Monthly Archives: July 2016

Thai Food in Portland

Portland is 72.2% non-Hispanic White and only 7.1% Asian. Given those statistics, I was extremely skeptical of Portland’s reputation of having really good Thai food. This is especially given that Andy Ricker, the chef/owner of the highly celebrated Pok Pok, is not Thai himself. (That’s not to say that non-Asians can’t be expert in a specific cuisine, as Fuschia Dunlap has done with Sichuan cuisine). Because of this, I just had to eat Thai food on my business trip to Portland just to taste and judge for myself.

Pok Pok Noi
1469 NE Prescott St.
Portland, OR 97211

Since it was a bit far for us to go to the original Pok Pok in Southeast Portland late on a Sunday night, my friend and I went to Pok Pok’s second location in Northeast Portland instead. Situated in a fairly residential part of Portland, we took seats at the counter of the cozy restaurant digs.

Ike's Vietnamese Chicken Wings at Pok Pok Noi

Ike’s Vietnamese Chicken Wings at Pok Pok Noi

It was hard to decide what item to get, as nearly every item sounded delicious (and this is a pared down menu from the original!), but I decided to get Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Chicken Wings. They were every bit as delicious as the raves on Yelp and other websites said they were. The skin was crispy and sticky with the slightly spicy fish sauce glaze. The meat inside was very juicy and infused some of the flavor of the fish sauce. There were some pickled vegetables on the side that helped to cut some of the richness of the wings. It’s not the only good chicken dish on the menu either, as the bites of chicken from my friend’s Pok Pok Special of Kai Yaang was just as amazing.

But Pok Pok isn’t just known for its food. It has more than 10 flavors of tasting vinegars as well. I got the ginger tasting vinegar, which was mixed with soda water, and it was a fabulously refreshing drink that had just enough gingery spice without being overpowering. The tasting vinegars are another good way to cut through the richness and fat of some of the dishes as well.

Nong’s Khao Man Gai
609 SE Ankeny St., Suite C
Portland, OR 97214

Pok Pok, however, isn’t Portland’s only well regarded Thai restaurant. Nong’s Khao Man Gai started in a very Portland way, as a food truck, and has since grown to a local mini chain that includes a brick and mortar store. Luckily for me, the brick and mortar restaurant was just a few blocks from my hotel, so it was a breeze to take advantage of that and grab a bite.

Nong's Khao Man Gai

Khao Man Gai at Nong’s Khao Man Gai

At the restaurant, like at a food truck, you order first. While there were a few options, I opted, of course, for the khao man gai, the Thai take on Hainanese Chicken Rice. I also got a side of steamed vegetables to make sure I got a balance of meat and vegetables. The khao man gai came out fairly quickly and it was delicious. The bits of chicken was poached excellently and balanced well by the spicy, gingery dipping sauce. While the chicken stock was a little saltier than I liked, it also provided a nice way to wash down the chicken and rice. The rice itself was cooked well too, with enough of the fattiness from the leftover poached chicken to have a nice, rich taste.

The steamed vegetables, on the other hand, were just alright. It consisted of both broccoli and Chinese broccoli bits that were steamed until just tender. While they were textually nice, they also lacked a little bit of flavor, but I suppose I shouldn’t expect more when I order just steamed vegetables. In any case, it was at least nice to have some greens to go with the chicken, rice, and sauce.

All in all, the Thai food in Portland, at least from my sampling, lived up to the hype and high expectations. While I still think there are cities with better Thai food like San Francisco and Los Angeles, Portland definitely gives those cities a run for its money. So the next time you’re in Portland, don’t just eat at their great New American restaurants like Tasty and Sons or Pine Street Biscuits, make sure to take a trip to their wonderful Thai restaurants as well.

 

Toronto & Markham

Last week I spent some quality vacation time in Montreal and Toronto for the 4th of July Canada Day weekend. It was a fun filled few days that included some exciting food adventures. While I did eat one Chinese meal in Montreal, it was decidedly mediocre. So if you’re planning a trip to Montreal, I would stick to classic French fare and local specialties like bagels and poutine than going on an Asian food adventure (Vietnamese food possible excepted).

The hub of fantastic Asian food is, instead, located west in Anglophone Canada. In the 2011 census Toronto was 49.1% ‘visible minority’, the Canadian term equivalent to ‘people of color’ excepting First Nations folk. And of the nearly half of Toronto that are people of color, nearly two-thirds of those are either of South Asian, East Asian, or Southeast Asian descent. These numbers increase when you go out to a number of Toronto suburbs, like Brampton, Richmond Hill, and Markham.

Needless to say, my Asian eating adventures dramatically improved when I hit Canada’s largest city. Below are just three of the limited samples of Asian food I was able to try on my brief 2 day stay in Toronto.

Sansotei Ramen
650 Yonge Street
Toronto, ON M4Y 2A6

Toronto 1

Tonkotsu Black at Sansotei Ramen

A friend from high school lives in Toronto and we decided to meet up and grab a bite at the Church and Wellesley (Toronto’s gayborhood) adjacent location of this well regarded local ramen chain.

With only 5-6 options, the menu was pretty simple. My friend and I both went with the Tonkotsu Black, which is a Tonkotsu broth with roasted garlic oil. The broth was fatty with a nice hint of garlic oil, but also managed not to be too heavy or overwhelming. I also got the thin ramen noodles which still had a nice bite even after being the the broth for a while. The eggs were perhaps slightly overcooked over soft boiled, but nonetheless still had good texture and flavor. And finally, the pork was thinly sliced, nice, and tender.

Overall, this was my best bowl of ramen in a while, after consistently disappointing bowls in the Bay Area.

Yang’s Chinese Cuisine
8432 Leslie St., Unit 110
Markham, ON L3T 7M6

Toronto’s suburbs of Markham and Richmond Hill are lined with suburban Chinese strip malls similar to LA’s San Gabriel Valley and Vancouver’s Richmond. It’s no surprise then that these are the places to go to get great Chinese food. In fact, suburban Toronto’s Chinese food is so good, it is considered 2nd best in North America, even better than the San Gabriel Valley.

To test how good the scene was, I decided to go to one of the newer restaurants reputed to have some of the best dim sum in the area: Yang’s Chinese Cuisine. After renting a car in downtown Toronto at 1PM, I made the mad dash to get to the restaurant before dim sum hours closed. Despite the later hour, the restaurant was still pretty busy and they managed to squeeze me at a small table in the side VIP room. I sat down, ordered my tea, and ticked off the menu for the following items:

  • Steamed Dumpling in Homestyle (家鄉蒸粉粿) – Given the rather vague name of the dish, I decided to take my chances with this only knowing that the menu said it contained peanuts. What ended up at my table was a very nicely made Cantonese style ‘sticky rice tamale’ that had some pork, Chinese sausage, and peanuts. It was pretty well executed but I was disappointed that it wasn’t quite a dumpling.
Steamed House Special Shrimp Dumpling at Yang's Chinese Cuisine

Steamed House Special Shrimp Dumpling at Yang’s Chinese Cuisine

  • Steamed House Special Shrimp Dumpling (順峰蝦餃皇) – These shrimp dumplings were pretty good with a wrapper that was thinner but pulled well. The filling was also nice, with fresh shrimp added by just a little salt and pepper.
  • Steamed Beef Stomach and Turnip with Chu Hau Sauce (柱候蘿蔔金錢肚) – On the flip side, this dish was just okay. Because this dish generally relies on the strength of the sauce to infuse into the otherwise bland-ish tasting honeycomb tripe and daikon, the flavors were a bit mild and lacked a little heat and spice.
Steamed Rice Roll with Egg Tofu and Pea Sprout Leaves at Yang's Chinese Cuisine

Steamed Rice Roll with Egg Tofu and Pea Sprout Leaves at Yang’s Chinese Cuisine

  • Steamed Rice Roll with Egg Tofu and Pea Sprout Leaves (鹽酥子豆苗腸) – The last item to come to the table also happened to be my favorite. I was fascinated on this take of the rice noodle roll and it didn’t disappoint. The delecate but well made rice noodle rolls held up perfectly bite sized morsels of fried bean curd and pea sprouts. The sweet soy sauce balanced the fresh, savory taste of the pea sprouts making every one of these bites really heavenly.

All in all the food was really good and on par with some of the best places in LA, even if it fell short of Vancouver. I was definitely very impressed by my first Chinese meal in metro Toronto.

Pacific Mall
4300 Steeles Ave E.
Markham, ON L3R 0Y5

My last stop on my Asian tour of Toronto was the locally famous Pacific Mall. The Pacific Mall is a mall about the size of a Costco with 2 floors and 100+ shops. Given the number of different shops and food stalls at the mall, I am fairly confident that this is the most Hong Kong style mall in all of North America.

Given the number of vendors, it was impossible to try them all so I went to a couple, one for lunch and one for dinner.

For lunch I settled on Kam Hing and got a deep fried chicken noodle soup. Originally I wanted the roast duck noodle soup, but they were already sold out. The chicken was okay, though in the broth the skin predictably became far too soggy. The noodles were nice however and the broth was decent and not too salty. Overall it was a satisfying, if not exactly sensational, lunch.

Afterward I headed straight over the the egg waffle vendor to get a fresh 鷄蛋仔 with the rest of my Canadian cash. The 鷄蛋仔 vendor had a steady stream of customers, which meant that the 鷄蛋仔 came out fresh and hot, but unfortunately a little undercooked as they rushed to get them out rather than waiting slightly longer to get the outside crispier.

All in all, my Toronto Asian food adventures were fantastic. Unfortunately, it was just not enough time. I didn’t even really make a dent at all in Markham, with its other big Chinese strip malls, and I never even made it to Brampton, Richmond Hill, or Scarborough. However that just means one thing: I’ll need to book another Canadian vacation soon.