Last week, six-time James Beard Award-winning author Ruth Reichl passed through Portland to give a lecture at OSU's Food Innovation Center, and after her talk, Eater caught up with the food writing legend to ask where she eats when she's visiting Portland. Reichl said she'd recently eaten at Langbaan and Nong's Khao Man Gai—then quickly remembered her very first meal in Portland.
"The first place I ever went, many years ago—could it have been on my very first book tour, so '98?—was Paley's Place," says Reichl. "I thought: This food is fantastic. It was so unexpected, because back then, people weren't thinking, 'Oh Portland, what a food town.' I was living in New York, and a friend took me to Paley's. I was just like, 'Whoa, who knew that Portland was doing this?'"
Reichl says she has her entire meal at Paley's Place documented in her notes somewhere, and after ordering half the menu, she enjoyed every dish.
Reichl also adores Nong's Khao Man Gai—so much so that it appears in her latest book, My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes that Saved My Life. "I liked what Nong does so much that I made my own version, and the recipe is in my book," says Reichl. "Karen [Brooks] took me, and I thought, I have to make this for my family, but I didn't really know how to do it. So, I created my weird version with this sauce that I've invented."
But what exactly is it about Nong's famous chicken and rice that makes it so shockingly good? "First of all, the chicken is like silk," says Reichl. "It's beautifully cooked. And the rice is cooked in the chicken stock. It reminds me of two things: I've spent some time in Singapore, and it reminds me of regular chicken and rice but with this exceptional sauce on it. Also, it's like the first time I went to Thailand and the flavors just exploded in my head; Nong's got that."
To conclude, Reichl said how impressed she's been with Naomi Pomeroy and Beast. "I love Beast," she says. "I was on the judging panel of BravoTV's Top Chef Masters for three seasons, and one year, Naomi was—I don't know how to say this. She was just the ballsiest contestant there."