Submitted By Crystal Chan-Long, February 11, 2017-2:18 pm
Poke, the classic Hawaiian dish featuring cubed sushi-grade raw fish with mix-ins such as seaweed and fish roe, is having quite a moment right now.
New York City’s foodscape lives for trends: Thai ice cream rolls, “elevated” toast (avocado toast anyone?), and now poke. For the past few years, the Big Apple and other major cities in America have been in a “poke-sanity,” with numerous fast-casual poke joints popping up along the way.
Of course there are the major players in the city’s poke game: the ever-popular Pokéworks in Midtown, the health-conscious Wisefish Poké in Chelsea, and the star-chef-bloodlined Sweetcatch Poke. But hiding in Gotham’s Flushing neighborhood of Queens is PokéWave, a tiny, half-a-year-old fast-casual joint packing some big flavors, and it may be a spot you can’t afford to miss.
At first glance, you may not think much of it. Sandwiched between storefronts along bustling, vibrant Main Street, the establishment’s small entryway is easy to walk by without noticing. Once you enter those doors, however, you will find a slick, bright little eatery. The interior is minimalistic: just a row of high tables and stools along one side of the restaurant (if you can call it that). Above sit two enormous menu placards, with the contents clear and easy to read … no confusion here. And a small team of staffers stands behind the partitioned glass counter, ready to assist customers. There is one unusual attribute, and that is a customized photo nook allowing diners to take pictures and capture their visits. It’s decorated in a cartoony fashion. This place does like to have a bit of fun.
There are two main meal options: pre-made (the house pokes) and create-your-own. One of the five house pokes on the menu is the Wave, a blend of salmon, the eatery’s signature “Wave sauce” (a spicy moistness that adds a touch of heat), onion, cucumber, edamame, and cilantro, plus strips of dried nori seaweed and briny masago fish roe. The sauce injects a pleasant kick to the bowl, and the salmon, even though it might not be the highest quality ever, is definitely gratifying. In addition, the shreds of onion add another layer of flavor, resulting in a well-rounded, tasty meal.
Meanwhile, the create-your-own route offers diners an unlimited amount of tempting sauces and mix-ins—yes, let your imagination run wild on this one. You can go for the mini with two proteins or the “hungry” bowl with three, along with a base of rice, zoodles (zucchini noodles) or lettuce. It’s definitely suitable for all you health nuts out there! For example, my pick on one occasion was a “hungry” combo of raw tuna and salmon plus shrimp mixed in with dollops of creamy, spicy mayo and Wave sauce, combined with a plethora of mix-ins such as a perfectly good seaweed salad and crab salad (in which the crab surprisingly turned out to be a bit on the dry side), as well as a scattering of garlic crisps and sesame seeds to give it a nice savory boost and textural contrast. (Don’t judge … I was hungry!) All the assorted components mixed together with the seafood was satisfying, but the real winner here is the Wave sauce, which incorporated a certain je-ne-sais-quoi into the provisions. Not surprisingly, a number of folks are already aware of this particular condiment, as this minuscule restaurant sometimes sees long lines, especially during the lunch rush.
Also on offer: cans of Hawaiian Sun tropical juices and a selection of onigiri, or Japanese rice balls—among which is a variant called the “Spam Bam” that juxtaposes a slice of the famed canned meat with scallions and eel sauce … thankfully, the Spam is not greasy. You may also opt for the “Yum Yum,” a robust braised pork belly-and-egg concoction, or the intriguing “Shrimp + Chips,” a blend of garlic shrimp and shrimp chips.
Prices are quite moderate, helping to make this spot a welcome addition to New York City’s poke scene. That’s as fine a way to say “aloha” as any in this town. Maybe the thing for us here at Critical Mousse is to say “mahalo” (thank you) for providing these quality munchies as well.
Photos by Crystal Chan-Long