Can we go home now?” asked Ms. Platt for the second or possibly third time as we stood in the little concrete-walled garden in the back of Andy Ricker’s extravagantly praised, perpetually oversubscribed Thai restaurant Pok Pok Ny, waiting for a table to clear. Singha-beer umbrellas were set up outside, and on this hot, semi-tropical Brooklyn evening, the trees were strung with lights, just like in a little garden restaurant in the provinces of Thailand or Vietnam. We’d been told our wait for a table would be an hour, but that was an hour and a half ago. All around us, the rabble of hipsters, Thai-food freaks, and assorted Manhattan culinary thrill seekers sat patiently, like Western tourists in Bangkok waiting for a bus to the beach. One guy carried a guitar. A woman wore a sarong and dandled a baby on one knee. When my wife gave me another mournful look, I shrugged my shoulders. “Welcome to the No-Reservations Generation,” I said.
Once we were finally seated inside the boisterously snug restaurant, however, the spirits of our bedraggled dining party lifted considerably. Ricker comes from Portland, Oregon (where the original Pok Pok is located), and he has a convert’s zeal for re-creating the more or less exact mood and feel of the kind of place you’ll find recommended in the tattered pages of an old Thailand Rough Guide. Jingly Thai ballads play over the speaker system, and when you ask for a glass of water, it’s poured into a frosty metal cup. We ordered some crackly shrimp chips and a platter of sticky, fish-sauce-u00ADslathered chicken wings and ate them in a happy lather until they were gone. Next came a subtle street dish called hoi thawt, made with fresh mussels tossed with bean sprouts, garlic chives, bits of egg, and threads of delicately made crêpe. Ms. Platt took one bite and then another. “That’s probably the best thing I’ve ever eaten,” she said.
The regional Thai food at Pok Pok (Thai slang for “mortar and pestle”) is served on the kind of bright plastic and metal plates that you find in street markets all over Asia, and the best dishes have the spontaneous, vividly flavored quality that you find in great home cooking. I’m thinking of the cool, smoky eggplant salad (yam makheua yao), and the fiery minced-pork laap, which comes, according to the exhaustively detailed, u00ADMcSweeney’s-style menu, from “a friend’s father from the u00ADvillage Saulang Nai, near Chiang Mai.” There’s an excellent roast-catfish laap, too (laap plaa duuk yaang isaan), and if you enjoy rib-sticking country-style dishes, I suggest you call for a crock of kaeng hung leh (soft chunks of curried, caramelized pork belly and shoulder) and the plump, charcoal-roasted whole chicken kai yaang, which comes with tamarind and sweet-and-sour chili sauces for dipping.
Because you’re not really in Thailand, after all, you can wash this grub down with an exhaustive selection of Brooklyn-style mixologist cocktails (try the deceptively lethal Lord Bergamot, made with vodka infused with Earl Grey tea). For a real in-country experience, however, order that Thai specialty called jelly beer, which is Singha frozen in the bottle into a kind of slushy and served with a tall plastic straw. This refreshingly foamy summer drink will help alleviate your chile-pepper coma and set the stage for Ricker’s faithfully rendered “sweets,” like sankhaya durian (a custard spiked with the funky essence of that musky, notoriously addictive fruit), and the seasonal summer delicacy khao niaw mamuang, which is made here, down by the Brooklyn docks, as it is in Bangkok or Chiang Mai, with cooling slices of yellow mango, sticky rice soaked in a refreshingly salty coconut cream, and the faintest dusting of sesame seeds. — Adam Platt