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Pok Pok perfection

for The Brooklyn Paper
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These sweet, sticky chicken wings fly out the kitchen.

Foodies flock to Pok Pok Ny just to taste Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings ($13.95), and there’s good reason why. It’s the sauce, which chef and founder Andy Ricker perfected through trial and error until he came to the right balance of Phu Quoc fish sauce, palm sugar, and garlic, that makes them so sensational.

“Andy did a lot of traveling in Southeast Asia and Thailand, and tries to get it as authentic as possible. He wants it to be like your eating in Thailand,” said Bernie O’Brien of Pok Pok Ny.

Brilliantly spiced sauces and fresh Thai ingredients in every dish are the key to success at Pok Pok Ny, and there’s more flavor and pleasure in this single dish than the Columbia Waterfront in Brooklyn has ever seen. Once a server lands them on your table, you won’t put them down until every messy morsel is gone.

Good thing they’re served with wet towelettes.

Ricker brought these wings and his small Pok Pok empire east to Brooklyn after the success of his original Pok Pok in Portland. Other chef-restaurateurs might not take a chance on a district with so little foot traffic. Danny Bowien of Mission Chinese headed for the trendier Lower East Side when looking East (where Ricker also has another outpost, Pok Pok Phat Thai). It’s surprising that Ricker set up shop on the quiet Columbia Waterfront for his East Coast reincarnation of the original.

“In Portland, Pok Pok was in the middle of nowhere and it grew the area,” said O’Brien. “They were looking for something similar in Brooklyn.”

And the location doesn’t stop the lines from forming outside the front door night after night. And though the wait can be lengthy and dining room is small and cramped, every dish, every smell, every taste and every sight is more agreeable than the next.

Once you’ve wiped your fingers clean of the wings, head towards a few vegetable-based dishes. The refreshing Papaya Pok Pok ($9.25) is a must, a bright and spicy salad of green papaya, tomato, long beans, Thai chili, dried shrimp and peanuts dressed in a long list of ingredients including tamarind, fish sauce and lime juice. Another vegetable-based dish, the Yam Makheau Yao ($14.95), with charcoal grilled eggplant, boiled egg, pork, prawns and crispy garlic, is unfamiliar but proves wonderfully satisfying. It’s these dishes with many Thai ingredients at once, each with their own strengths, that makes the food so standout. Both dishes are the perfect counterpart to an order of Kaeng Hung Leh ($14.95), which brings together fantastically tender morsels of pork belly and shoulder in a deep, smoky Burmese curry sauce.

In a busy restaurant where it would be easy to overlook the details, Pok Pok Ny puts thought into even the smallest features. The drinking water is flavored with Pandanus leaf, a tradition in Northern Thailand that lends a refreshing hint of toasted rice. The servers, as enthusiastic about the food as the most loyal customers, seem dedicated to ensuring guests have a full Pok Pok experience, and adeptly guide guests through the lengthy menu. And though many of the dishes include over ten individual components, each plate is carefully composed, the flavors right on target.

Pok Pok [127 Columbia St. at Kane Street in the Columbia Waterfront District, (718) 923–9322].

Will Levitt is a Brooklyn-based food writer. Follow him on Twitter @UnderEggWill
Updated 10:11 pm, July 9, 2018
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