VEGETARIAN mainland poke
AhiPoki Bowl, ranked in the 1,168 spot for emerging chains
in the country by Chicago-based Technomic, opened its first
location in Temple City, California, in December 2015. It now
has 14 locations in Southern California, Northern California
and the greater Phoenix metro area, with plans to open 11 more
locations in California, Arizona and Seattle in 2017.
“We want to make poke a mainstream food within the quick-
service market,” says Jason Jantzen, co-owner. “Poke is aligned
with customers’ desire to eat healthier. We meet that expectation
and fall in line with many other quick-service restaurants serving
Jantzen also believes that people who enjoy eating sushi are
accepting poke as a favorable alternative. Poke elevates the flavor
experience when the raw seafood is combined with a sauce and
paired with vegetables, textural toppings and finishing sauces at
an affordable price point in a more casual dining environment.
Poke bowls range in price between $15 and $20.
All poke shops are designed in a similar format that allows
customers to choose ingredients to create unique poke bowls.
Customers first pick a base, then a protein and a marinade/sauce that’s
tossed together. The seasoned protein is placed on top of the base, and
the bowl is finished with vegetables, toppings and a second sauce.
Ingredients and preparation vary, but a bowl usually features
a base of brown rice, white rice, quinoa, soba noodles or greens;
a protein of yellowfin tuna, ahi tuna, bluefin tuna, spicy tuna,
salmon, scallops, shrimp, tofu, grilled chicken or poached
octopus; vegetables such as seaweed, edamame, bean sprouts,
cucumbers and avocado; toppings of crispy garlic, hazelnuts,
tortilla strips, sesame seeds and puffed rice; and a finishing
sauce, with a choice that includes the house specialty, garlic/
soy mirin, spicy mayonnaise, kimchi, avocado wasabi, ponzu,
cilantro mayonnaise, yuzu aioli and white soy sauce.
Some shops also feature poke rolls, which include all of the
ingredients that go into a bowl but wrapped in roasted seaweed.
And each shop usually offers several house poke bowls. “Having
a few house bowl choices takes away the guesswork for someone
not familiar with how to pick ingredients and assemble a poke
bowl,” says Arias. “The next time that customer comes in, he or
she may feel more adventurous and create their own.”
Three house bowls are offered at Aloha Poke that all start
with a choice of a base and protein. The Aloha adds pineapple,
Poke has been a longtime staple in the Pacific islands. It’s a dish that traditionally features sliced or cubed raw fish,
chopped Maui onion, Hawaiian red alaea sea salt, chopped
kukui nut, julienned seaweed and soy sauce. For the past
several years it’s been swimming its way across the nation—
and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Poke claims the No. 1
spot in the Movers and Shakers—Trends Heating Up category
in the National Restaurant Association’s 2017 What’s Hot
Not only are independent restaurants adding poke as an
appetizer or entree item, but there are new restaurant concepts
exclusively serving poke popping up coast to coast. Poke is on 54%
more menus than it was four years ago, but it’s only on 2% of menus
nationwide, according to Chicago-based foodservice research firm
Datassential. The company also reports that 13% of consumers
have tried poke and another 24% said they would like to.
David Arias, executive chef at Oceana Poke, New York, says
people are drawn to poke for several reasons. First, it’s considered
a healthy meal option that has fresh, unadulterated ingredients.
Second, it’s viewed as a complete meal, with a protein, starch
and vegetables, as well as various textural toppings. Third, it’s an
interactive event that gives control to customers, allowing them to
build their own poke bowls for a snack, lunch or dinner. Finally,
it’s perceived as a good value for the amount of food ordered.
Chicago, considered a steak-and-potatoes kind of town, is
beginning to see more poke outposts. FireFin Poké Shop, the
city’s first freestanding poke restaurant, has five locations in the
downtown area. It features 10 different predetermined FireFin
Creations poke bowls and a build-your-own custom poke bowl
option. Aloha Poke, opened in March 2016, has four locations,
with plans to open 14 more in the Chicago market.
New York has more than a dozen poke restaurants. And in
California, poke has been a mainstay on menus for years.
ABOVE AND OPPOSITE, LEFT TO RIGHT: 1) Travelle Kitchen + Bar uses white
soy sauce to retain the tuna’s deep color. 2) Oceana Poke’s poached octopus with
tomato, cucumber, shiitake mushrooms, sweet onion, crispy shallots, sesame seeds,
cilantro mayo and white soy sauce. 3) In addition to customer-created poke bowls,
AhiPoki Bowl offers macaron ice cream sandwiches in vanilla, mango, green tea,
espresso and strawberry flavors. 4) Poke includes two kinds of sauces—the initial
marinade and an optional finishing sauce.