Food & Drink » Restaurant reviews

Set your sushi free at Detroit’s Pokē Pokē

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The staff at Pokē Pokē ("Sushi Unrolled") are determined that you not pronounce their restaurant "pokey pokey," or worse, one syllable, "poke poke." They emphasize the last syllable, slowly: Po-kay Po-kay, almost rhymes with okay. It's a Hawaiian word meaning "chunk," as in the chunks of seafood that are the protein component of a poke bowl.

Poke started becoming popular around here a few years ago; it's not hard to find. Pokē Pokē itself has seven spots in the state, from Grand Rapids to Troy, the one in Midtown open nearly two years now.

The bowls come in regular and large; regular is plenty big, though I thought mine was a bit smaller on my second visit (management cracking down on generous workers?).

It's hard to imagine how you could get a bad poke bowl, if the fish is fresh and you're a sushi fan. I now officially prefer poke to sushi — there's so much more going on. At Pokē Pokē, you can choose from eight "signature" combinations or build your own.

Decisions, decisions. There are five steps to constructing your bowl, and each step may have multiple components: a rice base (white, brown or cauliflower, or spring mix); protein (ahi, mahi, spicy tuna, salmon, Hawaiian salmon, marinated in soy tamari sauce, "crab," shrimp, chicken, tofu); mostly vegetables (edamame, carrot, red or green onion, mango, seaweed salad, watermelon radish, avocado, cabbage, cilantro, jalapeño, cucumber, corn, seasonal fruit — Mandarin oranges recently); sauces (eel, citrus ponzu, sesame ginger, tamari, spicy mayo, wasabi soy, plain soy, sweet chili gochujang, and house — sriracha-infused soy); and toppings (ginger slices, wasabi, masago, sesame seeds, crisp onion, chili flakes, tempura flakes, nori strips, furikake).

I recently chose the Spicy Tuna Crunch Bowl, which left me with pleasantly burning lips from the tuna, the jalapeño, and the spicy mayo, smoothed out by lots of creamy avocado. Red onion and tempura flakes added the crunch. I do recommend crunch. Another night I used cauliflower rice as my base — it's just ground raw cauliflower, so fewer carbs — and added Hawaiian salmon and mahi, with masago and ginger as toppings.

My companion's California Crunch Bowl, which is the biggest seller, was more anodyne ("California" in the name is always a giveaway): soy sauce on the shrimp and pretend crab, lots of avocado and edamame. The Rainbow Bowl is similar, with salmon instead of shrimp and sesame seeds instead of tempura flakes. The "seasonal fruit" was Mandarin oranges.

Listing all the possible combos would result in thousands; like I said, it's hard to see how you could go far wrong. Just pick your spice level and go from there. Managers are experimenting; they had to ditch a tomato-based protein substitute for lack of customer enthusiasm.

Side salads are also available to grab from the cooler. I liked the ginger salad, though it was just spring mix and some vegetables and cukes; it was the ginger dressing that made it. Spicy crab salad, also good, doesn't involve greens; it's shredded crab, pretty hot.

There's no alcohol (and not much of a sit-down vibe); drinks are a large selection of flavored bottled teas and, I regret to say, boxed water. Dessert is mochi ice cream, a Japanese thing. Mochi is rice cake pounded into a paste and then molded into a shape. It has such an odd, rubbery texture — perhaps an acquired taste — and it's filled with ice cream. Both the ones we tried tasted artificial, not like a real mango or even real green tea at all. Green tea ice cream is usually faint and pleasant, but here what seemed to be chemicals shone through. Skip the sweets; your bowl is big enough.

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