4/19/2012 03:33:00 PM

Pok Pok NY Day One: Andy Ricker Does Thai in Brooklyn

Portland chef Andy Ricker has developed such a devout following for his authentic take on Northern Thai cuisine at his restaurant in the Pacific Northwest that he could have opened in New York City with a huge splash. Instead of building deafening buzz and leveraging his reputation for a mega-watt debut (à la the similar Thai import whose NYC branch promptly flopped), Ricker has decided to go the quiet route. His Pok Pok NY opened last night in a completely out-of-the-way area of Brooklyn's Columbia Waterfront District.

Even though the place is teeny on the inside and a 15 minute walk from the closest Subway (the F, G at Bergen, for those keeping score), plenty of in-the-know foodies turned out to check out his fare. We schlepped out on day one, take a look to see what we found. P.S. who knew that drinking vinegars could be so refreshing after a schlep.

The Space: We'd describe the joint as a hole in the wall if the crowd outside didn't tip us off - we arrived around 7:30 PM and were promptly told that it would be a 35 minute wait for a chair. Funny, there were only about seven barstools and maybe 10 blue-and-white tables, it seemed like it would surely be longer than that with all the people milling about the door. (Note: do not let those people think you're cutting them - they bite).
We were told to head to the "waiting area in the back" and walked around the restaurant on a concrete driveway. Ahhh, so that's where all the space is. The back room, or we should say back tent, is a much larger outdoor dining area with plenty of tables. There is a little corral area where folks who are waiting for their turn can cop a squat (and claw at the waiter when he comes by to place a drink order).

If you don't want to stand in the corner and glare at all the Thai deliciousness being served around you, the restaurant will take your cell number and you can go have a brew or three at the neighboring Italian restaurant (which, besides Ricker, will surely be the biggest beneficiary of this opening).

The Food: So. Much. Food. We had trouble deciding what to order, but no worries there. Everything is priced around the $10-15 mark, so you can have numerous dishes without breaking the bank, especially since most options are meant to share. There are one-plate meals like a brothy curry with beef, vermicelli noodles and pork and interesting vegetarian dishes like a smoky eggplant topped with a boiled egg and chilies. Check out the full menu here.

The Drink: Yeah, the cocktails were well and good, but the real thing to try here are the drinking vinegars, which are a Pok Pok signature. We're not even sure how to describe these sugary, non-alcoholic concoctions that come in flavors like pear and pomegranate. We can only say that they were the exact opposite of what we expected (read: we thought they would be disgusting and they were anything but).

The Uniforms: The knowledgeable staff were all clad in Pok Pok T-shirts as they walked through the tight quarters, politely announcing that you need to get your ass out of the way ("on your left,""right behind you"). A few of them had small walkie-talkies clipped to their shoulders, kind of like a cross between a Secret Service member and Old Navy employee.

The Crowd: We were surprised, as in our experience we see a lot of food-world groupies during the first day at major openings (takes one to know one, natch). Pichet Ong was in the house, but the only other notable we saw was a baby, who didn't seem put off by the heat lurking underneath some of the dishes. It was a local crowd on the first day, which was fitting because despite the chef's reputation, this really seems like a locally-geared joint.

The Ricker: Chef Ricker was hard at work in the bustling kitchen - we saw him when we peeked inside on a trip to the bathroom. Note to those using the bathroom - watch out for those swinging kitchen doors when you are standing in line for the loo. If Batali could popularize crocs, perhaps Ricker can bring back the triangular, paper hat that he was wearing, which seemed taken from the head of a short order cook from a 1950's diner.

The Details: 127 Columbia St.; Brooklyn

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