Poké, no not that gaming phenomena currently sweeping the world in which you capture cutesy hybrid monsters in monetized virtual balls to enslave them sweat shop style for virtual gym ownership. But Poké; the outstanding hybrid dish that is sweeping the world as the latest fast food trend.
In New York we have such an amazing diversity of cultural food. A sprinkle of this and that from almost every nation is represented here but Poké (Pronounced Poe-Kay) is a hybrid of Japanese Chirashizushi dishes and Hawaiian fresh seafood dishes. The Poké bowl is truly a hybrid of Japanese sushi culture incorporating fresh fish; often Big Eye Tuna (Called Ahi in Hawaii) and/or Salmon marinated in a lite soy/ponzu sauce. The rest follows with a combo of white/brown rice, seaweed, and fresh veggies topped with flavorful condiments including sesame seed, Japanese mayo, wasabi/spicy mayo etc.
While cruising the city; almost as if overnight more and more Poké restaurants have been opening up lately. Some using the standard “Chipotle formula” (which totally works for this cuisine) have begun the assault on the senses of New Yorkers craving that quick lunch and/or dinner. For my first foray into NYC Poké I chose Wisefish.
Wisefish opened up earlier this year with the motto of bringing you responsibly sourced seafood in a laid-back environment with a commitment to quality. With those tenants as a guide it’s hard not to deliver. As you enter Wisefish you will notice a very clean and fine line styled environment with a cascading flow of wood, tile and brick. It’s simplistic in execution and beautiful in its simplicity. Soothing tunes great you as you enter peering towards the back of the restaurant for service. This part was a tad confusing as they have the large blackboard type menu behind the area that completes your dish but to your right there is an order counter so you may tend to continue looking back to the big board while trying to assemble your order with the cashier if you are “picking your own adventure”.
Wisefish also has a few predetermined bowls like “The West Swell” including ahi tuna, sweet onion, herb mix, masago, wasabi avocado cream, and Wisefish sauce or “The Chelsea” which has tofu, avocado, sweet onion, cucumber, edamame, sea beans, scallion and Wisefish sauce for the non-meat eaters out there. My choice was to “choose my own adventure” so I went with the large bowl (more fish) with ahi tuna tossed in their spicy citrus shoyu and a base of brown rice. After that you can go willy-nilly with an assortment of additions (mostly free) but I chose the following: edamame, herb mix, hijiki, jalapeño, sea beans, and sweet onions. I also added scallion, toasted sesame seeds, and wasabi avocado cream. This may seem like a lot but you get it all in one composed delicious bowl.
The combination worked for the most part but I can see how one can go off the rails with adding ingredients, condiments and flavors that may not totally complement each other but that’s the power of the “choose your own adventure” formula. The Ahi, fresh sushi grade fish atop other equally fresh and amazing ingredients. All of the flavors were clear and apparent and dance on the tongue like a very large sushi roll devoured in many bites. The price was a little over $15 for the large size and worthy of my lunch-time jaunt through the area. On a whole the meal felt very healthy and fulfilling delivering on the unspoken yet obvious promise of wholesome food in a clean environment. Wisefish also has some very unique flavors of Mochi ice cream by MochiDoki for that sweet tooth after a savory Poké bowl. Some of the unique flavors include toasted coconut, mango Thai basil and double chocolate chip. As a fan of mochi I highly recommend a taste.
My second Poké experience took me to Chikarashi on Canal Street. Chikarashi is even newer than Wisefish barely having two months under its belt to date. Akin to Wisefish, Chikarashi has a very clean look to it choosing an all-natural Beachwood for its walls, counters, floor and seats. Very clean lines and perfect lighting build on the aesthetic of this minimalist setting which formerly housed knock-off Coach bags, umbrellas and scarves. The location attracted me immediately one night while walking down the ever changing Canal Street beckoning me in for a visit. I got to speak to Sel, short for Selwyn Chan who is one of the partners of the space.
One of the first things you should know about Chikarashi is their menu is a chef driven one. It is designed by Michael Jong Lim; former executive chef of Neta who also worked with the magic makers at Masa. The goal off the top is offering the highest quality seafood and ingredients to deliver you the perfect bowl each time you order it. The seafood is sourced by the same purveyors used for Masa and the rice is of the highest quality using Temaki Gold to give you that perfect quality combo 1, 2, punch.
You won’t find the “Chipotle formula” option for any of their bowls. Each bowl has been crafted by the chefs combining the right ingredients to make the perfect Poké bowl. All sauces and complimenting ingredients are mostly made in-house giving you that taste of authenticity of the Chirashizushi tradition while complimenting its Hawaiian roots.
I ordered the Goma Shoyu Tuna bowl which combines Bluefin tuna, Goma shoyu, chili oil, nori, hijiki, avocado, and garlic chips. This bowl was one of the closest to a Hawaiian Poké bowl on the menu which I got to compare baseline Poké offerings.
The bowl was beautiful and the initial standout was the crimson hue of the Bluefin tuna. The quality was apparent on sight on par with the quality I have seen in high end omakase sittings. The flavor of the tuna was very clear and clean in taste lending to the depth of the bowl delivering on freshness and flavor.
The rice on its own was perfectly cooked and seasoned which is one thing they focus on very specifically at Chikarashi. Crispy garlic chips added to the texture and flavor of the dish making it a near perfect Poké bowl. I have to admit I was slightly at a loss with the absence of an onion compliment to this dish as Poké commonly has some form of scallion or sweet onion to provide that crunch and flavor. There are many iterations on Poké in and out of Hawaii so while the Goma Shoyu Tuna bowl didn’t need it; the combination of the chili oil and garlic chips made for a pleasant variation at the same price as my $15 bowl at Wisefish.
Chikarashi has quite a few unique offerings like their seared Bluefin Toro tuna bowl which is sold in very limited quantities each day. The Bluefin Toro is cut from the finest parts of the tuna belly removing as much sinew as possible giving you the most coveted sections of the tuna belly. If you arrive early you should definitely take advantage of this special offering if available. Additionally Chikarashi is the only place in the city making the “Dole Whip” which is special frozen dessert created by the Dole pineapple company in the mid 80’s. It was previously only sold only in Disneyland and Disney World and now Chikarashi is now bringing it to NYC. It’s both gluten and dairy free making it the perfect summer dessert for New Yorkers to obtain on these sweltering days. I was sure to grab one enjoying its authentic Dole pineapple juice flavor in a frozen treat. It won’t knock your socks off but it’s a unique item to taste in your lifetime and brag about on your Instagram without having to endure the expensive annoying trip.
If you’ve never had Poké and are not opposed to eating raw fish you have plenty of reasons to try it these days. With places like Pokéworks, and long-time standout Makana and others popping up there is no shortage of accessible locations. With bowls ranging from $8 – $15 there is really no reason to get that McMeal of madness cornering close to the same price. Poké is here to be that new food on the long roster of great foods in New York. Now go forth and enjoy these quality healthy bowls of goodness before the market gets saturated and Duane Reade starts selling their own “Poké” bowls.
- Wisefish in Chelsea
- Chikarashi in Chinatown