Friday, Aug. 31, 2018 | 2 a.m.
It’s not too hot in Las Vegas for Andy Ricker. In fact, the weather is ideal for any visiting chef, even one from Portland, Oregon.
“The funny thing about Las Vegas is that I never go outside,” says the James Beard Award winner who’s been spending a lot of time at the Cosmopolitan getting ready to open his Pok Pok Wing concept. “As far as I know the climate is perfect all the time.”
Ricker’s Pok Pok in Portland was named one of GQ magazine’s Top Ten Best New Restaurants in America in 2009. His authentic southeast Asian fare has won many culinary accolades and foodie fans, including a Michelin star for his New York location in 2014.
A chef of his caliber opening his first Las Vegas venue is a big deal for the Strip, but Ricker’s outlet is only one of six new offerings at the Cosmopolitan’s innovative Block 16 Urban Food Hall, opening today on the resort’s second floor. New Orleans’ District Donuts, New York City’s Ghost Donkey, Nashville’s Hattie B’s Hot Chicken, Portland’s Lardo and Vegas’ own Tekka Bar will also be serving varied offerings at Block 16.
Here’s my full conversation with Ricker:
Had you been approached earlier about doing a restaurant in Las Vegas?
This is not the first time I’ve been approached over the years, there’s been some chatter a couple times, but nothing like, “Hey, here’s the space, come and do it.” This is the first time it was something real and also the first time something sounded interesting and manageable and likely to succeed.
How does this food hall format benefit your Pok Pok Wing concept?
Pok Pok Wing is the counter-service model of Pok Pok and it’s custom-made for this sort of thing. This was the first thing I opened in New York City in 2011 in a tiny space on the lower eastside and it didn’t last long for logistical reasons. Doing wings actually takes a huge amount of space and we were working out of basically a basement, with no storage. It was profitable but we abandoned that concept to do noodles. And then we did it again at the airport at Portland. The concept is really based on the idea of quicker service in a smaller space so it’s a perfect fit for Block 16, where each space is smaller. And we have the Portland connection with Lardo. We’re big fans of each other. Lardo catered our holiday party this year. It’s really a great combination of different concepts, kind of a greatest hits, not the usual suspects you see in a food court. This is interesting and I think the dining public is a lot more interested in this type of stuff these days, rather than looking for the most familiar thing.
It’s nothing like the typical Vegas casino food court.
The way it all works is reminiscent to me of the way the southeast Asian night market works with a bunch of vendors and you choose what you want and eat at a central location. You can get a plate of wings and a sushi roll and your friend can get a hot chicken sandwich, and then a Mezcal when you’re done. It’s a fun experience and grounded in something real.
Could this lead you to doing a full-service restaurant in Las Vegas?
The answer to that is no. I don’t really have any interest in growing in full-service at the moment, but never say never. It’s not on my mind.
Are you looking to expand Pok Pok Wing in other cities?
Hopefully we will learn enough here to help us find out and if Pok Pok were to expand, this is the most likely vehicle. There’s a sense of mystery to it. Fish sauce sings and khao soi and pad Thai and papaya salad are compelling [dishes] for people that [dine at Pok Pok] so if this format works, it could be a great growth vehicle.
Where are you going to eat in Las Vegas when you finally get out of the building?
Definitely Lotus of Siam. And I know there’s been a huge expansion in the Chinatown area and there’s so much more I want to get out to see there.