Let me start by saying this should have been the worst dinner ever. Our 30-minute wait for a table on the patio ballooned to a little over an hour when some lingerers hung around at our table for way too long. Then, while we were eating, my best friend mistook a rather large piece of a thai chile for a kidney bean and popped the whole thing in her mouth. Then, I managed to fling a drop of holyshitwhateverwassuperspicyonthatnoodle into my eyeball. That will teach a girl to slurp carefully. (Or not slurp at all? But where’s the fun in that?)
But it was a fantastic dinner. Once we were finally seated on the patio in the backyard at Pok Pok in Red Hook, we were in for a treat. Pok Pok serves all of their dishes family style so we got four things to split: a spicy papaya salad with sticky rice (papaya pok pok), their signature chicken wings (ike’s vietnamese fish sauce chicken wings), a cold pork noodle dish (sunny’s yam wun sen), and a side of corn with coconut cream off the specials menu.
Jeez louise, they were all great. The papaya salad was cold and spicy but also fresh and tangy, and perfectly balanced by the little patties the waitress showed us how to make out of our sticky rice. But keep an eye out for the chiles masquerading as kidney beans (!) The noodle dish (also known as the Eyeball Offender) was super spicy but so, so flavorful. It was a little sour and salty, and made great leftovers the next day (yeah, yeah, we couldn’t finish our four dishes, so what). The corn was served blackened on the cob — I know you know how I feel about blackened corn, but this was exceptional — with a cool coconut cream and lime and salt. It was delicious, and that particular flavor combination has been kickin’ around in my head ever since. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find something similar on leightogreato sometime this summer…
But the chicken wings. The chicken wings were outstanding. They were sweet and tangy but really spicy. The heat would build slowly until the notes of molasses and honey were just completely overwhelmed by fire. They were, possibly, the best chicken wings I have ever had.
Another thing you should know before you head out to Pok Pok: the water is weird. When we sat down, they brought us a carafe of water and a pair of little julep cups (which made the water even more refreshing). We poured it out and each took a sip … and then stuck our noses in our glasses. The water tasted like jasmine rice. Not, like, a little. It tasted like they had soaked rice in our water. We couldn’t figure it out. We smelled the glasses, we smelled the water, we thought it was maybe in our heads. And then we finally overheard a loud table next to ours ask someone who worked there. She confirmed that they dissolve a Thai herb in the water that tastes like jasmine rice and helps mellow spicy flavors. “We don’t tell people about it because we don’t want them to ask for normal water.” Which seemed tricky, but we were curious: “What’s it called? The herb?” I mean, it might have been a little surprising at first, but it was delicious and (I belately realized) probably the reason that the water had healed my burnt eyeball like magic. “Pandanus,” she answered, “Sort of like panda anus. Actually, exactly like panda anus.” So if you’re the kind of person who wants pad see ew when you go for thai food, Pok Pok is probably not your jam. But if you’re the kind of person who’s open to pandanus and okay with just getting rice water and you would be into some bomb chicken wings, I highly recommend Pok Pok in Red Hook.
What we’ll get again: papaya pok pok, ike’s vietnamese fish sauce chicken wings, and sunny’s yam wun sen
Pok Pok NY
117 Columbia Street
Brooklyn, NY 11231