I managed to completely avoid poké while in Los Angeles, a city practically synonymous with the 2015 iteration, and assumed I was in the clear as long as I stayed on my side of the country. But within a matter of months, no less than three restaurants featuring cubes of raw fish dressed and gussied-up in bowls appeared nearly as far as one can get in the continental United States from Hawaii.
I don’t dislike poké. I just had better things to do in LA. In fact, it’s kind of a perfect office-day lunch: light with lots of satisfying texture and flavor. Except that I didn’t realize quite how popular Pokéworks was. I’m not sure if the new aspiring chainlet always has a line 30 deep at 2pm (enough to warrant a passing-out of samples and menus to soothe the eager) or if my inadvertently showing-up the same day The New York Times wrote about poké had any bearing on the line apocalypse that out-snaked Chick-fil-A’s corner queue a few doors down.
Originally, I mistook this as a poké bouncer–until I realize he was there to keep fish freaks from blocking the entrance to the gentleman’s club.
Pokéworks offers eight signature styles, including a vegetarian and chicken version, but after waiting 25 minutes, menu in hand, then eyes on the assembly line, it almost feels irresponsible to not attempt a custom order even though that might be the optimal way to assess what a restaurant is all about. Every option (it’s a six-step process) has already been computed mentally by this point. I felt like confident when I went for a brown rice base, a two-protein combo of ahi tuna and salmon, edamame and hijiki as mix-ins, classic salt (Hawaiian salt and sesame oil) flavor, masago-only topping (seaweed and salad and crab salad were tempting), plus garlic chips for crunch.
So many components might threaten to overwhelm the whole point of this purist dish, and I didn’t need all that rice, but the firm chunks of tuna and salmon still shone through, a bright counterpoint for a blustery winter afternoon in NYC.
Pokéworks * 63 W. 37th Ave., New York, NY