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First day of spring, it is. The cherry trees seemed to have bloomed over night; really all the trees are in bud for the moment and true to the Northwest way of doing things, there is a chill wind blowing tonight. But they are winds of change.

Everything is changing. Some days it makes my head spin. Most days, in fact. I am moving back to my beloved Seattle in a few weeks. A few weeks! That alone seems impossible. Winds of change.

Sadly, as I make my move north two of my favorite people are moving south. Carol and Craig are heading back to San Diego. I’m glad for them and sad for me. As such things often turn out, yes? Truth be told I am a bit jealous. I have fond memories of cocktails on the terrace at George’s, with it’s spectacular view of La Jolla Cove. The fact that they can do this in January makes it even more enviable.

I’m watching so many friends going through their own winds of change. From new jobs to new homes to new beginnings. There is even a wedding on the horizon for one.

So I am excited about the move; really excited. It has been so hard to just visit the town I now think of as home. I have to be honest, I have felt like an exile. I don’t know, maybe it is my Scandawegian heritage, but I do love the green and the wet. I’ve often thought it funny that this desert rat ended up here, in this corner of the world.

I’m kind of sad, too. Sad to be leaving my easy access to wine country. To not be able to head out to one of my favorite wineries on the spur of the moment. Still, there is always Woodinville and a whole slew of new wineries to check out and, yes, write about. Woodinville and points east – Prosser, Yakima, Walla Walla. Not to mention being closer to the Canadian wine country.

And then, of course, the foodie paradise that is Seattle will be fun to get back to. Portland has more than it’s fair share of great eateries, and yet I really haven’t had anyone here to share that with. My tribe of food devotees just hasn’t materialized in Oregon.

Winds of change. It really has been an incredible few years. I think back to when I started this blog. I had been recently laid off (for the sixth time!), was floundering a bit in a new place, was feeling lost and a more than a little storm tossed.

But how I’ve grown and changed in that time. New ideas and new challenges have filled the days. It hasn’t always been easy, but it has always felt as though it were moving towards something. And now I am going home. To Seattle. Where there will be so many new things to see and do and experience. And to write about.

Gastropub Gastropod

I love wordplay, not wisely but too well. So it follows that I am going to be intrigued by a gastropub that calls itself Gastropod.

Gastropods are, of course, those scourge of the Northwest gardener. The slugs and snails that destroy our carefully planned planters. And yet the similarity of the words is worth thinking about. I have to admit that the first time I heard the term ‘gastropub‘ I was a bit put off precisely because it sounded so much like the vermin that decimated my garden on a regular basis.

This Gastropod, however, might just make me change my mind.

A  wonderful hole-in-the-wall spot in the SODO area of Seattle, Gastropod is the sort of place you go with a group of friends on a cold and rainy night. Which is exactly what I did.

It was Mitch’s birthday. That in and of itself is an occasion. Seriously. Sharon and I once assembled barbecue in freezing temperatures for a Mitch birthday. Because, well, Mitch.  That meant that ordinary just wasn’t in the cards. And so, Gastropod.

First off, this is a postage stamp of a place. A handful of communal tables are scattered around this tiny space. A bar lines a kitchen that can be charitably described as small. Being the food geeks that we are, we chose the bar seats because in a place like this the food can both be a meal and a floor show.

Gastropod doesn’t disappoint on either side. The chef works with a pair of portable two burner gas cookers, a chiller and a commercial convection oven. Watching three people operate in this small space was like watching a superbly choreographed ballet. I can only imagine what it would be like on a busy weekend night. And that vision gives me a headache.

Everything is small plates, meant to be shared among friends. The buzz in the place is testament to the success of that notion. Shared plates invite conversation. We as humans I believe are hardwired to share food in uniquely social rituals, and I think this growing wave of small plates feeds that.

The food was interesting, complex, unusual. There was hamachi, seared yellowtail on what can only be described as a pancake of onion and other root vegetables. A plate of Japanese sweet potato roasted with maple syrup and hazelnuts. King salmon grilled and topped with a salmon skin chip. A steel cut oatmeal risotto that would be a perfect brunch dish.

It felt like everything here was tilted just a bit to the side, making me look at it a little differently. The food was excellent, just unexpected in a really good way.

All of the ingredients for a good evening came together that night – good friends, good food, an intimate place. I want to go back, even if that is against Sharon’s cardinal rule of eating out. (She has a point, Seattle has an abundance of wonderful places). I want to go back with a cadre of friends to eat, laugh, argue, eat some more, compare, contrast and just flat out enjoy.

I like football. I’m not rabid about it, but I like it. Football is wrapped up in a lot of good memories for me. And being in Seattle ? A town where I actually have a hometown team? Football has been somewhat of a heartache. But now – now we’ve won the Superbowl.

Yeah, okay, it was a dog of a game. But for a dog of a game, it was a really good one. It was a bit cringe-worthy towards the end. It is just never pretty to watch a team get thoroughly trounced. And yet it was kind of satisfying. Satisfying because we won. We won the Superbowl.

You see, Seattle teams have generally been a lot like Seattle itself. Polite. Restrained. Embarrassed by show offs. We like our sports heroes to be low key. Which explains why we all loved Ichiro. He was quietly great. He didn’t brag, he didn’t strut, he was a team player (I imagine he still is, he just doesn’t play for Seattle anymore). We like that. But it also means that our sports team have historically been great at losing, at wresting defeat out of certain victory in spectacular displays of team self-immolation.

In a nod to the Nordic heritage of the region, we accepted this with a sort of resigned fatalism. In some cases, slightly surprised (and oddly disappointed) that our teams didn’t do worse.

We got really excited in 2006 when we made our first trip to the Superbowl. And then were devastated when that game was handed to the Steelers on a platter. Yeah, I went there. It was a heart breaker.

As a result, I tried really hard to avoid the hype this time out. I  had pretty much ignored the game for most of the season. To be honest, I had basically boycotted the entire NFL since 2006. But it snuck up on me. It became almost too much to hope for. First the team trounced New Orleans in early December, a game I allowed myself to listen to while I worked (thank you iTunes). Then a week later it was a narrow loss to the 49ers – the traditional Kieser family team.

Win, loss, win. Oh my. We were in the playoffs. It didn’t seem possible.

What made it harder was that I began to know the team. I was listening to the interviews, reading the articles and I found that these were seriously Seattle guys. They were polite. They were funny. They were having fun on the field. I liked the coach. I liked the players. Now it was more than just the local team. They were, suddenly, the hometown team. I was invested.

Superbowl Sunday found me not at a party, I don’t think I could have handled that, but at home. My oldest friend (oldest as in length of time – we have known each other since we were five) texted me just after the start of the second quarter. She lives in DC. I called her back and we watched most of the game together over the phone.

We talked about the game and about watching football when we were kids. We talked about my Mom and how much she loved the 49ers. Heck, my mom loved sports in general. The sweet middle school teacher who embroidered beautiful pieces would sit on the floor of our living room, placidly stitching away only to look up and yell something at the TV. Like “kill him!” or “YES!” before returning to her work. Then again, Mom was also a huge hockey fan, so I suppose it shouldn’t have surprised any of us.

In the end it was a perfect day. The Seahawks won the Superbowl. I got to watch the game with my oldest friend even though she was on the other side of the country. The nice guys from home were and are champions. And Seattle celebrated the victory as only we could, but having a rather polite and orderly celebration (at least for the most part). And then on Wednesday, more than 700,000 people lined the streets of downtown Seattle in bitter cold weather to cheer the team, and to be cheered by the team. That’s just how we roll.

We have the trophy, we won the Superbowl, but I doubt any of us will let that go to our heads. It would, after all, be unseemly.

Inside the renovated King St. Station, Seattle. Gorgeous stations are another reason to love taking the train.

Inside the renovated King St. Station, Seattle. Gorgeous stations are another reason to love taking the train.

I love the train. It really is my favorite form of travel. There is probably something about the romance of it all, or the fact that I can sit here and write a blog post as I look out the window at the passing scenery.

Sure, it isn’t always the fastest way to get anywhere, at least not here in this country where high speed trains are still something being debated by the folks who debate such things. Maybe it shouldn’t be faster. Or maybe there should be a choice.

I like the slowness, actually. Life already moves pretty fast, and sometimes it is nice to have an enforced slowdown. A moment in time when nothing is rushed or urgent or pressing. A moment to catch your breath.

Right now there are horses lazily grazing to my right and the mighty Columbia is meandering along to the left as we crawl along between them at what can only be described as a dawdle.

This route is a major one for freight trains, and they generously share the tracks with our sleek little Amtrak train. As the freight trains rightfully take precedence, it means we are sometimes slowed, sometimes stopped by the larger work-a-day cousins. But that’s just fine, I’m in no hurry. It seems impossible to be in a hurry when I’m on a train.

I’ve been on trains in various places in the world. From the high speed TGVs in France that fly so fast that you can get dizzy when you look outside the window, to the beautiful, sleek trains that run between Amsterdam and Bruges. I have taken a train under the English Channel and another between Edinburgh and London.

The latter one put me in mind of this trip between Portland and Seattle. It is close to the same distance and takes about the same amount of time. It goes through similar countryside, along water, through low cuts bounded by trees and brush. Maybe that is why I loved that particular trip so much. It felt rather homey.

Still, there is something special about this route. I took this train on that first real trip here; to the Pacific Northwest. I dearly wanted to move here. I was all of 29, ready to move on with the next phase of my life, ready to leave the desert behind.

I came to Portland first. My brother lived there and it seemed both a good base for exploration and a good reason to move to that city myself. I took the train to Seattle, a city I had visited many times before but had always been a bit intimidated by.

On that trip I realized it was going to be home. I loved everything I saw. Elliot Bay, the skyscrapers, the green. It seemed a proper city to this desert rat. One that had a bus tunnel! One that had an all business downtown, one that had parks galore.

I spent several days there, looking into every nook and cranny and finding more and more things to adore. Even the grunginess, even the not so pretty bits; they just made it so much more of a ‘real’ city. By the time I stepped onto the return train at King Street Station, I was smitten. Smitten and determined.

I looked out the window as we pulled out, looked up at the towering buildings and knew that I would be back for good.

I still love it here. Love all of it. Even though I have spent less time in my beloved Seattle, even though I have been charmed by Portland and its environs, I still think of Seattle as home. Maybe that is why this trip feels both nostalgic and hopeful. I suppose in many ways I am going home. Even if it is only for just a few days.

First off, let me just say – GO HAWKS! Yes, this is what happens to us during the short winter days here in the Northwest. We become rabid fans of… something.

We have passed the solstice, and so our day light hours are creeping ever longer. Yes, I love it here, but I have to say that I tend to breathe a sigh of relief when that shortest day passes by. It feels like a halfway point in some sort of seasonal marathon. This is as long as the dark gets, my brain seems to say; we’ve made it through and are coming out the other side.

So what have I done with my winter days? I have once again been inculcated into the cult of the pigskin. I watched with glee as the Seahawks fought it out with the Saints to advance towards the Superbowl. Don’t get me wrong – I like football. I like it a lot. I am the daughter of a former football ref, and as his only daughter am proud that I was the child that watched sports with him. I’m just generally not this…involved.

Granted, I do the football thing a bit differently. We do many things a bit differently here, after all. Our football watching party included really good beer and take out from Pok Pok, (another cult I am a member of). I can only imagine what the play-offs will look like!

But it isn’t all sports all the time, either. Another passion I have found ramping up has been baking. Winter days are ideal for baking. Seriously, what is better on a cold and rainy day than cozying up to a hot oven? At the moment I am deeply immersed in Ken Forkish’s brilliant cookbook “Flour Water Salt Yeast” which is the best bread making book ever. I love how he invests himself in the details.  I have yet to actually make a loaf, but that is more about time than it is confidence. When it happens, I will post the results – good or bad – here.

Along those lines, I have also found myself immersed in the best geek cooking blog in the world. Serious Eats. What won me over was this – the Science of the Best Chocolate Chip Cookies. How can you not love someone who is willing to go all scientific theory on cookies? There is so much to learn here, from how the ingredients affect the outcome to how to apply that to other recipes. I found myself mulling how I could improve a cocoa powder brownie I have been working with while reading this post.

Yes, I know; but hey – winter days in the Northwest call for something to take your mind off the fact that you have been living in a dim netherworld for days on end.

Football, baking, reading, and a lot of scheming. That has been my January.

I have come to believe that this time of year is necessary for me. It is my downtime to think and plan and gather forward momentum. Soon, not very soon, but soon – it will be light until eight in the evening. The sun will peek in my window well before 6 am. The Northwest urge to not waste a single moment of sunshine will drive me from my bed, from my home and out into clear skies (or even filtered sunshine) to accomplish….something.

Winter days, in all their gray, hushed, dim glory give me license to play with levains, to spend time in the warmth of my little kitchen and to figure out where the year is headed. There is an order and a calmness to it all. Well, save those playoff games, which are anything but calm.

Maybe it is just easier to dream of sunny skies on a dark day, to dream of possible futures, to brainstorm and consider and ruminate. Or maybe I am just trying to find a way to justify why I tend to hibernate on winter days. And to think that one of my schemes involves moving further north! Hey, it can stay light until darn near midnight once you get to Canada…

Riders on the Storm

It is January in the Northwest and that means rain, wind, cold and general gloom. Storm af Right now we are gearing up for what we are promised is going to be a wild, wet, and windy weekend as a series of storms make their way inland. Then again, we are always gearing up for some near apocalyptic weather event. And generally we are a bit disappointed when it turns out to be just another day.

I was caught in a decently impressive rain storm yesterday. It was my own fault and I’m not complaining (thought I did grumble a bit at the time). Being rather gray and gloomy, it seemed a good day to spend some time at the library; and with all the dire predictions of deluge in the afternoon I had planned to leave just before that happened.

Why I thought that would actually happen, I don’t know. Because it didn’t and I got to the truck looking rather like a drowned rat. And so the afternoon went, the usual periods of nothing interspersed with moments of downpour that a good Scottish friend would refer to as ‘pissing down.’

Then, suddenly by sheer chance, I looked up to see sun. Sun! Actual sun.

This required stepping out onto the deck to see what the heck was going on. Sun at four in the afternoon? In January? Unheard of!

I’m really glad I did. I was rewarded with wonderfully dramatic skies – patches of brilliant blue, big and fluffy back lit clouds, dark and menacing storm cells on the horizon.

Growing up in Las Vegas, summer was the season of dramatic skies. I am sure that is where I came to love such scenes. In San Diego, it was skies and seas just after a storm. Here it is the winter/spring storms that stir my heart. I am just more moved by the wild and woolly than I am by the pastoral and benign.

On this particular afternoon I could watch the clouds racing – racing – across the sky. I do love that.

So I grabbed my camera. My neighbors must think I’m a bit daft – standing on my deck, snapping pictures of clouds. Clouds! Then again, I am sure I have given them many, many reasons to think me daft that have nothing to do with my weather picture fixation. Probably best not to think of that too much.

In any case, this was the sky when I first walked outside:

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Note the blue sky in the background as one storm passes over.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A moment later it looked like this:

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Another storm band passed directly behind, but well to the west.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I moved to the front porch to see what was beyond the roof tops:

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The second storm band from another direction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And finally, this:

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Blue sky ahoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All in the span of not more than ten minutes. Yes, this is why we love it here. Never a dull moment. And hey, it is well above freezing. Sure, we also love to give cute names to our storm systems. The East Coast may have its Polar Vortex, but we have Pineapple Expresses and talk about convergence zones; we can natter on about microclimates and will comment on whether there is an onshore or offshore flow. Regardless, we get some damn fine skies some evenings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another Farmers Market

We do tend to be lousy with them hereabouts. Pretty much every neighborhood and small town has a farmers market. Which is why its pretty silly that I never considered Beaverton as a serious farmer’s market contender.

Here’s the thing, the Portland one? The one they hold at PSU? I find it crowded, expensive and not friendly to those of us without access to decent public transportation (because Vancouver, WA is bound and determined to keep the calendar set at 1950. Even if we are now called Vansterdam thanks to recent legislative changes on certain recreational pharmaceutical plant products). My own little burg’s market is great, affordable and all, but not much in the way of variety.

So when Mitch and Sharon were visiting, we decided to make the trek to Beaverton, as they had heard good things about it. It is a bit of a schlep, I’ll admit. On the drive there we were all doing a bit of expectation managing, the second weekend in November, it was bound to be small. There probably wouldn’t be much in the way of produce. We really shouldn’t get our hopes up.

At first it looked like we were spot on, it seemed there was a paltry array of canopies set up. But we parked and headed over. Wow.

Every vendor we talked to was sort of apologetic. Normally, there were a lot more people. Seriously, it was kind of late in the year. Really, you should come back in the spring. That sort of thing.

And yet – wow. There were three aisles of vendors, a nice mix between the local food crafters and the local farmers. The produce was nothing short of beautiful. There were giant cauliflowers that could easily feed a family of four for a month, giant cabbages that looked as though a wheelbarrow would be necessary to get them to the car. Some of the most beautiful Tuscan kale I have ever seen.

Then there were the squashes. I don’t think I have ever seen such a variety. Some of them were new to me. Banana squash – a huge, pink squash (that seriously, looks nothing like a banana). Racks and tables, baskets and bushels, filled with squashes. All the fall favorites – root veggies, gourds, fall fruits – were well represented.

I found myself snapping pictures with my cell phone, because seriously? It was just beautiful. See for yourself: (and yes, I will be back come spring!)

 

My neighbors hauled in a Christmas tree this weekend. Actually, they hauled in three. I got to listen to the cursing and the directions and banging and more cursing. Two guys pulling each tree up the stairs as two women stood at the top and discussed decorations. My downstairs neighbor (to the back) just set up a huge lighted star just outside their hedge.

As I sit here I am watching the couple across the way put Christmas lights up on their deck. Their neighbors are already glowing blue and white – deck, windows and all.

On a walk Sunday (between downpours) I greeted no less than a dozen neighbors who were furiously putting up lights on eaves, decorating fences and arranging festive displays.

Me? I’m not putting up my Christmas tree this year.

It’s not a bah humbug thing, I promise. I have been blasting Christmas carols for two weeks now. Andrea Bocelli has been crooning Adeste Fidelis and  Silent Night next to Bruce Cockburn‘s  and the Barenaked Ladies’ Christmas offerings on my iPod. Christmas cookies have been made (chocolate brownie hedgehogs, to be exact); and it certainly feels like Christmas outside: cold, crisp, and clear.

Still, the notion of hauling out the tree (artificial; allergic to the real thing), hauling out the Box O’ Christmas joy, weaving the lights and placing the ornaments sounds tiring. Normally this is something I love. I once, I kid you not, decorated close to 50 Christmas trees in a single day. I was a window trimmer for a department store and we had three days to get 250 trees decorated. That did not dampen my enthusiasm for tree trimming one little bit. In fact, I was probably annoyingly cheerful about it.

Yet, this year,  not so much.

I think it is because there is just so much to anticipate this year. I will be seeing a number of good friends this year. I will be spending more time at my Dad’s house this year (normally I am rushing in and out because, well, Las Vegas and New Year’s).  The tree thing seems to be too much. Too much of a good thing, maybe. Or maybe it just feels a bit over the top.

It doesn’t stop me from enjoying all the other decorations. I love that people go all out. I even love the silly inflatable decorations (one house nearby has a giant inflatable ‘snow globe’ ). I have to smile at the folks who put Christmas wreaths on the front grill of their car. I suppose if you are truly in the spirit, you just want to take it with you everywhere. And my friend Margo pointed out that the ugly/silly Christmas sweaters are popping up. Always a good sign.

So, yeah, I don’t think there will be a Christmas tree at Chateau Vinewoman this year. I don’t think there will be lights. Then again, it is only Dec. 3rd, right?

This time of year has become, for me, a good time to check in on my world and recognize all the things I am thankful for. So, Thanksgiving 2013.

I have a lot to be thankful for this year.

I’m thankful Dad is finally over the awful flu bug he had and is well on the mend. I worry a lot about losing him, he is 87 this year; though in this family that is still pretty young. There are days I am sure he will outlive us all, but it still concerned me. I am thankful that I booked a week home at Christmas, it gives me lots of time to yak with him. I am thankful that Geoff is there to keep an eye on things, aided with the able assistance of one Peanut-dog.

I am thankful this year for good friends, near and far.For Marilee, for Kent, for Cindy, for Margo. I am thankful for Erik and Bob and for Beth and George. For Shawn, for Sarah, for all of them. I am thankful that my life is filled with such good people. They are a crazy, goofy, funny, interesting, intelligent and thought provoking group of individuals. I am thankful that Mitch and Sharon were able to come for a visit recently because spending time with them is always fun. How can you not be thankful for the people in your life that make you laugh, make you think, and let you dream? Everything seems possible when we talk. That alone is worth its weight in gold.

I am thankful for all the amazing and wonderful experiences this year has brought. I have sorted grapes, I have learned about organic distilling, I have wandered vineyards and orchards. I learned about coffee tasting, walked in urban forests, danced on a beach, picnicked near a waterfall. I have met some pretty interesting, pretty cool, and pretty nice people and I am a better person for it.

I am thankful for the small moments as well. There have always been moments in my world where everything just seemed to stop for a moment, so lost in appreciation for what I was witnessing or experiencing, and this year has been filled with them. They have ranged from wading in the Columbia river on the fourth of July, just happy to have my feet wet; to looking out over a misty hillside. It has been listening to the gaggle of neighbor boys create the most elaborate games, one moment being very serious about the rules while the next they have collapsed in giggles for reasons known only to themselves. Lots of little moments, lots of little points of beauty and grace. Hard not to be thankful for that.

I am thankful for the really good conversations and discussions I have had with friends old and new. Deep and philosophical, check. Silly and nonsensical, check. Lighthearted and imaginative, check. I learn so much from these talks. I learn about the world, about history and about myself. This has been a particularly good year for them, I think. Or maybe I just paid more attention.

It has been a year of learning, of thinking, of trying new things and being a little bit daring. We should all have years like that, we should all have them more often.

Thanksgiving 2013 is one for the books, a good year to be savored and enjoyed. I am thankful for all of it.

The wings that launched a thousand meals. Ike's Vietnamese Fish Sauce wings at Pok Pok

The wings that launched a thousand meals. Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce wings at Pok Pok

I never thought it would happen to me, but I can’t deny it. I have joined a cult. I am all in, just another devotee of Pok Pok – PDX branch.

They screen in a fairly devious way. It starts with the scary menu - all those strange combinations of vowels and consonants – Aahaan Phiseht, Het Paa Naam Tak – who talks like that? Who could order that? Yes, sure, the English words underneath are meant to reassure you that nothing too odd is going on here. No, really, they are salads, they are side dishes.

And then it happens. You order the chicken wings, because that is the one dish you actually get. Okay, they are Vietnamese fish sauce chicken wings ; but they were made by a guy named Ike, how much more benign can you get than Ike? But the truth is they are just a gateway food. Life changing chicken wings. Seriously life changing chicken wings. You will never look at food quite the same. I promise you that.

When I first moved to the Northwest, low these many years ago, the joke was that you could get any type of food you wanted in Seattle. As long as it was Thai. I quickly became bored with greasy Pad Thai and menus that offered the same variations on red, green and yellow curry. Most were so spicy that any actual flavor (if there was any actual flavor) was lost along with most of the surface area of your tongue.

So I was in no hurry to try Pok Pok. And besides – the vowels, the consonants. The first trip was a little over a year and a half ago. A birthday lunch that included a salad of grilled long eggplant and a Thai chili dressing that was incredible, corn on the cob grilled with fresh coconut milk that took corn to a whole new place and of course, those wings. Oh, those wings.

I’ve been back a couple of times. Like a good devotee, I always bring in new recruits. “Try the wings.” I say with a smile, knowing how this works.

Last Thursday I brought Sharon and Mitch. There were cocktails at the Whiskey Soda Lounge while we waited. Cocktails with drinking vinegar, another Pok Pok hook. We were an adventurous trio. Sure, of course, wings. But there was also Hoi Thawt – a crispy ‘broken’ crepe with steamed mussels, bean sprouts and Sri Racha sauce.

There was a wing bean salad, all crispy and fresh with just a hint of heat. There was the a fore mentioned Het Paa Naam Tak, a forest mushroom salad that is wonderfully meaty and satisfying. There was jasmine rice to round it all out. This was serious comfort food in a seriously different way.

Everything is shared, which really is the best way to have dinner with friends. None of this my plate, your plate, stuff. Just lots of passing around dishes and digging in. It makes the meal communal rather than compartmentalized. Everything about Pok Pok seems to be focused on sharing, on being neighborly.

Every time I have been there, someone at the table next to me, or seated next to me at the bar,  has made a recommendation. Yes, these are the glass noodles – you have to try them! Or no, these are the pork skewers in coconut mile and turmeric (and, I might add, about the only dish on the menu with peanut sauce), incredible!

Yes, you are cheek by jowl in this place. It is not the sort of restaurant where you go to have a deep, private conversation. You don’t take a date here for a quiet romantic meal. This is a place where you go to enjoy the company of friends, where you laugh a lot, where conversation is punctuated by murmurs of appreciation for the food you’re eating. It is a boisterous, informal, friendly place.

So I admit it. I am a member of the cult. I even have my eye on the cookbook. Because, well, Pok Pok.