Restaurant review: The Poke
New Westwood restaurant The Poke serves raw poke bowls along with cooked dishes such as teriyaki and tempura. (Laura Uzes/Daily Bruin)
By Linda Xu
July 30, 2017 7:43 p.m.
Westwood is now swimming in poke restaurants, with the addition of its newest raw fish pit stop, The Poke.
Located on Broxton Avenue and wedged in between well-known student eateries BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse and Habibi Cafe, it would seem as though The Poke already has an advantage in terms of high foot traffic. Considering the growing popularity of Hawaiian food, and poke in particular, perhaps yet another poke place near campus wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. However, the quality of the fish and lack of balance between the toppings and seafood forebodes a watery grave for the new restaurant.
The Poke offers a choice between build-your-own bowls and pre-made bowls, such as the Dynamite Poke and Unagi Poke, which are topped with cooked meats as opposed to traditionally raw fish.
In addition, The Poke offers a small selection of other cooked dishes including teriyaki bowls, soup noodles and tempura.
The fully customizable bowls come in three sizes: a small bowl for $8.95, a medium for $10.95 and a large for $12.95.
The smallest size comes with two scoops of a rice or a salad base to start, and the number of scoops increases from there. The choice of toppings is disappointingly plain, with typical add-ons such as seaweed, edamame and crab meat, but no exciting options to experiment with.
Protein selection includes the classic trio of salmon, albacore and tuna, tofu for vegetarians, and shrimp and octopus.
The fish is arguably the most important component of any poke bowl. Unfortunately, the cubes of salmon and albacore that sat in the bowl tasted less than fresh and borderline briny. The temperature of the fish was also warmer than expected, which certainly did not help its cause.
The texture of the meat was off as well. Rather than the fatty piece of tender, sushi-grade fish that is typically the highlight of a poke bowl, each chunk felt questionably chewy and tough. The albacore in particular still had the skin attached and almost appeared to be cooked, which rendered it tasteless and hard to swallow.
As opposed to many poke bowls, which are usually laden with heavy mayo, the fish was coated in The Poke’s house sauce, which consists of ginger, ponzu sauce and sesame oil. The acidity of the dressing cut through some of the odd flavors of the fish, but periodic bites of avocado were necessary to neutralize the strong flavor of the ginger and ponzu.
As for the toppings, the scoop of crab meat sitting atop the bowl was the only redeeming aspect of the dish. The flavors of the shredded crab were mild and creamy, masking some of the sourness of the fish. The edamame and seaweed also added a bit of heartiness, but the fried onion sprinkled on top was limp, missing its essential crunch.
The general imbalance of the dish had an off-putting effect. In most poke bowls, all the elements, the fish especially, are served cold and crisp, making the dish a refreshing experience. However, the temperate fish mixed with the chilled crab meat and seaweed salad was a disagreeable combination.
In terms of value, the prices at The Poke are slightly higher than other Westwood restaurants such as Sweetfin Poké and Poke Me. However, the portions are significantly larger. A small bowl at Poke Me is $7.99, but the amount of food that comes with it isn’t enough to satiate an empty stomach, whereas a small bowl at The Poke is more than filling.
However, despite its portion size, the unsatisfactory meal was hard to finish and ultimately did not measure up to the precedent set by the more veteran poke restaurants surrounding it.