Chef Andy Ricker only opened the doors to Pok Pok—the James Beard award-winning restaurant transplanted from Portland, OR to Brooklyn, NY—a couple weeks back, and it's already pretty much impossible to get into the tiny slip of a dining room without being willing to wait for a couple of hours. Housed in what used to be a mediocre Mexican restaurant on the waterfront south of Atlantic Avenue, there are perhaps 20 seats indoors. For the Luckyrice Chiang Mai dinner hosted last night, picnic tables were set up under a tented backyard for a multi-course family style meal cooked by Ricker and Chef David Thompson, the first chef to ever receive a Michelin star for a Thai restaurant, awarded to his Nahm in London.
Both chefs' interpretations of Thai cuisine lean towards the traditional, yet the flavors that came pouring out of the tiny three-man kitchen last night were unlike anything I've ever experienced anywhere. While the cuisine of central and Southern Thailand might be about the balance of the four basic flavors—hot, sour, salty, and sweet—Chef Ricker was very clear that this is emphatically not the case with the Issan dishes derived from Laotian cuisine eaten in the North.
"You're going to taste dishes that come at you from one place," he said before the meal began. "Some of the dishes are all bitter and salty. Others are all hot." Yet when all the dishes are eaten as they are meant to be—family style from a central table—the whole meal comes together as a balanced whole.
I'm not positive which dishes were Ricker's and which were Thompson's, but frankly, there wasn't a bad bite in the lot, and if this is how the food at Pok Pok is all the time, I can understand the lines. You'll probably find me waiting on one some time soon.
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.