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Adam Chen

The Sushi Burrito Arrives

Accompanied by poke bowls

by Sabine Bickford

From the March, 2018 issue

When Adam Chen left New York City to start a restaurant in Ann Arbor, he brought two of the city's latest trends with him. At Washtenaw Commons across from Arborland, Poke Fish is now serving up sushi burritos and poke bowls.

The latest in cuisine hybrids, the sushi burrito is pretty much what it sounds like: a burrito-sized roll of raw fish, sauce, and veggies wrapped in rice and seaweed that you eat with your hands. The concept was popularized in 2011 by San Francisco restaurant Sushirrito, but quickly spread to NYC, Chicago, and even Royal Oak, where Yuzu Sushi opened in 2016.

It may not be immediately clear why the same places popularizing a modern Mexican/Japanese fusion are also serving up the traditionally Hawaiian dish poke, but it makes sense when you look at the ingredients. Poke (which Chen pronounces POH-keh, and wikipedia says translates to "slice or cut") uses the same basic ingredients as sushi: strips of raw fish mixed with vegetables, rice, and sauce. The timing was also right: in mainland America, poke came into popularity at roughly the same time as the sushi burrito.

For Chen, who had been running a traditional Japanese restaurant in New York, the pairing was obvious: it brings together two trends he thought college students and businesspeople alike would be interested in. "Right now poke fish is very popular in the United States," he says. "We found out Ann Arbor didn't have it!" He learned how to make the bowls and burritos from a friend who had opened a successful poke restaurant in New Jersey.

He says that he and his wife knew they wanted to leave the old restaurant in NYC, and their three young sons (ages four, seven, and nine) were a big part of their decision. Chen says Ann Arbor is safer "and the education is very good, so we like it here!" For now, his mother is staying behind to take care of the

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children while the Chens get set up here. He hopes the kids will follow in a few months: "I miss them every day."

Poke Fish offers a huge variety, with make-your-own versions of both the bowls and the burritos. The counter is set up in standard fast-casual style: ingredients lined up for customers to pick out as they go through the line. There are eleven different fish options, ten vegetables, six sauces, and fourteen "toppings" including avocado, tempura, beet, and wasabi.

Chen also offers a few more familiar cooked Japanese items like ramen and hibachi dishes. The fridge near the counter is stocked with various flavors of the Japanese "non-carbonated soft drink," Calpico.

The restaurant opened in early February, but Chen says, "We didn't do any advertising, so a lot of customers didn't even know we were open!" But, he adds, when "they try it, they love it." If you can't spot the small entryway, just look for the three cartoon waving lucky cats on the door.

Poke Fish, 3500 Washtenaw (Washtenaw Commons). 922-2207. Mon.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m., Sun. noon-9 p.m.     (end of article)

[Originally published in March, 2018.]


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