The welcome poke explosion continues with Pokebap's fresh, lively offerings
Tuna poke — pronounce the second word “po-kay,” please — has been popping up a lot around town lately. The traditionally lettuce-free, sushi-style salad rides in on a wave of popularity that began in Hawaii — where poke originated — and grew to near tsunami-size when the delicious raw fish dish became a craze in L.A. a few years back.
Enter Pokebap, a fast-casual operation serving in a Dublin shopping center since November. Frankly, I hope simple-but-smart Pokebap represents another growing wave: A future with more fast-food alternatives that offer quick-but-healthful meals with lively, fresh flavors.
Occupying a streamlined-but-upbeat space with bright blue and green paint and a station for get-your-own, cucumber-scented water, Pokebap might help that future occur — it seems like the prototype for a potential chain. Should Pokebap replicate, the company would be wise to train its new employees as well as the unusually friendly and accommodating staff members I encountered.
Those servers consistently exhibited patience while describing potentially unfamiliar ingredients common to Hawaiian, Japanese and Korean fare, and explaining how to assemble them into pleasing orders.
This entails going traditional — just raw fish plus garnishes — or, a la Chipotle, composing bowls with brown rice or respectable sushi-style rice (the “bap” in Pokebap alludes to the Korean word for rice); winning jumbo-sushi-roll “burritos” wrapped in nori or more delicate and more interesting “soybean paper”; or lettuce-anchored salads.
These can be completely or partially predesigned or customized. Going the all-customized route means picking price-setting proteins, each of which arrives in two decent-sized scoops ($11 unless noted; extra scoops are $2). Half-and-half combos are available — one scoop of two different proteins for the price of one protein.
I tried and liked most of them: ruby cubes of good, sashimi-grade tuna; silky raw salmon slices; coins of cooked, moderately chewy octopus; soft tofu ($9); and, my favorite, melt-in-your-mouth raw yellowtail cubes.
After the application of Poke's standard dressing — sweet soy sauce plus sesame oil or moderately spicy sesame oil — garnishes are selected from a mostly free, highly appealing and dizzying roster that includes creamy avocado, jalapenos, scallions, tomatoes with cilantro, edamame, toasted coconut, macadamia nuts, crispy garlic, pickled ginger, pickled cucumbers, ponzu sauce (sweet, citrusy, soy-based), palate-popping yuzusco sauce (aggressively vinegary with a chili finish), and gochujang-like Pokebap sauce.
Going the predesigned route, The Pokebap ($13) is fantastic fast food. It's a no-holds-barred, texturally complex bonanza with tuna, yellowtail, octopus, surimi and salmon mixed with a cornucopia of salad vegetables, toasted garlic, roe, avocado, seaweed, edamame and more. The colorful result — at once savory, sweet, spicy, salty and rich — is a rarity: A meal as dynamic and delicious as it is filling and healthful.
The Island ($11) is more restrained but hits many of the same terrific notes. It's a fruity, tangy and zippy ensemble with plentiful yellowtail flattered by diced mango and mango salsa, avocado, macadamia nuts, shaved coconut, onions, cucumber, jalapeno and more.
In addition to its fresh, delicious and nearly endless bowl, burrito and salad combinations, Pokebap offers sides such as commercial-grade kimchi ($2); a zingy, meaty and surprisingly compelling imitation Crab Salad ($5); cuts-above, fetch-your-own Miso Soup ($2); plus a nice rendition of Musubi ($2).
New to musubi? It's a seemingly oxymoronic Hawaiian delight: Spam sushi. Specifically, it's a marinated and seared slab of Spam affixed to sushi rice by a ribbon of seaweed.
Served warm and wrapped in plastic, Pokebap's hefty, smoky, sweet and salty Musubi is an exception to the rule that the establishment only serves healthful food. Like most everything else offered in this welcome restaurant, though, the endearingly goofy, almost-ham almost-sushi is inexpensive and fun to eat.