There’s a bit of a revolution going on–Southeast Asia is taking over a small strip center on North Oak Trafficway. That’s where Kien Nguyen is building his restaurant empire, with three concepts–Broken Rice, San’s Sandwiches, and Poke Bar–all at home in the L-shaped center at 65th and North Oak Trafficway.
Poke Bar capitalizes on the latest trend in fast-casual seafood–namely poke, a traditional Hawaiian dish of cubed raw fish in a savory sauce of soy sauce, green onions, and sesame oil. While the center of the country is always slow to embrace new trends in seafood, this one seems ripe for the picking as poke takes something familiar (sushi) and gives it a little spin (put it in a bowl with toppings).
Poke Bar, then, does the savvy thing–equates poke with sushi rather than referencing a Hawaiian dish with which many Midwesterners may be unfamiliar. And the similarities are plentiful enough that it works. But for those that know what they are looking for, it also hits the mark, providing the essence of dishes they might have enjoyed on vacation. And best of all, they have made it quick and accessible. Think of Poke Bar as a Chipotle serving raw fish instead of antibiotic-free chicken burritos.
The space is similar to Chipotle as well. It’s open, airy and big enough for a crowd. Poke Bar offers two variations on the poke idea–the bowl, built on a bed of either white or brown rice or spring greens for the carb-eschewers, as well as a ‘sushi burrito,’ which takes the standard sushi role and aims a gamma ray at it, growing it to a superfluous proportion. At $9.99 for either the standard size bowl ($12.99 for an extra scoop of protein) or a sushi burrito, it hits a nice price point for something that can be healthy, if you let it.
On my visit to Poke Bowl, I decided to go traditional and opted for the California bowl. Choosing a bed of brown rice (because I’m so virtuous), I enjoyed the scoop of crab salad alongside the tossed mixture of tuna, yellowtail, and salmon, and topped with spicy mayo, wasabi mayo, furikake, masago, and a small pile of seaweed salad. The portion size was perfectly Goldilocks–not too big and not too small- and the flavors blended well. While it may not make Jiro dream of sushi, it was a great light but filling meal on a Saturday afternoon.
My husband decided to go the burrito route. He was pleasantly surprised by the kick of spice in the Volcano burrito, filled with rice, tuna, yellowtail, salmon, and spicy tuna along with avocado, masago, green onion, wonton chips, jalapeno, and spicy and wasabi mayo. The roll had a kick, and although it might look only slightly bigger than a generously sized sushi roll, it was considerably more filling.
If neither of those sounds appealing, there are three other recipes available, or you can build your own bowl, truly Chipotle-style and choose from the multitude of options for starch, protein, and vegetables. Choose a Japanese soda to accompany your meal (aloe, anyone?) and you can enjoy a little Asian oasis in the middle of a strip mall.
Poke Bar isn’t fancy, but it isn’t trying to be either. Its aim is to be quick, convenient, and more or less healthy and it succeeds. Its bright interior and friendly staff (one worker went to another restaurant to get us a high chair–that’s service), means that as long as Northlanders are willing to turn to the east and explore a little, they will be pleasantly surprised at their healthy options. As for me, I’m excited to see how the center develops into a mecca for Southeast Asian food, a cuisine that the Northland is hungry for.
6575 N. Oak Trafficway
Gladstone, Missouri 64118