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Restaurant Review: Sweetfin Poké hooks customers with bright, bold flavors

Sweetfin Poké in Westwood serves up rice, kale salad or a noodle-cucumber slaw as a base for its bowls, which are then topped with raw fish and sauces. (Wesley Hardin/Daily Bruin)

By Nikhil Sharma

Feb. 12, 2017 6:35 p.m.

The white walls and countertops clash with the bright pink tuna at Sweetfin Poké, relaxing the mind while lightening up the taste buds.

The small shop is situated one block from the Hammer Museum and is the latest in the Los Angeles poke chain of four restaurants. The newest addition to the Westwood poke scene opened Tuesday; it’s an eclectic but enjoyable experience that, while a bit far, is worth a taste of its rice and raw fish bowls.

[Read more: Westwood reels in new Sweetfin Poké location]

Old school hip-hop songs by 2Pac and Common welcomed customers into the cafe-style restaurant after a 20-minute walk from campus. Inside, high chairs seat about 12 people, while three outdoor tables fit about another dozen people.

Customer Chris Alvarez said the small indoor eating area somewhat discourages eat-in orders. However, the spicy tuna bowl was enjoyable with fresh albacore complemented by avocado, he said.

The menu contains nine signature bowls and a build-your-own-bowl option, cleverly called BYOB. Customers choose rice, kale salad or a noodle-cucumber slaw as a base, and top it with either fish, tofu or vegetables. The restaurant features four options for fish toppings: salmon, tuna, albacore and snapper. After choosing the base and toppings, the customer finishes the dish with one of six sauces, ranging from spicy mayo to sweet citrus.

The sauces themselves have a nice bite, with each taste appropriately matching the descriptions on the menu. The spicy mayo and ponzu sauces had a strong bite and lingered on the palette, and the sweet citrus sauce left a pleasant aftertaste.

However, with the sauces came some disappointment. Rather than drizzling the bowls with sauce, the cooks douse them, overpowering the other flavors within the bowl. While the sharpness of a charred habanero paired beautifully with a succulent piece of salmon, the result simply tasted like a bite of spicy mayo. For Sweetfin Poké, the sentiment of the legendary poets Future and Lil Uzi Vert unfortunately rings true: “That’s too much sauce.”

Customers can top their bowls with 28 add-ons. The menu includes fruits and vegetables such as avocados and mangos, herbs and spices such as chile oil and cilantro and crunchy condiments such as bean sprouts and crispy onions. All of the toppings help add to the vibrant flavors of the bowls and, with so many different choices, each customer can personalize their dish to their liking.

[Read more: Sweetfin Poké to bring new flavors into Westwood with Hawaiian menu]

Spicy mayo sauce, wasabi peas, chilies and mango gave the bowl a zesty taste with a hint of sweetness. Each bite varied from the crunchiness of wasabi peas to the sweet tenderness of a mango. However, the combination was different than that of a Chipotle burrito, where one bite of a burrito might only contain tasteless chicken while the next is just hard, undercooked rice. The poke bowl blended flavors well.

The most vital part of a poke bowl is the fish itself. The raw fish at a poke joint can have a very fishy aftertaste or taste slightly old. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case – the salmon was succulent with little-to-no aftertaste and was well-seasoned with sesame seeds.

Sweetfin Poké is not very pricey, with small bowls costing about $9 and large bowls about $13. Some premium add-ons such as avocado will run the customer $1 extra each, while sides such as taro chips can be added for around $3. The sides are well-portioned and not as overpriced as burrito restaurants that charge $3 extra for one scoop of guacamole.

Though Sweetfin Poké in Westwood might be a hike and a half from the Hill, the trek to try the latest poke joint can’t be passed up.

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Nikhil Sharma
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