By Teri Bayus
San Luis Obispo is now home to its first “Poke” restaurant, a craze that has been sweeping San Francisco and The Bay Area, and I am glad has creaked down the Coast.
Poke is a dish that at its core is marinated, raw fish lying on a bowl of rice and then topped with fresh vegetables. Poke has become popular because it’s light, fresh, delicious, and crave-able.
Poke (pronounced “POH-keh”) is a classic Hawaiian appetizer served with a wide variety of accompaniments. At the new Poke Chef you can create any combination you desire from the many fresh and healthy choices.
I started with the signature dish, Spicy Tuna Lover, with ahi tuna, spicy tuna, albacore, edamame, green onion, seaweed salad and ponzu sauce. I added ginger, wasabi and sesame seeds.
My first impression was that it was big bowl of crisp, good food that was served fast. I was fascinated how fresh and tasty it was, I was instantly addicted. My companion Wes, who is my boss at Cuesta Community Programs, knew of Poke bars, so he filled me in while he snacked on his Salmon Delight that had salmon, crab salad, scallops, shrimp, unagi and miso sesame dressing.
He explained that you make a selection of fish or proteins, atop a base of rice, seasonal greens, vegetables and wild cards like avocado, mango or even cranberries. Then you top it with a house made sauce. Add a bit of wasabi and ginger and its like you made sushi in a bowl.
I asked the owner, Will Yan, what made him want to open a Poke restaurant and he said, “The origin of Poke is that it is local to the area and comes from a fishing boat. We want to respect that culture and use fish that comes from the waters in our area. Poke is originated from Hawaii. We capture both Hawaiian and Asian flavors, and bring the innovation of the way we can serve Poke.
“Our four spicy house made sauces included Wasabi Cream, Spicy Mayo, Tangy Bomber and our new Fireball sauce. Our sweet sauces are lemon ginger and Ponzu with savory offerings like unagi and miso-miso. They all contain no MSG or artificial flavors. Our Poke bowl is simple, but made every step with intention and passion.”
Poke Chef is a choose-your-own-adventure kind of place. You pick the size — small, medium, or large bowl. How many proteins do you want, two, three or four? Then pick a base — white rice, brown rice, or greens.
Moving down the line, add whatever you want, from tuna, albacore, spicy tuna, salmon, shitake mushrooms, chicken breast, crab, scallops, tofu and more. Next, onto the sauces and toppings with so many choices ranging from edamame to onions, avocados to jalapeños, mangos, garlic slices, carrot, corn. It is not your traditional Poke, but still scrumptious and very affordable (small bowl is $9.95). You can also have the whole thing wrapped in seaweed for a Poke burrito.
The next visit, I made my own with crab, albacore, ahi and scallops as my proteins. I added edamame, green onion, cucumber, with the lemon ginger sauce and spicy mayo.
On top I added crispy garlic, massago, sesame seeds, avocado and kimchi. It was enough food for lunch and dinner for myself, and when I brought it home, the husband insisted we go back to let him pick out his own bowl.
He went all sweet, surprisingly. His bowl was full of scallops and albacore with carrots, corn and edamame, lemon ginger sauce, dried cranberries and mango. He was a happy Poke-man.
The fish and vegetables were super fresh, and I consider eating sushi-grade fish with a ton of veggies and toppings for under $15 to be a steal. I will be back for this food often, as the price and the variety are worth a special trip. I am excited that we have been “Poke-fied.”
Poke Chef is located at 580 California Blvd., in San Luis Obispo. Call (805) 996-0038. Open from 11 a.m.-8 p.m. daily (closed at 6 on Sundays).