Travel Eats: Portland’s Pok Pok and Grüner

This is part of a series of posts about my vacation to Portland, Oregon, in late February 2013.

We made a bit of a mess...
We made a bit of a mess…

Late lunch at Pok Pok

When I first decided to go to Portland, Pok Pok was the restaurant that I immediately knew I’d visit. Pok Pok (a Thai slang term for a mortar and pestle) is helmed by Andy Ricker, who’s well-known in the restaurant world as an American chef who became obsessed with Thai cuisine and has stayed fiercely committed to authentically reproducing its bold, vibrant flavors in his restaurants. Pok Pok doesn’t take reservations and is known for long wait times, so we chose to go for late lunch (served 2:30–5 p.m.) to avoid the biggest crowds. Before we knew it, every inch of our cozy corner table was filled with metal dishes and serving bowls. Ranging from deliciously sticky chicken wings and succulent game hen to cool green papaya salad and curry soup with punchy garnishes, every dish struck the sour-sweet-salty-spicy balance that’s the hallmark of Thai cuisine. And the ice cream sandwich – coconut-jackfruit ice cream, chocolate, and condensed milk on a glorified hot dog bun – was a whimsical way to end the meal.

Condiments on the table
Condiments on the table
Drink list next to the bar, complete with Pok Pok's wide selection of drinking vinegars
Drink list next to the bar, complete with Pok Pok’s wide selection of drinking vinegars
Vietnamese fish sauce wings
Vietnamese fish sauce wings
Pok Pok Special, with half a roasted game hen, green papaya salad, and dipping sauces
Pok Pok Special, with half a roasted game hen, green papaya salad, and dipping sauces
Sticky rice inside a basket
Sticky rice inside a basket
Khao Soi mild curry noodle soup with tofu, garnished with pickled mustard greens, shallots, cilantro, and chili paste
Khao Soi mild curry noodle soup with tofu, garnished with pickled mustard greens, shallots, cilantro, and chili paste
Coconut ice cream sandwich on a sweet bun with peanuts, sticky rice, condensed milk, and chocolate syrup
Coconut ice cream sandwich on a sweet bun with peanuts, sticky rice, condensed milk, and chocolate syrup

The details: Pok Pok, 3226 SE Division St.

Dinner at Grüner

Grüner, on the other hand, was a somewhat unlikelier dining destination. After coming across some excellent reviews and deciding that refined Alpine cuisine might be a fun direction to take, I made a late dinner reservation. It turned out to be an exquisite meal, with the flavors of German food that were so familiar, but presented here in an exceedingly clean and artful way. The gorgeous beet-pickled deviled eggs ranked among the best I’ve ever tasted, and we both couldn’t get over how the rabbit boudin blanc and hint of mustard simply melted into apples that were sautéed to exactly the right chew. Each component of both the jägerschnitzel entree and the walnut tart dessert married the heartiness of the Old World with the thoughtful, seasonal elegance of a cutting-edge restaurant in Portland. I also was introduced to another favorite local beer, Occidental Brewing’s Dunkelweizen, which made a great pairing.

Pretzel roll, bread, and butter
Pretzel roll, bread, and butter
Beet-pickled deviled eggs
Beet-pickled deviled eggs
Polenta croquettes stuffed with raclette cheese
Polenta croquettes stuffed with raclette cheese
Rabbit boudin blanc with sautéed granny smith apples and dijon mustard
Rabbit boudin blanc with sautéed granny smith apples and dijon mustard
Jägerschnitzel with sauteed veal cutlets, hen of the woods & hedgehog mushroom sauce, mustard spätzle, and spiced red cabbage
Jägerschnitzel with sauteed veal cutlets, hen of the woods & hedgehog mushroom sauce, mustard spätzle, and spiced red cabbage
Walnut tart with sauce bijou, bärenjäger honey syrup, and goat cheese ice cream
Walnut tart with sauce bijou, bärenjäger honey syrup, and goat cheese ice cream

The details: Grüner, 527 SW 12th Ave.

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