It’s rare when art imitates life so obviously, and in-your-face, but there I was on Saturday night in Brooklyn, waiting for a table at Pok Pok, the highly-touted Portland Thai restaurant’s new branch, inhaling the scent of lemongrass and fish sauce, when, after glancing around the rear dining room, I realized there were at least three dudes wearing Baby Björns, infants straddled to their chests. This wouldn’t have been so unique, except for the fact that this week’s New Yorker cover features plenty of dudes at the park, kids-in-tow, and the coincidence was just one of those inside jokes that only a handful of us in the room were appreciating. I guess there’s nothing wrong with struggling to lift up your laab salad over your kid’s head – as long as they’re sleeping soundly. I noticed at least three more dads with the same harness waiting for tables, while I was eating. Does this mean the working dads get strapped to the kids on the weekends in Brooklyn, giving moms a break from their week of hard work? I just wish our meal would have been as entertaining as watching these new dads wrestle with their fatherhood/foodie street cred.
I will say that owner Andy Ricker does a hell of a job writing his menus. The descriptions and stories make you want to order every dish (we came pretty close), kind of like Bayless does with his menus. The only problem is that many of the dishes lacked the oomph, punch and complexity I’ve had at SriPraPhai in Queens. Don’t get me wrong, there were highlights – the crunchy/fiery som tom (this papaya salad lends the restaurant its name, imitating the sound of women making these on the streets of Bangkok, hitting their mortar and pestle together), a nuanced khao soi filled with rich coconut milk and whole pieces of tender chicken took me back to a particular lunch I had in Chiang Mai; even the pandanas leaf-scented water and spritely pineapple drinking vinegar (available now at Publican Quality Meats) were nice. Creative cocktails were similarly fun and surprising. But too many of the dishes suffered from fish sauce overload, while others – like the pork laab salad and prawns with bean thread noodles were just bland. As hyped as the chicken wings were – Ricker also has a wing-only spot on the Lower East Side – they arrived with a fine sweet-salty and sticky coating, but I’m not sure I would rush to pay $12.50 for them again.
Even the sai ua (Chiang Mai sausage) was tough and dry, desperately needing some fat within its casing. Each dish arrived with the correct condiments, but that’s not really a big deal anymore – plenty of places in Chicago do the same – and I would happily spend my money at Sticky Rice, Aroy or Spoon before schlepping back to Brooklyn to drop an average of $14 on each of the small dishes. But this being Brooklyn, combined with the fact there isn’t a decent grandma-style Thai food option in Manhattan, means the local and national media will be all over this place like David Chang before too long.
The weekend was full of fun surprises (and a big shout-out to Ed Kim for his willingness to stuff his gullet right alongside me). After a morning of toasted sesame bagels filled with smoked sturgeon, sliced cukes and cream cheese at Ess-A-Bagel on 3rd Avenue (don’t worry Montreal, your bagels still rule the world, and I would happily fly there again to get a dozen from St-Viateur before eating the doughy, thickish versions from NYC). I’m still wondering why Chicago hasn’t (or isn’t willing) to adopt the sturgeon option rather than falling so helplessly into the lox camp. We then made our way south, through the Village and the Lower East Side, stopping in for a pistachio doughnut at the Doughnut Plant, a quick takoyaki (octopus-studded wheat ball coated in shaved bonito) at Otafuku, a perfectly-made Pimm’s Cup at Schiller’s Liquor Bar, an impulsive lunch at Momofuku Noodle Bar, where we devoured the $6-a-piece shrimp buns with spicy mayo and then gobbled up the house special ramen with tender, unctuous pork belly and spot-on sous vide egg.
There was also time for NY slice, a walk through the Hester Street Fair (which is partly where Dose Market gets its inspiration in Chicago – more fashion and food in one area than I could possibly conquer), a Spanish-inspired alfresco brunch at Salinas and a late-night kalbi run on 32nd Street (again, run-of-the-mill and no comparison to Chicago Kalbi or San Soo Gab San), but today, it’s all about the Beards. Well, actually, before the awards I’m having lunch at Le Bernardin, but we all know that’s going to be mind-blowing. The Chicago area folks I’ll be keeping an eye on – and interviewing for ABC 7′s website should they win – are as follows:
Best Chef: Great Lakes (IL, IN, MI, OH)
Girl & the Goat
Category: Best New Restaurant
Category: Outstanding Bar Program
Category: Outstanding Service
Category: Outstanding Pastry Chef
Mindy Segal - Mindy’s Hot Chocolate
Category: Rising Star Chef of the Year
Dave Beran - Next
Category: Outstanding Chef
Paul Kahan - Blackbird