[UPDATE: This "pop-up" has closed. Chef is searching for a new and permanent space and will reopen soon]
On a recent visit to Kao Soy in Red Hook, we noticed that quality had not just gone down, but changed completely. The namesake dish was sickeningly sweet, just as one example. The staff seemed panicked too, somehow. We had happened to walk in for this meal on the night the head chef and brains of the operation left for personal reasons.
Thankfully it only took her just over a month to jump back onto her feet, bringing a lot of the same staff with her to a storefront just one block south on Van Brunt Street. It might even be better than the original, because she seems liberated here, and very happy. She talked to us our whole meal, swapping stories of food and ancient family recipes with my girlfriend who is also from Chiang Mai. I sat back and enjoyed my meal and the sounds of delight coming from her with each dish that came to the table.
We opened up with tum mamuang ($8, below), which used a mixture of green and yellow mangos in season. The defining feature and what makes this dish so hard to perfect is the combination of this fruit with anchovy sauce, done here to perfection. The dish is the spiciest we had, and picking up one of those innocent looking betel leaves to chew only makes it more so as they sit and soak in the chili.
We always ordered the nam prik ong ($8, below) at Kao Soy, and got it here as well. The paste is made up of pork, tomatoes, eggplant, and chili and is spicy but nothing compared to the first. Chayote and lettuce accompany the dish, as well as pork rinds as usual, making for many texture possibilities.
It was at the point when the jin som mok ($9, below) came out, that the girl to my right almost lost her chair and could not believe what a good representation of this Thai market specialty we were eating. Her only concern was not to let her mother know how much the dish costs here since you find it for well under a dollar in Thailand. Not for the faint of heart, but not that much of a stretch either, inside of the banana leaf is a sour fermented pork mixed with pork skin and ear, and a good amount of garlic. On the side for more texture awareness is lettuce, ginger, shallot, and peanuts.
And of course when in the north, one must eat the khao soi ($12, below), which is probably even better than it was in its best form a block north. The drumsticks are cooked perfectly, the thick egg noodles and rich warm curry broth dance together seamlessly. I prefer this thinner "bird's nest" fried noodles on top than before, but miss the papaya fritters. The pickled mustard greens and chili oil are there if you want, but are certainly unnecessary. This is splendid.
Our stomachs certainly said we should have stopped there, but we had the kitchen make one more dish that came recommended, the moo ping ($8, below). On point, these pork skewers gave me ideas for killer home bbqs, especially with the Central Thai chili-lime dip that comes with them.
This story will stay in flux for a bit, as the restaurant has "at least six months" in its current space. The chef wants to be permanent, but it is possible that the location will shift. No matter where it goes, we will follow.
[UPDATE 22 JULY 2015: Photos from another meal]
Pla muk yang (grilled squid)
Krabong (papaya, taro, and banana blossom fritters)
Tum kanoon (young jackfruit salad)
Kang hung leh (pork curry with salty rib tips)