is nuts, I admit, but I am a Pok Pok junkie.
Top to bottom, this stuff is as good as it gets. Sure the pork (Muu–should be Oink–Sateh, $7.50) and lamb (Yang Rou Chou’r, $8) skewers aren’t eye poppers, but damn near everything else is. Let’s take that broken crepe with mussels and egg (Hoi Thawt, $9). Now, usually I’ll skip the multiple varieties of food you can eat with no teeth, but this dish could inspire a passionate love for the plump and lowly mussel. The Tom Yam ($9), too, could easily be another cliche version of the same hot and sour soup you can get at 100 Thai joints anywhere. At Pok Pok, the only criticism is that the stuff is a pain in the ass to eat, especially mid-jones, because it is jammed so full of hard and fibrous flavor enhancers–the lime leaves, galangal chunks and lemon grass stalks. Picking through the flotsam, though, reveals a broth of cascading complexity and serious heat. God, I am dreaming of that soup.
Not to stop there. Sweaty withdrawal begins half an hour after bonepicking through a dozen or so Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings ($8). Fried, salty and sweet, they hit all the palate’s pleasure buttons. I’m waiting for a cover version of these to appear over at Fire On The Mountain with a side order of Jerry Garcia noodling cosmically in the background. Even the little bowl of lightly salted skin-on peanuts for a buck, spiked with lime leaves and smokey dried chilies, leaves you craving more when the bowl is empty. Completing a night’s run, the desserts also inspire irrational adulation. Not many places can serve you a combination of familiar and strange fruits, plus a toss of chili and salty and tangy accents (Som Tam Phonlamai, $6), and leave you staring at an empty plate, wondering how it could be gone so fast. (Sadly, this dessert has exited the menu. It was apparently too radical for most tastes. Bummer.) There is nothing wrong with the Pok Pok Affogato ($6) either, a scoop condensed milk ice cream melting sweetly in a wading pool-sized cup of espresso.
What am I leaving out? Maybe it is the specials that flit on and off the back black board, and in and out of consciousness, with Andy’s passing whims–and, oh, about three-fourths of the regular menu. Take the hint, though, there is no bad shit here-only the sullen emptiness when the party is over or has not yet begun again. Speaking of, there is another junkie song on that Velvet Underground album called “I’m Waiting For My Man.” Lou Reed sings:
“Hey, white boy, what you doin’ uptown?
Hey, white boy, you chasin’ our women around?
Oh pardon me sir, it’s the furthest from my mind
I’m just lookin’ for a dear, dear friend of mine
I’m waiting for my man.”
Curse you Andy Ricker–Pok Pok is my life.
- Phone: 503-232-1387
- Address: 3226 SE Division, Portland, OR 97202. Google Map
- Hours: To Go Shack: Monday-Friday 11:30am-10:00pm, Saturday Dinner 5:00pm-10:00pm
- Whiskey Soda Lounge Hours: Monday-Friday 11:30am-2:30pm, Monday-Saturday 5:00pm-12:00am
- Website: PokPokPDX.com
Late night menu after 10:00pm. See website for details.