As mentioned previously, Portland's Pok Pok serves a lengthy and tasty menu of largely northern and northeastern Thai-influenced food. For Oregon (and perhaps the rest of the US), this is novel, but if you've lived in Thailand for a long time, grilled chicken and papaya salad can seem about as exotic as hamburgers and French fries. Luckily, for something a bit more unusual, you can simply cross the street to Whiskey Soda Lounge.
Originally a venue for customers enduring Pok Pok's long lines, the Lounge has become a destination in its own right. Essentially a bar, but boasting a brief menu that is nonetheless rather more adventurous than that of Pok Pok, chef/owner Andy Ricker tells me that the Lounge is his effort to get people to eat more unusual dishes:
As if to prove this, on one of the days I stopped by the staff were busy making naem, northern Thai -style fermented pork sausage:
Other dishes I reckon you're unlikely to see on any Thai restaurant menu in the US include Neua Sawan, marinated and dried beef that's been deep-fried; truly tasty Sai Muu Thawt, deep-fried pork chitlins; grilled pork collar with an excellent dipping sauce; Jin Loong, Mae Hong Son-style deep-fried pork balls; and while I was there, a special of grilled pig's tail, a dish Andy and I ate up in Chiang Mai a few months back. The Lounge is a also a good place to try one of the equally unusual but tasty drinking vinegars made by Andy and his team.
On another visit, I got to spend some time helping Andy and his staff improve their take on khang pong, Mae Hong Son-style fritters of green papaya, lemongrass, dried chili and turmeric:
Doing this brought home the difficulty of making such dishes in the US. The restaurant's chefs and cooks, most following what they'd been taught previously about battering and frying, were making the dish too light and fluffy -- not flat and dense as it should be. Also, the only lemongrass that's consistently available to restaurants in Oregon is rather coarse and woody with not a whole lot of flavour. But after several attempts, and with a few minor tweaks, we were able to arrive at something that I thought was very close to the real deal.
Whiskey Soda Lounge 3131 SE Division St, Portland, Oregon (503) 232 0102 5pm-midnight Sun-Thurs & 5pm-1am Fri & Sat
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