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Quest for Freshness: Pongo's Kitchen & Tap
Tucked away in an unassuming strip mall in Petaluma, Pongo's bright, colorful interior creates a welcoming, tropical dining experience for its fresh Pan-Asian food. In fact, "fresh" and "local" are chef Pongo Pleinnikul's keywords for inspiration at his eponymously named restaurant.
In their quest for the freshest ingredients, Pleinnikul and his family planted a garden to supply the restaurant with homegrown vegetables and herbs, adding a just-picked freshness to the dishes. Pleinnikul also searches markets for the latest seasonal ingredients, coming up with cool and spicy combinations that include Thai, Vietnamese and even Mexican flavors.
One recent special included pork belly, marinated overnight in sea salt and black pepper then pan-fried. "It's like bacon on steroids," Pleinnikul chuckles. Traditional Thai curries share the menu with creative fusion dishes, such as chicken satay wrap or barbecued beef with a chili lime sauce. Lettuce cups, soup bowls, rice dishes, burgers and all kinds of noodles round out the menu. The most popular menu item at the moment is Nick's Special, created by Pleinnikul's son, Nick. "He was hungry, and pan-fried some noodles then added vegetables and topped it with our peanut sauce," Pleinnikul says. "Now it has become the most ordered dish." The peanut sauce is a velvety concoction made with house-roasted peanuts and coconut milk, adding an addictive richness to whatever it's served with.
The atmosphere at Pongo's is cozy, though it gets pretty happening at times, especially Thursday nights when live music is featured. "We get bands that are local acts that folks know," Pleinnikul says. Bands from Petaluma and Sonoma like Alec Fuhrman, the Messengers and Granular are a few of the acts coming up in the near future. Karaoke on Friday and Saturday nights is another popular draw.
In keeping with the local theme, the taps are filled with beers from Sonoma and Marin, including 101 North Brewing and Lagunitas. A full complement of local wines rounds out the bar, giving diners lots of options to pair with the spicy food. —Brooke Jackson