09 November 2021
Pok Pok was the shift in Portland’s food world that we needed, going like many restaurants to come from food cart to more winter weather-appropriate digs, first adding cocktails, and then from there an elevation into what might be called “fine dining” if it didn’t keep its Portland classic irreverence. They were also the first local restaurant to bridge the divide between Thai food restaurants and celebrity chef platforms.
While Pok Pok has gone — the celebrity chef overwhelmed by the danger of doing restaurant work in a world impacted by pandemics — outrageously inventive and ingredients-focused Thai food is here to stay. Nowhere is that seen more keenly than Farmhouse Kitchen Thai, as you may already have guessed with the colorful “volcano noodles” dish shown above, a veritable explosion of spice, fresh vegetables, interesting and expensive spices, and great farm-raised meats, all balanced on top of a package of Cup of Noodles.
On our visit on a cold and rainy Tuesday afternoon, the dining room was busier than most of the restaurants in the neighborhood and as we waited to order our food one of the people at the table sitting next to us launched into an epic burst of praise for the restaurant, calling it the best Thai food he’d ever had, even in on the east coast where he was from, and even in Thailand.
With a few dishes I might sing praises that high, but I began my meal with perhaps too great a bar. I have had a lot of outrageously good Thai food (never in Thailand, I haven’t had the pleasure of visiting yet); it’s one of Portland’s best food categories. I would be happy stating that these egg rolls were indeed the best I have ever had; light and perfectly balanced between crispy wrapper and perfectly cooked and seasoned filler. Thanks to the pretty lengthwise slicing, they also solved the pesky problem of how to eat them when they come out so hot from the fryer.
The best description of Farmhouse Kitchen Thai is that the chefs and staff go absolutely over the top, with a many-page menu brimming with exciting-sounding names and photographs of some of their more interesting dishes, like the Volcano Noodle (beef short rib with pan-fried noodles) and the Crispy Basil with seafood.
The expensive menu items were very interesting and fun, and indeed there was no shortage of spice (this is chef Kasem Saengsawang’s motto, “make sure people get enough spice”). After one big investment, they’re not what I would return for.
What would I return for? The Thai Vacation, coconut ice cream, sticky rice, coconut and a sprinkle of caramelized sugar on top. It’s hard to express exactly how delicious and perfect this was, especially after a meal full of the kind of spice that had my eyes watering and nose running. Such an exciting and delightful balance of flavor, texture and visual interest. Flowers everywhere are a beautiful touch.
It’s worth visiting Farmhouse Kitchen Thai for the Instagram value and the sheer variety and intensity of menu items. I’d stick to the less expensive main dishes and focus the budget on the amazing starters and finishes. And who can complain about a restaurant that tops everything with flowers? On a chilly and rainy day, Farmhouse Kitchen Thai delivers.
Farmhouse Kitchen was, as of this writing in November 2021, open in two locations: one the Hawthorne and 34th Avenue spot we visited and the other at NW 9th Avenue and Couch Street. Daily hours for both lunch and dinner, with a two-hour mid-afternoon break on weekdays and closing at 9 p.m. every day.