Today I was invited to a “Vancity Tastes” event, bringing attention to yet another poke restaurant in Vancouver. Although “Pacific Poke” is one of the newest at a mere 6 months old, and they have something all the others do not: lineage.
When it comes to a media tasting: plating and portion size may be gussied up and/or paired down, and the service will usually be top notch. Though I can at least paint you the most accurate image when it comes to the food and the setting, as how I interpret it. But as always, these are my opinions and you need not take them as fact. Unless you have my exact background, have lived my exact experiences, and we possess the same tongue; no one can truly taste and appreciate as you do.
Their head chef and sous chef have 30 years between them, in the fine dining restaurant industry. They themselves understand that poke places are now a dime a dozen, but they believe that what they are doing is approaching it with a slightly different perspective. They are adapting their fine dining techniques and using it to source out the best ingredients, to elevate something as simple as raw vegetable and fish over rice. They set their standards high and put detail into their bowls. The prices vary between $13-14, with the option to customize your own.
The restaurant is set up as a quick eat and go. Tables and white painted chairs on the right, with bar style seating looking out the windows up front. You begin your journey at their service counter on the left. With many more customers taking out than dining in.
They serve from cafeteria style metal containers organized like a conveyor belt operation, assembled before you behind their glass protected counter. Like similar fast food concepts you follow the employee along, watching them add ingredients onto your order; but here they use a healthy sized ice cream scoop to add dollops over your chosen base.
With options like brown rice, quinoa, and leafy greens they definitely have health in mind, and are in trend with many of the health conscious folk in Vancouver. I am not one of those, as I believe poke is best enjoyed with good old fashioned white sushi rice and plenty of mayo and sauces; both well offered in “Pacific Poke’s” bowls. As for the other ingredients, they fillet their fish in house and prepare everything from scratch: every seasoning and every squeeze bottle of sauce.
For those wanting to choose their own poke adventure, you work your way across the counter choosing its size, base, proteins, sauces, and toppings. You pay more to get more in any category.
You begin by choosing your size, a regular is $12 and the large is $14. The regular includes two proteins and three toppings, and the large gives you three proteins and four toppings. But for those who like things done their way, you can take the classics poke route with a choice between organic brown rice or traditional sushi rice. Or you can go the healthier route with a quinoa salad base or a kale salad base.
The list of proteins includes salmon, spicy salmon, spicy tuna, ahi tuna, a creamy crab and shrimp mix, and negitoro. They will also be adding in seasonal selections now and again.
For sauces they have just as much choice, and you can mix a few together. Sesame miso, a citrus dressing, pacific ponzu, a classic sesame shoyu, wasabi dressing, a spicy sauce, and a super spicy sauce.
And lastly the topping list is double. Cucumber and jicama, tomato kimchi, pickled red onion, sprouts, spicy seaweed, beets and basil, jalapeño salads, organic seaweed salad, fresh wasabi peas, avocado nori, and tobiko. Here is where they stand out from their competition some more. Not just shredded and julienned raw vegetables, but a specialty mix of seasoned vegetables and spices for house made salads, salsas, and slaws.
Despite all of the above, given the combined pedigree of their chefs, I wouldn’t bother attempting to make my own bowl. Again, they have over 30 years fine dining experience, so clearly know what they are doing when it comes to combing flavour profiles. I can attest to this, as I liked all their three chef inspired, fish-ful poke bowls. They also have a vegetarian one, but we didn’t bother trying it, considering traditional poke centres around good fresh fish.
Each bowl came well thought out. All three had a great ratio of fish to vegetable, and both over rice. An assembly of various textures and plenty of balancing favours. The fish was at the perfect, slightly chilled temperature. And there was plenty of cream to fully coat it all. It was hard, but I did single out a favourite between the three that we tried. (All of the chef’s specials, minus the vegetarian option.)
“The Main” was my favourite. Salmon, spicy tuna, crab and shrimp, jicama, cucumber, avocado nori, sesame miso sauce, lime and yuzu juice, green onion, and fresh herbs. A little spicy at some bites, warming with ginger in others, and tangy with pickled vegetables throughout. The seaweed was the highlight, best when partnered with a chunk of fish.
“The Keefer” had a half chewy rice and a half leafy vegetable base. This definitely made things feel lighter and more healthier. Ahi and albacore tuna negitoro, avocado nori, fresh wasabi peas, mixed herbs, classic sesame shoyu, wasabi dressing, and lime juice. It was more tangy from the citrus juice, with the wasabi peas adding a unique flavour to the mix.
And for those who like more spice in their poke, “The Cali” is for you. Although I did find the spicy sauce a tad overwhelming as it hid all the other ingredients behind its sharp and tangy flavour. Spicy salmon, crab and shrimp, avocado nori, pickled red onion, sprouts, and the spicy sauce.
And for those who wanted their poke even more portable, they also offer their blend of vegetable mixes and seasoned proteins as a sandwich, grilled and pressed between two panini buns. A half order went for $5.80 and the full $9.80.
The “salmon” one included crab and shrimp, pickled red onion, avocado nori, spicy sauce, and tomato kimchi. It tasted like what was in their bowls, except, substitute rice for bread.
The “tuna” was pretty much the same, except for a change in protein and a sub for the spicy sauce with the more complementary wasabi dressing to tuna and sprouts instead of the kimchi.
And to match all these bold colours and flavours, they offer three in house made drinks. Each complimentary to the bowls before us. A refreshing yuzu lemon tea, a pleasant strawberry green tea, and the coco pandan that was so rich that it drank more like a dessert than a beverage with your meal.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
They are certainly better than a handful of the pokes I have had in Vancouver, but without trying all of them, I cannot rank them the best. However this does currently does land in my top two. The experience of their chefs and their dedication to gourmet and healthy bowls certainly shows. Don’t deny your cravings