Visiting Brooklyn, to me, is no different from visiting Maine, Vermont, or New Orleans... and I do not visit foreign lands without a purpose. I've been meaning to try Pok Pok since it showed up on all the top 10 new restaurant lists, but it was not until the finale of No Reservations that I gathered the resolve to ford the East River.
Well the MTA is a little more reliable than starved oxen.
Its accolades have not gone unnoticed. But can a place with 3.5 stars on Yelp and such a long wait really be that good?
With a 45-75 minute wait and a "Grade Pending", our hopes were not high. But having travelled so far, we pressed on and wandered around Cobble Hill during the wait. At least they call you so you don't have to freeze in front of the restaurant. 1 hour later, at 6:30pm, the hostess was giving new comers an estimated wait time of >3 hours.
They serve an assortment of drinking vinegars. I thought it was going to be nasty, but this Tamarind vinegar drink is actually quite good. I was the kid who saved coins to buy Warheads at the local gas station. It really isn't that much more erosive than orange juice or 7-up.
Green Papaya salad 7/10: Green papaya salads to me are either bad or pretty good, but never great. My bf tells me that this is the 2nd best after some Thai place on the east side, which means that it's better than Sripaphrai.
Pok pok fish sauce wings 10/10: Spicy. Sweet. Phenomenal. These are possibly our favorite wings ever. They are literally bone-sucking good.
Pork neck 10/10: It's the most tender pork I have ever had. Maybe with 1 exception. It's supposed to be enjoyed with the iced greens, which are also very good. The stalks look like broccoli rabe but have no sweetness. The ice makes it strangely refreshing. The pork is covered in crushed herbs and lies in a pool of sweet vinegar.
Here is a closeup of the wings and pork neck. Both are so good and yet so different. I must say that the food here leans toward sour flavors, so it might be too much if you're also drinking vinegar...
Noodles with pork spare ribs, ground beef, and tomatoes 7/10: The noodles are light, slippery, and slurpable. The airiness of the noodles bring me back to Asia. Now I want to visit Chiang Mai this winter! The meat is plain, but the soup is packed with ingredients, such as cabbage, bean sprouts, herbs, at least 2 different animals, coagulated blood blocks, and this thing:
It has strands like a piece of meat, but it's clearly a plant. It has a nub at the end that holds everything together and has a slightly herbal flavor. No idea what it is, but it's good.
My bf informs me as I type that it's Dwak Ngiew.
The sticky rice is a little dry, but can be greatly improved with the soup. We also ordered another vinegar. Pomegranate this time.
Spicy pork salad 6/10: This is a featured dish. Apparently the chef had to coax it out of an old man who had guarded this recipe for decades. It's complicated and involves lots of innards and processes, but having had the dish without the information bias from its history, I was not impressed. It just tastes like gamey pork with a lot of sauce and some crunchy fried stuff.
I am more interested in the herbs that comes with the pork. So there are the endives, basil, cilantro, something that looks like a giant dandelion leaf and kind of tasts like one, and then these three.
The curly one at the top is strange but interesting. I had 4-6 leaves before getting bored. The straighter one on the left with the diamond-shaped leaf is even stranger... I think it might be the herb that tastes like fish. I had 1-2 leaves. And then there's the crinkly one to the right that's slightly more yellow. It's really farking bitter. I bit into it and immediately gave up. You can see my saliva on the torn leaf at the far right of the photo.
I really want to yoink one of those wings!
"Chinese donut" with ice cream, vietnamese coffee, and condensed milk 7/10: I think the dipping sauce is brilliant! But the "Chinese donut" is a subpar "you tiao" which is more like a Chinese churro.
Sticky rice with durian cake 7/10: The durian is not fresh, so it didn't make anyone retch or disturb fellow diners, but on the other hand, it is a little too mild and no longer tastes like a fruit. There is also quite a bit of salt at the bottom of the rice.
I think we'll be going back to Pok Pok again. The deck sounds like fun in the summer. The commute was long but not unpleasant. As long as you arrive before it opens, the wait is under 1.5 hours, which is long but not unmanageable. If you arrive early enough for the first seating, then the wait is probably only 30-45 minutes.
Sometimes I'm just in the mood for a stroll with friends in a place far away from home. Why not in Brooklyn?