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EXPERIENCE AS A JOURNALIS T AND EDITOR COVERING THE FOOD/RESTAURANT INDUSTRIES. VISIT HER WEBSITE AT W W W.MAGGIEHENNESSY.COM.
hearty Tehachapi grain salad laced with bok choy and braised wood ear mushrooms is slicked with
chili oil. And on the brunch menu, hand-milled rolled oats and rye porridge leans savory with the
help of sharp, earthy pecorino cheese, pickled beet greens and toasted seeds.
Centeno is less concerned about portion sizes, particularly at P.Y. T., where the bowls are built
like every other dish on the menu, “as a plate meant to be shared or one that can be eaten alone
as an entree,” he says. Regardless, they perform well across all dayparts, because they “tend to
include every aspect of what people look for in a ‘meal’—a starch, a protein and a vegetable.”
Few trends speak to our collective fixation with the healthy, made-to-order meal in a bowl
than the Hawaiian staple poke. Essentially deconstructed sushi over rice, poke comprises heaping
cubes of seasoned raw fish churched up with all manner of fresh veggies, sauce and spice. On the
islands, it can be found everywhere from supermarkets to gas stations, where it’s packed in plastic
containers for optimal on-the-go eating.
On the mainland, this phenomenon is playing out in both fast-casual/delivery settings and full-service restaurants. Poke bowls are by far the best-selling lunch and dinner item at Hawaiian fusion
restaurant Mahalo. The bi-level Chicago-based restaurant sells 2,500-3,000 poke and Hawaiian
ramen bowls (added for the winter menu) per week, on average.
Being Pacific Islands-influenced allows executive chef Matt Goodman plenty of creative
range while still hitting the poke highlights. Beyond the classic preparation of tuna marinated in
citrus soy sauce and mixed with cucumber, avocado and chopped macadamia nuts, he pulls from
influences such as Japanese sushi and California coastal cuisine.
“Spicy tuna is a killer everywhere, so I wanted to have a play on that,” he says. His combines
pineapple juice and fresh pineapple, fresno chilies, dried chilies, sesame oil and Japanese mayo.
Salmon poke is tossed with citrus wasabi aioli, sesame yuzu crunch, soybeans and red pepper, while
crab poke goes Californian with avocado mousse, charred red pepper vinaigrette and pickled bean
sprouts. A vegetable option combines raw and pickled veggies tossed in charred-scallion vinaigrette.
Although he spends ample time sourcing the right fish and tinkering with creative and seasonal
variations of Mahalo’s poke and ramen bowls, Goodman says the reason for their widespread
appeal is quite the opposite. “It’s easy, there’s not too much to it. You can put just about anything
in a bowl as long as you find well-balanced flavors to go with it.”
ABOVE, CLOCKWISE FROM
LEFT: 1) Bubu chef/owner Troy
Guard ate through several test
bowls before settling on the
perfect portion size. 2) Located
in high-traffic business districts,
BYO-bowl spot Bubu fills the
need for fast, healthy and
transportable lunch. 3) P. Y. T.’s
hand-milled rolled oats and
rye porridge. When asked what
inspired his seasonal grain and
porridge bowls at L.A. restaurants
P. Y. T. and Orsa + Winston, chef/
owner Josef Centeno says, “I
bought a mill.”