Pok Pok Perfection – Take 2!

Pok Pok

En route to an important meeting, I stopped in at Pok Pok, the Portland, OR restaurant I fell in love with last year.  Since my first visit and last post, owner and chef Andy Ricker has risen among the ranks in the chef world.  He’s widely recognized as a champion of authentic Thai food and won the James Beard award for best Northwest Chef 2011.  Well deserved, but none-the-less no small feat for a restaurant that started as a living room endeavor. 

Andy Ricker

When I last visited I was blown away by the authenticity, explosions of flavor, and scope of options – drinking vinegars and whiskey flights to crispy broken crepes (just like you’ll find in Thailand at street vendor carts).  In fact, I was so enamoured with the experience I wrote to Andy asking for advice on my upcoming trip to Thailand.  I will forever be grateful for the direction he gave me…He sent me to Baanrai Yarmyin in Chaing Mai, where I had the best meal of my life – no joke! 

Ike's Vietnamese Wings

During this visit, I was plagued with a dreadful cold and jet lag but I knew Ike’s Vietnamese Wings and a steaming bowl of Khao Soi Kai would perk me up.  Ike’s wings did not disappoint – they were as outstanding as I had remembered.  Tangy, carmelized and crunchy yet moist inside.  If you go, be sure to order them spicy and bring tissues.  The Khao Soi Kai (a traditional Chaing Mai, Thailand noodle curry soup) was not quite spicy enough, but wonderful with it’s gentle curry flavor and stewed chicken.

Khao Soi Kai

Pok Pok is good enough to make me want to move to Portland!  Run, don’t walk…get here quick!

http://www.pokpokpdx.com/

No Longer Craving Cambridge’s Craigie on Main

Craigie on Main

I visited Craigie on Main in Cambrige, MA a year or two ago with a colleague.  We stopped in for a drink and appetizer and I fell in love with the place.  It was funky, electic, and had a great menu (where else could you get a whole head served at your table?!).  From that point on I made every effort to get back there so I could experience the full shabang.  I’ve flown in and out of Boston numerous times but couldn’t quite seem to make it work until about a month ago.

Pigs Head - I borrowed this picture from Yelp

*Let me start this review by saying I debated whether or not to write it at all.  I try to be an extremely positive person and not dwell on the negative.  Ultimately I decided if I’m going to seriously share my travel and food adventures, it has to include the good, bad and ugly.  And so we begin with the undoctored truth…

Inside Craigie on Main - I was seated in the farthest back corner

I made early reservations (5:30) and intended to get through some notes and study for a big presentation the next daywhile at Craigie so I could fit it in.  Perhaps my expectations were built up too high, but it was a big disappointment.  I’d planned on having a pork-a-poolooza and even ran for an hour that morning to make up for the calorie induced coma I fully expected.

Upon entering, they seated me in the very far back, dark corner of the restaurant next to waiters milling about with nothing to do but stare and gossip- despite the fact that there was only one other table seated in the whole place.  Not a good way to start, but that certainly isn’t too big of a deal.  Unfortunately from there, the food fell flat for almost every course.

Amuse.  The waitress brought an amuse bouche of pickled cucumber which was a bit plain and uninspired.

Appetizer. I ordered the “pig tails” appetizer which I had also ordered the last time I visited.  Of all the things I tried this time, they were possibly the only thing I’d eat again.  Basically they are tails cooked with pickled peanuts, nuoc cham, cilantro.  Chewy, savory morsels of delight.

Disappointing Pork 3 Ways - I borrowed this picture from Yelp as my camera broke!

Main.  For the main course I ordered pig three ways – confit/pork belly/and ribs with a spicy crust.  The confit was a terrine-like few bites that were greasy and not flavorful.  The pork belly was good but not outstanding, and the ribs were very dry without an ounce of moisture left. 

By now, I was disappointed by the food and floored by the wait staff who were terse, wouldn’t make eye contact, and who I had to beg for another glass of wine.

Bone Marrow - I borrowed this picture from Yelp as my camera broke!

An extra bit.  I also ordered a side of bone marrow – which is a dirty, secret pleasure for me.  I was dismayed to find it somewhat cold in the center and a little stringy…I’ve eaten bone marrow countless times and have never experienced it stringy – what could they have done to it?

Dessert.  By now I was nearly ready to walk out, but decided to give it another try with dessert.  I ordered bourbon pecan ice cream tart with Mexican salt, chocolate sauce, and a bacon pecan crust.  I was certain all would be redeemed, after all how could I not love ice cream, chocolate, and bacon pecan?  This, too, turned out to be a disappointment.  It was way too cold to eat (like cutting through something frozen hard), there wasn’t nearly enough chocolate, and I didn’t taste any bacon flavor.  You know if I barely touch dessert, it has to be really bad.

By the time dessert arrived, the restaurant started to fill and began to hum with excitement.  For me, though, my disappointment was palpable and the bloom was off the rose.  I’d seen the less pleasant side of this widely acclaimed restaurant.  It was like seeing the little man behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz. 

Perhaps with the cover of full seats and lesser expectations than mine most people don’t notice the inhospitability, shabby ceiling, and less than stellar food.  Perhaps it was just an off day.  Sadly, it was bad enough I certainly won’t return.