Update: Ping Yang Pow will officially open Friday, December 20. Opening hours: Wed-Sun, 5:30 - 10 p.m. Reservations are live at pingyangpowpdx.com
Say you want that quintessential Portland food thing: an experience, a peek into a chef’s inner world, a unique collection of dishes. What you don’t want is that other Portland thing: a tasting menu cluttered with small plates that leaves you feeling hostage to a three-hour meal.
As Portland Monthly has learned, Andy Ricker might solve that dilemma with Ping Yang Pow. Think charcoal-fired Thai eating adventure, centered around a convivial, a la carte dinner menu unlike else anything in town–served five nights a week. The plan is to open the 24-seat space around December 20. To find it, head up a flight of steps inside Pok Pok Northwest at 1639 NW Marshall St.
From any other chef, this alone would be welcome news. But Ricker, owner of Portland’s legendary Pok Pok, isn’t just a chef. He’s regarded as a force of Thai cooking and knowledge, the author of three cookbooks, the subject of a documentary (Farang), and the guy who led Anthony Bourdain around Chiang Mai.
Ricker is also one of the country’s foremost experts on Thai grilling, which makes this project intriguing. Ping Yang Pow translates roughly to “grill, grill, grill,” each word denoting a different style or technique. Ricker is so particular about charcoal, he has a side business called Pok Pok Thaan Charcoal that produces natural, Thai-Style logs—a favorite of chefs around the country.
As Ricker tells Portland Monthly, the concept is simple: a tight menu focused on quality meats, market seafood, and local mushrooms, cooked in a tiny, semi-open kitchen equipped with an Argentinian hand-crank grill, a satay grill, and an array of charcoal-fired cooking implements.
Everything will be made to order from scratch, seasoned with the simple complexity that is the hallmark of Thai grilling.
A sneak peek at the work-in-progress menu reveals roughly a dozen dishes, plus nightly specials and—I’m calling it here—the dessert everyone will be talking about next year: Ping Yang ’s “sundae of the day,” for two. Ricker imagines house made ice cream, whatever fruits look good that day, grilled bananas to passionfruit, plus toppings like pandan whipped cream and puffed rice, all served in a large boat.
Other things that caught my eye: whole smoked and roasted poussin (young chicken) basted in turmeric coconut cream; grilled mushrooms “smothered in lemongrass, shallots, mint and coriander”; khai phaam eggs grilled in a banana leaf boat with pumpkin and chiles; fresh Dungeness crab pork-fat fried rice; and, not least, Ricker’s charcoal-grilled roti flatbread. Nightly specials will run to things like grilled lobster or a whole, turmeric-rubbed branzino stuffed with pandan leaves.
While Ricker will drive the menu, he’s hired a head chef: 33-year-old Thanyawan “Thanya” Kaewket, who’s cooked at Pok Pok for the past year and a half. Ricker says he is excited to share the kitchen with her. Unlike Pok Pok’s rigorously followed recipes, which shun any and all “cook’s creative urges,” Kaewket will have leeway to bring her ideas to the table. Literally. Part of the plan is to employ a small, four-person team, everyone pitching in, serving to prepping.
Meanwhile, Ricker will also devote time to running Portland’s five Pok Pok outposts and visiting his home in Thailand, which he shares with his wife and a multitude of cats.
There will not be pre-set nightly seatings. Reservations are a must (visit pokpokrestaurants.com), but you can choose your time. Seating includes various four-tops and one communal table. There’s no bar; drinks will be tightly curated with wines that pair well with the food, a beer or two, and a couple of batched cocktails, all served in the same kind of glassware.
The idea is something of a loose dinner party, with a nimble kitchen making food to order, just for you. As Ricker puts it: “Grab a head of fucking cabbage; chop, season, cook it, send it out. It’s the finest translation of an experience in Thailand.”