Monday, September 7, 2009

So there is good Chinese in Chinatown! / Ping

The other day when I was in Chinatown for reasons other than eating, I thought out loud if there was actually any reliably good Chinese food to be had in the area. Those few blocks in Portland seem overrun with pretty much everything but reliable goodness – strip clubs, “lounges,” homeless shelters, and the occasional music venue populate instead.

Upon recommendation from one of my new colleagues, however, I decided to check out Ping when my dad was in town. Andy Ricker, the chef at Pok Pok, opened Ping about 6 months ago; and I have a vague recollection of reading about it, putting it on my endless “to eat” list, and promptly forgetting about it. It’s a shame it took me so long to get there.

Focusing more on Southeast Asian street food than specifically Thai cuisine, Ping is a dream for diners of my persuasion. The menu contains 21 different types of skewers, as well as a perfectly varied collection of entrée-type dishes, organized by cooking method. Most dishes are small, and the waitstaff encourages ordering as you would in a tapas bar, a couple of dishes at a time, sharing with your friends, and stopping once full.

My dad and I started with the fried pork ears, a special for the day:

(unfortunately I forgot my camera, and so these photos are from my phone…)

Crispy, porky, and slightly chewy, these were a great drinking snack, but perhaps a bit too heavy for a starter (I prefer lighter appetizers, usually, so that my appetite is wet, not deadened).

Next came the baby octopus skewers:

Just the right amount of chew, with a very spicy chimichurri-like chili sauce over the top, which added fire but still managed to allow the subtle ocean taste to come through at the end.

For our slightly larger dishes, we had the nonya-style daikon cakes, fried with eggs and a sweet soy sauce (kecap manis):

and the kuaytiaw pet pha lo, a duck and noodle dish, which was probably one of the best dishes I have eaten in months:

The duck was falling off the bone tender, juicy, and slightly sweet, accompanied by thick rice noodles, shittakes, and pickled mustard greens. These greens infused what could have been an overly sweet broth with a sour, briny complexity that echoed on my palate long after swallowing. I could eat this bowl over and over again for days, weeks, months.

After such a meal, I was totally craving an ice kachang, so I asked the waitress if they made such delicacies. She laughed and said she had never heard of it, but brought us the dessert menu anyway. Turns out they make a dish somewhat similar to an ice kachang, minus the shaved ice:

I don’t remember what this was called, and Ping doesn’t post its dessert menu online, but it was basically a bowl of assorted jellied things like tapioca, lychees, and fresh coconut shavings, covered in coconut milk and ice cubes. While not exactly what I wanted, it was very refreshing and a perfect, cooling end to a delicious meal.

In other words, the answer is now, yes, there is good Chinese (and Southeast Asian) food in Chinatown. Brave the crazies. It’s totally worth it.

Ping: 102 NW 4th Ave, 503-229-7464, Monday-Friday 11-10, Saturday 4-10.

Ping on Urbanspoon

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