Before our recent trip to Portland, there was not enough good things I could say about Pok Pok. And as time went by I became even more excited. You see, from the little "shed that could", the Whiskey Soda Lounge had evolved, with a more interesting and diverse menu(no worries...Pok Pok "to go" is still there). I could hardly wait. As I noted in my previous post, this was mainly a trip for my In-Laws, but the Missus and I made plans for at least one meal in each city just for us. And for us, this meant catching the #4 bus, and getting off on SE Division.
Knowing that the Whiskey Soda Lounge didn't accept reservations, we made sure to get there as early as possible. We saw the sign, and the path that traveled down a short cement path to the basement and the Whiskey Soda Lounge. It was quite interesting, the last time I visited this was just a ditch!
The tall gentleman met us at the little portable metal desk, and said simply, "this way", and walked us into the Whiskey Soda Lounge.
I liked the dark and "divey" interior which does play on the imagination, I could almost imagine being in a foreign land.
This is where we hit a bump in the road. I can understand the close proximity of the tables in the WSL. I mean, it is a basement. When we arrived, only 3 tables were occupied, and there were several booths against the back wall, each unoccupied. We were taken to what must be the second tiniest table in the restaurant, right in front of the window where you could see some of the cooking done in the yard. Because the booths were empty, the Missus asked if we could have one of the booths. The tall gentleman looked down at us, and crossing his hands said, "no, absolutely not, the booths are for parties of 3 or more." Which was fine by us...EXCEPT, that not 5 minutes later a couple walked in, and was seated. They asked to sit at the very booth that we had been denied, and the host told them, "ok, no problem!" Go figure.....the Missus, a bit perturbed told me, "okay, you got your restaurant...we're going to eat, and leave, A-S-A-P!" She obviously felt slighted, and didn't appreciate the Host's somewhat gruff attitude.
So off to the food. Of course we started with the Papaya "Pok Pok" and requested Blue Crab...oops, correction, we were told Salted Black Crab($7.50 + $2.50):
As good as I remembered, very balanced in flavor, a nice refreshing salty-sweet-sour in flavor. Still one of my favorite versions of this classic dish.
The Kung Op Woon Sen($14.00). We could watch this clay pot dish cooking over charcoal through the window.
A nice dish, at the bottom of this clay pot was a layer of pork belly, nice and slightly charred, and several very large shrimp, though very mild in flavor, cooked to perfection. The flavor of soy came through quite well.
I was very excited to see Cha Ca "La Vong" ($14.00)on the menu. This dish is one of those, "to have before I die dishes." Of course it would have to be at Cha Ca La Vong in Hanoi.
In retrospect, I should have probably ordered something else, perhaps the Pork Ribs or Chicken Wings. I did enjoy the dill and all the herbs, but I found the "tumeric scented" catfish to be very dry, and the version of nuoc mam cham tasted very weak. I had expected some Mam Tom - fermented shrimp paste to be provided, but should have known better. Some friends recently had their Mom make some Cha Ca for the Missus and I, and it is an amazingly good dish. I did notice that the Cha Ca is no longer on the menu at Pok Pok WSL.
Would I return to Pok Pok? Of course, I think the food here is quite good. Though it'll probably be a solo visit. It seems that Andy Ricker's hard work has paid off, I found out courtesy of Guilty Carnivore, that The Oregonian has named Pok Pok it's restaurant of the year.
3226 SE Division St.
Portland, OR 97202
You know, I think that what happened to us at Pok Pok was magnified, simply because of how nice people were in Portland. Case in point, we were waiting for our cab to Union Station from the Embassy Suites. It was raining pretty hard, and we had been waiting for about 15 minutes. Before you knew it, the Shuttle Van for the Embassy Suites pulls up, and the nice Bellman comes out and tells me, "we're going to take you to Union Station, your cab is taking too long!" Talk about service!