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Pok Pok NY...good, not great

Wife and I tried the new Pok Pok NY on Columbia Street last night and felt it was a bit uneven. We arrived about 20 minutes before they opened at 6PM and there was already a pretty big line ahead of us. We wound up being the last to get a table with the initial seating and I already heard the hostess talking about a 1.5-2 hour wait for the rest of the line out front. Service was quick but uneven, in at least 2 or 3 instances they brought someone else's food to our table and asked if it was for us. We sat in the backyard area and it's pretty cramped, which I'm fine with for a casual restaurant like this, but at least have your servers know who ordered what.

We started with the wings which had an incredibly tasty fish sauce. They were very good but after eating 3 or 4 found the taste of the sauce almost overbearing. I definitely enjoyed them, I just don't think I could eat a full order. We shared 2 other dishes: I ordered the Phak Kad Jaw, stewed mustard greens and pork ribs. The greens were tasty, the ribs were dry and OK. Wife ordered the clay pot Kung Op Wun Sen, with prawns and pork belly over bean thread noodles. Like the wings, this dish was incredibly tasty, but it was so overpowered with black pepper that even with sharing half and half between each other,neither of us could finish our half of this dish. The shrimp were great, the noodles were tasty, the black pepper was just too much.

Those 3 dishes and 1 beer came out to about $45 + tax + tip. We generally enjoyed the meal but I can't imagine waiting 2 hours for it on a Saturday night. The 2 waitresses we asked had absolutely no idea if they would be doing take out or delivery any time soon, which if the case we'd certainly try some other dishes. I know this place has been hyped-a-million and the Yelp reviews I read so far are just gushing. I'm happy to have it in the neighborhood, it will bring more foot traffic and the inevitable overflow will also help out other nearby bars and restaurants.

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  1. interesitng, im curious to try this place

    1. We went last night about 7PM. The indoors restaurant was filled, but there was space in the unheated but dry tent in the rear. We were comfortable, wearing our coats. The first thing one notices is that the menu is written in 8 point type, not great for people with older eyes; but that does allow them to list all the ingredients of their dishes which is great for our dietary limitations (no red meat or shellfish). We had the half bird with dipping sauces, the catfish salad and the brussel sprouts both with sticky rice. We did not specify spicing levels and the chili dipping sauce for the chicken was rather mild, but the catfish and brussel sprouts were adequately hot. The brussel sprouts were great, the other were good to very good. Plenty of food for $66 including tip with one beer and one cider. The beer choices were basically SEA. The dark Lao beer I had was pretty decent.

      All in all, this clearly is the best Thai food by far in Brooklyn, but it is far from revelatory and is much surpassed by the best of Queens.

      4 Replies
      1. re: bobjbkln

        I don't get over to Columbia Street very often, but I have to do an errand nearby via car. What is the parking like on Columbia Street? Also, for future reference, is the B61 bus the best way to get there from Park Slope? (Sorry, I know these are not food questions, but any input would be appreciated.)

        1. re: parkslopemama

          Hi parkslopemama,

          I can't speak for what it's like during the week since I've never been around that area at that time.

          On weekends during the day, however, parking is pretty easy so if you're doing lunch driving shouldn't be too bad.

          Hope this helps you out!

          Ciao,

          Glendale is hungry...

          1. re: parkslopemama

            Parking is fairly easy weekdays as well, you should find a space with a block or so. It's certainly worth the drive from PS. The B61 goes right past Pok Pok, but it's far from a direct ride as the route takes you south down to Fairway/Ikea land before going up to the northern end of Columbia St. where Pok Pok is. Far more direct by car.

            1. re: parkslopemama

              Even better, we ending up *biking* to Pok Pok. Only 15 minutes, straight across the Gowanus Canal! And we were seated in the patio immediately! Biked along the waterfront to DUMBO afterwards, saw Tall Ships, etc. Great night. "Khanom Jiin Naam Ngiew" was our favorite (Northern Thailand-style vermicelli in deeply savory broth w/pork ribs, minced beef, tomatoes, dried dawk ngiew, house-pickled mustard greens, etc.) The little "dok ngiew "were new to me! Also, I agree with EJC (below) that the cocktails are unusual and interesting.

          2. Weekend waits, if you don't arrive before 6p, are pretty bad. Our party of 6, arriving at 630p on a Friday, had a 2.5hr wait. While it wasn't a big deal for us, (we just went down to B61, had a few beers, and caught up with friends) I can see how it'd be a deterrent for others. However, last Thursday we showed up at 630p, and were immediately seated. It doesn't seem like the kind of place where you worry to much about other tables food coming out a few minutes before yours, or accidentally getting the wrong plate - but those mishaps seem to also have gotten better. We noticed that the water was always refilled this last time w/o us having to ask.

            Having worked through a lot of the menu, we seem to always order the catfish laap. It's really quite nice - great balance. The black salted crab addition to the papaya salad has serious heat. Unaware that it's solely a flavoring agent, and not meant to be eaten, I started sucking on the shells - what an endorphine rush of heat! The pork laap is a nice chopped collection of all parts of the pig - not just a standard gray ground pork. The chicken wings are a better version of korean fried chicken.
            Finally - the cocktail list. It deserves mentioning. While I'd prefer a great Mosel spatlese with my spicy food - some of these cocktails are unreal in flavor and creativity. The coconut milk ones are also great for the taming the spice.

            1 Reply
            1. re: EJC

              EJC, thanks for the review...catfish laab (laab pla duk, in Thai) is one of my fav dishes, so i'm looking forward to trying their version...cheers...

              1. Two things bother me about the reception to Pok Pok NY:

                First is that virtually every professional reviewer I've read complains about the schlep to the restaurant, as if it were located in a space colony on Pluto. It's in a freaking residential neighborhood in Brooklyn, not Mars. This assumption that anyone who reads a review must live in Manhattan is grating. And I live in Manhattan.

                Second, I'm surprised by the lack of enthusiasm or interest that Pok Pok has generated on Chowhound. I agree completely that there are some execution issues, but PP offers dishes available nowhere else in the Tri-State area, that contain herbs and spices not used in any other restaurant in the Tri-State area, and this is due to the passion of Andy Ricker. I've never been to the Portland original, so I don't know if some of the inconsistency is due to the newness of the restaurant, or systemic problems. But so much that is offered is so good that it isn't even close which Thai restaurant in NY I'd go to for my first or last supper. At a recent dinner, one of the specials was a pork knuckle the size of two softballs and considerably tenderer. It couldn't have been homier or more comforting, despite the chilies and barrage of flavors.

                Despite the crowds and the schlep (for some), Pok Pok is a good thing for NY eating. And having spoken to Andy Ricker, I'm betting that it will improve, too.

                19 Replies
                1. re: Dave Feldman

                  I'm curious--what are some of the herbs and spices Pok Pok supposedly uses that not a single other restaurant in the tri-state area uses?

                  1. re: didactic katydid

                    Unfortunately, I was with a group of Thais, and the personal answers were in Thai. But I think this will give you some idea: http://newyork.seriouseats.com/2012/0...

                    I know that when Lotus of Siam-NY opened, getting the same herbs as they had in Las Vegas was a serious problem. Not only did the markets in Queens and Manhattan Chinatown not have them, but neither did East Coast distributors. Some of the herbs at LOS are grown in the Chutimas' back yard, and according to Bill Chutima, many of them do not have an English name.

                    1. re: Dave Feldman

                      I think it hasn't gotten much play on chowhound because most (or some?) of us aren't willing/ready to spend 1-2 hours waiting for a table there. I live within walking distance of the place and am totally excited that it's here, but am waiting for the crowds to die down a little before I go. Have tried a couple of times, but it's always a 2-hour wait.

                      Rest assured that once I go, I will post my opinions on this board.

                      And yes, it's the herbs and the interesting dishes that excite me, living in a city where even holy basil isn't easy to find.

                      1. re: missmasala

                        ps.

                        Agree that the assumption that everyone reading reviews lives in Manhattan is grating, but the Columbia St neighborhood is a very long walk from the train, and those that don't live around here may not understand it's up-and-coming (or already arrived) hipness. It's a little like reviewing a restaurant that opened on Avenue D and 5th street in the mid-90s.

                        1. re: missmasala

                          It's about 2/3 of a mile from the Bergen St. F stop. Closer to a full mile from the various downtown Brooklyn subway stops. For some people that's a hike.

                          What's trickier is the relative deadness of Columbia St. It's not like Smith St. with multiple bars and restaurants. The other thing is that there's not a bunch of fall back restaurants on Columbia if you decide the wait is too long. That might deter some people.

                          1. re: Bob Martinez

                            Alma, Calexico, Bocca Lupo and La Vara are within a 10 minute walk. Actually the first two options are only about 3 minutes away. Also, I must say that B61 bar (below Alma) is a mighty fine drinking establishment. So if you're of a mind to go to Pok Pok, there are fall-backs and other bars close by.

                            Of course, having said that, I haven't gone to PPN myself. I'm also waiting for the crowds to subside a bit.

                            1. re: egit

                              I doubt if the NY Times review has helped with the crowds, unfortunately. Quite a number of subways will get you reasonably close to PPN. I usually take the 2 or 3 to Clark St. -- it's a pleasant walk, although too far for people with serious disabilities.

                              1. re: Dave Feldman

                                As per the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1991, that's what this,

                                http://www.mta.info/nyct/paratran/gui...

                                is for. Yup, a person with a disability can use this service to get to and from a restaurant if he or she is eligible and the trip meets the criteria specific to the person's disability.

                                Ciao,

                                Glendale is hungry...

                              2. re: egit

                                Serious question - are any of those restaurants good? I have heard consistently awful things about Alma for years. The rest don't show up on the radar.

                                1. re: Bob Martinez

                                  La Vara is great, but it's on Clinton not Columbia. Calexico has very good burritos. Alma sucks, except the view from the roof is amazing.

                                  If the wait at pok pok is really awful, you could always walk down to Pier 6 and grab a hot dog and beer at Bark, walk up to Henry and get great Japanese at Hibino or very good bar food at Henry Public, or take a stroll into red hook and get dinner at fort defiance, good fork, etc.

                                  1. re: jon

                                    Thanks.

                                    I think your answer reinforces my original point. If my GF and I are in the mood for Thai food and then get told that the wait is 2 hours we both would become somewhat cranky if we had to eat burritos and hot dogs. Henry Public is a nice option but the menu is really limited.

                                    http://www.henrypublic.com/menu/henry...

                                    I really do want to try Pok Pok but I think I'll wait until it the first and second waves of the must-try-this-hot-new-restaurant crowds have moved on to the next big thing.

                          2. re: missmasala

                            We've eaten 3 times at Pok Pok ny, all on Thursdays . The first we came about 7 PM on a lousy weather day and got a seat in the covered back yard without waiting; the other two times we came before 6:30 and had no problem getting a seat inside. So coming early on a weekday evening seems to work fine. Note that these were all before the two star rating from the NYT, but I don't think that that will make much difference.

                            1. re: bobjbkln

                              We've eaten there twice and have never waited...but we got there at opening. Too bad they now open at 5:30 instead of 6. Got there just at 5:30 this Friday (and that was after the NYT review) and were seated in five minutes. Of course, its a drag to have to get there so early and sometimes not possible, but it was worth it. Everything we had was great, although I'm still needing to figure out how to balance the meal (in terms of not too many dishes of the same type, hard to figure out until we've tried a good sampling.)

                                1. re: Bob Martinez

                                  I assume that photo was taken before PPN was open. If so, all of those people could have been easily served. If not, they had a VERY LONG wait (as there is a covered waiting area inside).

                            2. re: missmasala

                              Hey, MissMasala. All you have to do to avoid the line at PokPok is go in the warm weather when you can sit in the back, which is lovely, and get there near opening time, on a weekday.

                              I personally found this restaurant revelatory. It's the herbs. I found the pork salad with the herb plate, the Laap Meuang, revelatory--because of the unfamiliar herbs that come with it. I truly recommend the mussels, Hoi Thawt, which had a remarkable texture balance, and the Cha Ca "La Vong", catfish and vermicelli, which left me still craving more turmeric.
                              The diversity and surprise of the flavors I ate here more than made up for the trendiness of the place itself. I do live within walking distance, and don't mind waiting, though I have yet to do so. MissMasala--I took my mom there (and if you don't know who I am, the two of you have worked together for years)--and she agreed with me, that this is the most delightful restaurant experience either of us have had since I discovered Sripraphai over 8 years ago. I may not be the Chowhound I used to be, but I am a hardcore, authentic, hole-in-the-wall devotee. Trendy or not, PokPokNy blew my mind with the clarity--and rarity--of its flavors.

                              1. re: trasteverina12

                                Well next time your mom wants to eat at Pok Pok, let me know and I'll join you. I'd be happy to go back a second time and try some different things.

                                1. re: trasteverina12

                                  I live around the corner from Sripraphai. Last night I got takeout. They make Pok Pok look like P.F. Chang's

                                  1. re: AubWah

                                    I've stopped ordering northern Thai dishes (like Khao Soi) at Sripraphai. it's not their specialty and I haven't found any that they do especially well.

                                    Aub, I'm glad you finally checked out Pok Pok after twice telling us you weren't going. What dishes did you try there that Sripraphai does better?