Years ago, growing up in a small Michigan farming community, our family saw little seafood outside bluegills, fish sticks, and the occasional shrimp–liberally smothered with a bucket of tartar or cocktail sauce. Though my father told stories of the Hawaiian army buddy who convinced him to try octopus–it was okay!–most seafood remained wildly exotic. I’m sure we would have approached the notion of eating raw seafood–outside the occasional oyster my mother indulged in–with extreme caution.
But air transport has brought the coasts closer, and my niece, raised in Michigan–and even fed the odd fish stick as a child–loves seafood in all its various states. Sushi, of course, has become ubiquitous enough to show up in Kroger coolers, though gussied up with so many crispy fried bits and mayonnaise drizzles–are we still trying to mask the seafood taste?–I’m not sure the Japanese would recognize it. Now poke (pronounced “po-kay”), a raw fish salad from Hawaii, has been incorporated into the culturally bewildering hybrids of burritos and bowls. Poke Fish Sushi, in Washtenaw Commons opposite Arborland, offers both, along with a few ramen and Japanese appetizer dishes.
Using the seasoned scraps from their catches, Hawaiian fishermen likely invented poke (meaning “chunk”) to feed themselves. Eventually the variations consolidated into two traditional forms–ahi tuna or octopus, marinated with soy sauce, sesame oil, candlenuts, and seaweed–eaten by the entire population. Here on the mainland it’s been expanded into the fast-casual format: you choose accoutrements from a list proliferating far beyond the framework of the original dish.
Walking into Poke Fish Sushi, you are faced with an L-shaped counter. At the short leg you order the hot appetizers, ramen, and signature bowls and pay. At the long one you point out your choices to the staffers who construct your poke bowl, salad, or burrito.
Your poke can be on a base of white or brown rice, on lettuce, or wrapped in a pressed square of nori seaweed–yielding the “sushi burrito.” Like a giant maki roll, the “burrito” uses rice as a filler, but, once your other options are added, it becomes so ridiculously overloaded its structure can’t be maintained. Better, if you want to eat poke without dribbling it down your shirtfront, to order a bowl or salad.
My husband and I tried two of the signature bowls–the “tuna lover” and the “rainbow bowl” with a kaleidoscope of raw tuna, salmon, and yellowtail–but we most enjoyed our pick-your-own concoctions. Depending on the seafood, it comes cooked and chilled, in raw unmarinated or marinated cubes, or in a spicy pureed raw mass.
I’ll admit it’s a little disconcerting to see pans filled with raw spicy fish paste, but all the seafood, from cooked scallops to uncooked salmon, proved fresh and tasty. The servings, whether in the signature or pick-your-own bowls, were quite generous, and the add-ons and mix-ins were extensive, from edamame, grape tomatoes, cucumbers, mango, onion, and avocado to fish roe, seaweed, “krab” salad, fried onions, and tempura crunch.
We found that the substantial rice base needed liberal doses of flavoring beyond that provided by the marinated fish, but luckily there are many sauces available. Though we didn’t try it, vegetarians could, besides the assorted vegetables, opt for tofu. With brown rice as our base, and plenty of vegetables among our choices, along with the omega-3 fatty acids provided by the fish, we couldn’t help but feel darn righteous after finishing our lunches.
Of the other options, the restaurant’s pork gyoza and delicate shrimp shumai dumplings, accessorized with a faintly smoky, vinegary-sweet dipping sauce, aced the shrimp tempura, which, my husband noted, “tasted like fried more than anything else.” And though textbook pretty, the ramen’s insipidness drove us back to a poke bowl on our next visit. After all, it’s a meal that can be had as quickly as any fast food, at, admittedly, a greater cost to the wallet but arguably a lesser one to health–and, in all its fishy glory, much more delicious.
Poke Fish Sushi
3500 Washtenaw Ave., Suite E-4 (Washtenaw Commons)
(734) 992-2207 pokefishsushi.com
Mon.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m., Sun. noon-9 p.m.
Appetizers $3.50-$4.50; bowls, burritos, salads $7.95-$11.95