White folk can’t dance or jump, but they’re hard to beat when it comes to cultural appropriation. To the list of stuff white people like to do, you can add cooking Asian food. New York’s preference for authenticity once made it a rarity for western chefs to take on eastern cuisine, but more and more big names are trying their hand at the canon. It’s not just about obsessing over Thai food, either. New York palates are expanding, with Balinese, Yunnan, and Filipino flavors now in the mix. To see where the city’s top chefs are rocking the wok, click on over to our latest Top List and check out the city’s best western chef/eastern taste mashups.
If you were biding your time to try Andy Ricker’s famous Pok Pok Ny until the hype, and the lines, died down, you bet wrong. With today’s two-star review by New York Times writer Pete Wells, Pok Pok is still all anyone can talk talk about. Who ever thought Thai food would be all the rage?
While the ubiquitous fusion food trend tends to strike Asian cuisine the hardest, Ricker’s straightforward menu doesn’t cross any boundaries. His solid Thai cuisine first gained a following in Portland, where he opened the original Pok Pok in 2005. There, he went on to open Pok Pok Noi, Whiskey Soda Lounge, and soon he will add another restaurant to the line up. That’s not all, in 2011 he won the James Beard Award for Best Chef Northeast, and this year he debuted Pok Pok Wing in the Lower East Side before opening Pok Pok Ny in Brooklyn. The people have been queuing up since.
Of course, despite the hype, Pok Pok Ny isn’t perfect. Wells writes in his review:
There are other ways in which Pok Pok Ny hasn’t synchronized its watches yet. An order went missing for ages, then showed up in duplicate. And one night I ran into two or three dishes whose flavors seemed to be napping, including a fried egg salad and even a papaya salad. I left downcast, humming Peggy Lee: Is that all there is?
No, it’s not. In my next visits I was thrilled to taste more remarkable dishes than the table could hold: prawns in smoky noodles simmered with soy and ginger in a clay pot; an eggy pancake of juicy, sweet mussels with garlic chives; a stunningly complex pork laap. Compared with other pork laaps I’ve had, this one seemed to have eight or nine extra dimensions. The memory of it will be enough to keep me docile next time I wait for a table.
In the meantime, if you want to good, authentic Thai food without the wait, try Zaab Elee, which not only is authentic and delicious, but inexpensive. For a modern twist on Thai, chef Hong Thaimee does some amazing things with papaya and lobster at her East Village restaurant Ngam. And, if you really want to go the extra mile (literally), go to Queens and eat at chef Duangjai Thammasat’s Ayada in Elmhurst or Sripraphai in Woodside.
It says more about New York’s reputation than it slights the West Coast that two beloved Asian outfits, Portland’s Pok Pok and Frisco’s Mission Chinese, have taken their talents eastward. Pok Pok NY, the Thai standout from notably un-Thai chef Andy Ricker (of Vermont), opened last month on the Columbia Street Waterfront (the original Pok Pok will continue its tenure as a Stumptown establishment). Ricker made a soft debut in March with Pok Pok Wing, a dorm room-sized munchie spot on Rivington.