Part 1: A visit to Po’s Rice & Spice Restaurant
By Sharon Challenger
Editor’s Note: This is part one of a two-part series on Po’s Rice & Spice Restaurant where a dining experience is featured.
Nothing is more beautiful than waking up on a warm sunny day after a long and exhausting winter season.
“Can it get any better? I was wondering. I was about to find out.
My calendar reminded me that I had an adventure planned. Today was the day I was supposed to meet Po Fong, owner of Po’s Rice and Spice restaurant in East Hampton, CT.
My mission: to find out what so many people in Higganum and Haddam rave about.
I heard about Po’s on social media during the Covid-19 “lockdown” and curiosity led me to ask a few questions on Facebook. “Do you like Po’s?” and “What’s your favorite dish on their menu?” I sat and waited, not knowing what to expect, because sometimes social media can be risky. Within moments, the responses poured in. The number of responses and the variety of responses were all overwhelmingly positive. Some even referred me to their website where I could see the menu. I was surprised to learn that Po’s made weekly deliveries to Higganum. People gathered on Wednesday evenings at the HES and eagerly awaited their delivery. My hopes of finding an outstanding Asian restaurant were growing by the minute.
Upon our arrival at Po’s Rice and Spice we were greeted by their friendly staff. Shing seated us at a nice table by a sunny window in what was once a large porch in an older home. The room was cozy and warm, and light music was playing in the background, which made it very welcoming.
Torrey, their media specialist, came to chat with us and their server, Morgan, gave us our menus, while we were offered tea, water and a popcorn treat by Shing.
My husband and I had decided to each order different starters, soups and meals so we could try as many dishes as possible. We started with pan fried pork meatballs which had a delicious sauce for dipping. I chose Tom Kha, which is a Thai soup made with coconut milk, spices, chicken and vegetables. My husband chose the Egg Drop soup.
I’ve made Tom Kha soup at home and I can say mine never came close to Po’s. The lovely delicate flavors made me sit up and take notice. It was the best Tom Kha soup I have ever had!
As we switched bowls to try each other’s soup, I immediately became aware of the delicacy of the Egg Drop soup. It was prepared with such care that the egg looked like delicate lace floating in the rich broth. I knew I just had to ask Po how this was accomplished.
My next treat was the pork dumplings. When I cut into the dumpling, I knew immediately that the blanket was light, not heavy. The flavors were deep, especially when drenched in the specially prepared sauce that Po carefully prepares for her dishes.
As we were seated to eat Po came over to talk to us and asked what other items we would like to try. We were hovering around the idea of choosing a seafood dish and a poultry dish. Po mentioned that we should try their Brussels sprouts side dish as it is one of their most popular. She set about making it happen.
Within moments, a beautiful dish of fried Brussels sprouts and Szechwan sauce was delivered to our table. The sprouts were topped with sesame seeds, which made for a pretty picture. Small slices of an Asian sausage, similar to chorizo, were mixed with the sprouts. At first glance, I thought it might be chilli slices, so I was hesitant to bite into it too quickly. After carefully sinking my teeth into it, I was delighted to discover that it was sausage. No need to take the glass of water – it wasn’t a Hunan pepper! Now, I’ll admit that Brussels sprouts probably aren’t at the top of most people’s list of favorite foods, but if you haven’t tried Po’s Fried Brussels Sprouts, you have no idea. the magic that can be done to these little green balls! The flash frying process makes the outer leaves crispier and tastier. After trying them, I felt that the humble Brussels sprouts were finally in the spotlight!
Now for the starters. I ordered Jenny’s Honey Duck, because I love crispy duck and because it’s a dish I didn’t even dare to make. My husband ordered Megan’s Salt Baked Shrimp which is an extremely popular item on the menu.
When my Honey Duck arrived I was surprised to see the overly generous portions on the plate. Two drumsticks with thighs rested on two chest sections. I immediately calculated that I would have enough for three more meals at home, and I did! The duck’s savory flavor and crispy skin was pure heaven. It left me with a sense of reverence for the bird, and of course Po and the chef!
My husband’s salt baked prawns were a sight to behold. He wasn’t too eager to share with me, which was a sure indication that they were amazing! The fried jumbo prawns were seasoned with salt and Thai chili and garnished with a sprig of cilantro. They were nestled next to perfectly steamed bright green broccoli. Thai chilies and chunks of red peppers lined the plate creating a work of culinary art. Another masterpiece!
Completely satisfied and immensely grateful to have found Po’s Rice and Spice, we prepared to cook some food for home. I was looking forward to dinner for sure!
Po came to see us and was kind enough to take time out of his busy day to talk to us at length about his business and his life.
In Part 2 of this series, we’ll give readers an insight into Po’s journey over the years, starting with his early days learning Asian cuisine alongside his father, to his current status as a successful restaurant owner. .
Po’s Rice & Spice website: https://www.posriceandspice.com/
Photographs by David Challenger.