For all the restaurants we wax poetic about every week, there is that small handful of places we return to like swallows, for any number of reasons. Maybe it’s the vibe, maybe it’s the menu. Maybe it’s both, maybe it’s neither.
Years ago, when I lived in Hawaii, I would stare at the poke in the supermarket. Cubes of fresh fish, served on top of salad, or more commonly, on mounds of steamed rice. That was a hamburger and fries for the locals.
I didn’t get it.
Tastes evolve, things change, and now, I don’t let three days pass without poke. I have a couple of places I visit or get delivered from, but if I’m near Old Pasadena when the feeling strikes, I’m parking in the Delacey structure near that groovy little Japanese mini-department store, and strolling over to Poke Salad Bar.
Simple pleasures are the best, and this one fits that bill. Poke Salad Bar offers three sizes of fresh poke with a base of salad, white or brown rice, or a combination. Add to that any number of types of fish—salmon, scallops, tuna, spicy tuna, octopus, albacore, you get the idea—and top that with crab meat, maybe some mango, some pineapple, sweet corn, and maybe some seaweed. You can top that with some edamame, maybe green onion, a little wasabi, or one of a host of dry toppings that frankly all look like corn flakes to me.
Next comes the sauce. I opt for the citrus-y Yuzu Ponzu and Wasabi Mayo, but you can also choose from chipotle mayo, sesame shoyu, sweet chili, or a sweet hot sauce.
The end result is a mix of sweet and tangy, fresh and filling, with a hint of exotica and serenity, at least for me. It’s a moment of oneness for me, something that a burger or even a steak can’t provide.
Something about the combination of fish flavors and the sharp, salty bite of the ponzu is a rewarding bit of music for an audience of one. I generally drop in when I am alone, and I don’t need anyone to remember me, or stamp a loyalty card (Well, maybe…). But for the most part, give me poke and I am happy. The world’s problems and stories can wait 30 minutes.
Pass the wasabi mayo.