From my vantage point at a small corner table, I can only imagine that the name of Ping’s premier gin cocktail, "Slow Monday‚" is tongue-in-cheek. It’s the first day of the workweek, and even as happy hour fades with the spring twilight, an assortment of diners—Pearl District businessmen, pipe-cleaner-skinny fashionistas, couples, families, perfectly unkempt twentysomethings—steadily stream in, talking and pushing tables together near the restaurant’s large front windows.
Just beyond the opaque glass is the junction of NW Couch Street and Fourth Avenue, where denizens of the street wander past a backdrop of weathered storefronts. Open since February in the building that once housed dive bar Hung Far Low, Ping brings with it a whispered promise of neighborhood revitalization. Nevertheless, its unlikely milieu is one of the restaurant’s charms: its Pan-Asian pub aesthetic seems right at home on this gritty corner in Chinatown.
Ping is the latest venture from Pok Pok mastermind Andy Ricker, along with co-owner Kurt Huffman and a supporting cast of Portland power players, including Wieden & Kennedy executive creative director John Jay and his wife, style consultant Janet Jay. The restaurant is both as cool and as unassumingly popular as you would expect from a place with such a pedigree. Like Pok Pok, which brought true Southeast Asian street food to Portland, Ping insists on authenticity in its beguiling menu options: brined and skewered chicken butt, chewy pieces of baby octopus marinated in lime and garlic, and eggs steeped in black tea, ginger, and anise. Wash it all down with a cloyingly sweet artichoke iced tea or a Japanese soda with a marble in the bottle neck. You won’t find fusion here.
But unlike Pok Pok, Ping doesn’t have standout dishes. (In other words, leave your expectations for Ike’s famed fish sauce wings at the door.) What you’ll find instead is an intriguing collection of novelties. The tapas-like menu encourages you to sample all the options.