By Sharon Challenger
Editor’s Note: This is Part 1 of a two-part series about Po’s Rice & Spice Restaurant where a dining experience is presented.
Nothing is finer than to wake up to a sunny warm day after a long and grueling winter season.
“Can it get any better? I wondered. 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 with 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 had been raving about.
I heard about Po’s over social media during the Covid-19 “lockdown,” and curiosity drove me to ask a couple questions on Facebook. “Do you like Po’s?” and “What is your favorite dish on their menu?” I sat back and waited, not knowing what to expect, because social media can be risky at times. Within moments the responses came pouring in. The number of responses and the variety of answers – were all tremendously positive. Some even referred me to their website where I could see the menu. I was surprised to learn that Po’s was making weekly deliveries to Higganum. People would gather on Wednesday evenings at HES and eagerly await their delivery. My hopes for finding an exceptional Asian restaurant were rising by the minute.
Upon arrival at Po’s Rice and Spice we were greeted by their friendly staff. Shing seated us at a lovely table by a sunny window in what was formerly a large porch in an older home. The room was cozy and warm, and light music played in the background making it very inviting.
Torrey, their media specialist, came to chat with us and their server, Morgan gave us our menus, as tea, water and a popcorn treat was set before us by Shing.
My husband and I had decided we would each order different appetizers, soups, and meals so we could try as many items as possible. We began with Pan-seared Pork Dumplings which had a delicious sauce for dipping. I selected Tom Kha, which is a Thai soup made with coconut milk, spices, chicken, and vegetables. My husband chose the Egg Drop soup.
I have made Tom Kha soup at home and can say mine has never even come close to Po’s. The beautiful delicate flavors made me sit up and take note. It was the best Tom Kha soup I have ever had!
As we changed bowls to try each other’s soup, I was immediately aware of the delicacy of the Egg Drop soup. It was prepared so carefully 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 the covering was light, not stodgy. The flavors were profound, especially when dipped into the specially made sauce Po carefully prepares for her dishes.
As we sat dining, Po came out to speak with us and asked us what other items we’d like to try. We were tossing around the idea of choosing a seafood dish and a fowl dish. Po mentioned that we should try their Brussel sprouts side dish as it is one of their most popular. She set about making that happen.
Within moments a beautiful dish of Fried Brussel sprouts and Szechwan sauce were delivered to our table. The sprouts were topped with sesame seeds which made for a pretty picture. Little slices of an Asian sausage, similar to chorizo were mixed in with the sprouts. At first glance I thought they might be hot pepper slices, so I was hesitant to bite into them too quickly. After carefully sinking my teeth into them, I was delighted to find out they were sausage. No need to grab the water glass – it was not a Hunan chili! Now, I will admit that Brussel sprouts are probably not high on the list of favorite foods for most people, but if you have not tried Po’s Fried Brussel sprouts, you have no idea of what magic can be done to those little green balls! The process of flash frying makes the outer leaves crispy and more flavorful. After trying them, I felt that the lowly Brussel sprout was finally honored!
Now for the entrees. I ordered Jenny’s Honey Duck, because I love crispy duck and because it is one dish I have not even dared to make. My husband ordered Megan’s Salt Baked Shrimp, an extremely popular dish on the menu.
When my Honey Duck arrived, I was surprised to see the overly generous portions on the plate. Two drumsticks with thighs sat atop two breast sections. I immediately calculated that I would have enough for three more meals at home, and I did! The savory flavor of the duck and the crispy skin was pure heaven. It left me with feelings of reverence for the bird, and of course Po and the chef!
My husband’s Salt Baked Shrimp was a sight to behold. He was not overly eager to share with me, which was a sure indication they were incredible! The jumbo flash-fried shrimp were lighted seasoned with salt and Thai chili and were topped off with a sprig of cilantro. They were nestled alongside bright green perfectly steamed broccoli. The Thai chilis and red bell pepper pieces lined the plate creating a work of culinary art. Another masterpiece!
Feeling totally satisfied, and immensely grateful for having found Po’s Rice and Spice, we prepared to have food packed up for home. I was looking forward to dinner for sure!
Po’s came to check on us and was kind enough to take time out from her busy day to speak with us in length about her business and life.
In Part 2 of this series, we will give readers an inside look at what Po’s journey has been like over the years, beginning with her early days learning Asian cuisine by her father’s side, to her current status as a successful restaurant owner.
Po’s Rice & Spice website: https://www.posriceandspice.com/
Photographs by David Challenger.