Pok Pok founder Andy Ricker knows his way around Thailand. He’s written books about it, lives there for a good chunk of the year, and famously guided the late Anthony Bourdain around the northern city of Chiang Mai. And when he’s eating in Thailand, there’s a common theme when it comes to the things he enjoys most: charcoal.
“Most of the best iterations of any dish I’ve had in Thailand have been cooked on charcoal,” Ricker says. And knowing Ricker, when he finds something he really loves in Thailand, he tries his hardest to recreate it here. It’s what inspired him to start his Thaan Thai-style charcoal logs, and now, the chef is going even deeper into the world of charcoal cooking.
Later this month, Andy Ricker will open Ping Yang Pow, his first non-Pok Pok Wing opening in years. The restaurant, situated above Pok Pok NW on the second floor, specializes in charcoal-cooked dishes of all kinds, from high-quality grilled meats to dips and roasted vegetable salads straight out of the mortar and pestle.
Portland Monthly broke the news of the restaurant’s opening, teasing dishes like whole smoked-and-roasted young chicken with turmeric and coconut cream, Dungeness crab pork fat fried rice, and charcoal-grilled roti; he says he’s particularly excited about other “pounded” dishes he encounters in northern Thailand, which are mashed in a mortar and pestle. For instance, Ricker is planning on serving tam makheua yao: He’ll throw eggplant directly in the charcoal before it’s mashed with grilled garlic, grilled chiles, and grilled fermented fish. “It’s almost like a Thai baba ghanoush,” he says.
Because the restaurant is smaller with a lower overhead, the chef says Ping Yang Pow can play with exceptional proteins and vegetables. “I really wanted to force ourselves into this position where we were using very minimal modern tools to get the job done — no sous vide machines, no blenders. I wanted to limit ourselves, force ourselves to work with what we’ve got,” Ricker says. “It allows us to use a higher quality of product in the restaurant... We’re able to put wagyu on the menu, we can use locally grown grass-fed lamb, we can put on a nicer quality of fish or shellfish.”
Ricker says he wants to allow the restaurant to feel more spontaneous than his other restaurants, so his fellow chefs — including Pok Pok’s own Thanyawan “Thanya” Kaewket — can pull inspiration from what’s in front of them. Kaewket is the head chef, which means that as the restaurant gets settled and Ricker focuses on his other businesses, she will develop her own creative voice when it comes to the menu. That being said, Ricker doesn’t want Ping Yang Pow to be completely loose. “The point here isn’t to come up with fantastic cheffy versions of Thai dishes. It’s still Pok Pok,” he says. “I’m trying to be as true to the origin as we possibly can, while also being very careful about how we cook it, using really good quality product. We’re not going to put hummingbird assholes on the plate, or deconstruct anything.”
The menu will stick to a tight menu of wine, beer, non-alcoholic options, and batched cocktails, which are still in development. The restaurant, with its 24 seats, will look into an open-format kitchen, with chefs grinding out dishes in the mortar and pestle and turning skewers on the satay grill. “You’re seated in the dining room looking into a kitchen. You’ll see the grill from where you are, you’ll see stuff getting chopped up and plated,” he says. “It’s the job that I’d like to have... It’s pure cooking.”
• Pok Pok [Official]
• Pok Pok’s Andy Ricker Will Open Ping Yang Pow in December [PoMo]
• Previous Pok Pok coverage [EPDX]