Restaurant Review: Pokébap
Poke hit Columbus hard in 2016, or “poked” it, rather. First there were pop-up pokeries. Then right at the end of the year, a couple of dedicated poke places opened up on the North side. Pokébap was the first of the permanent operations to make its debut, up in Dublin. The dining forecast for 2017 says that more poke places will follow.
Like most other new restaurant concepts right now, Pokebap is design-your-own fast-casual Chipotle-style. The counter crew here is exceptionally engaging. The team assembling the meals has a proprietor-like helpfulness that seems sincere and is not, in any way, overbearing. Guests may need more help than what they usually require at Chipotle; while sour cream is not an option, less familiar add-ons such as ponzu and and yuzuco are. Pokébap is just enough different from familiar fare to make ordering more of a challenge: it requires a little thought.
Like any place, you choose your vehicle first: salad, rice, burrito (wrapped in seaweed or soy paper), or island-style, which is streamlined with just protein and condiments. The protein choices set the price: octopus ($11), salmon ($10), tuna ($11), baked fish (like fish salad with a mayo dressing: $11), or tofu ($9). You pick a dressing and toppings and you’re good to go.
With an ample helping of beginners’ luck, the first self-designed creation turned out to be a winner: salmon on frilly greens, with cucumbers, tomatoes and cilantro in spicy aioli with furikake sprinkles. One of two things are suspected to be the magic element here. It might have been the spicy aioli: that’s essentially a briny spiked mayo sauce that ties everything together. Alternately, it might have been the furikake sprinkles. Assuming the conversation with the counter-crew is correct, furikake is a mixture of seaweed and sesame; it takes the whole addictiveness of the combo up another level. According to the internet, furikake also has MSG, which also explains much of the joy it brings. (Update: the furikake at Pokébap is MSG-free.)
The next creation, the burrito (using a soy wrap for a $1 uncharge), turned out less awesome. There is only the self to blame for that. The spicy aioli was foolishly kicked to the curb in favor of a thinner ponzu sauce. There wasn’t anything particularly bad about the tuna-avocado-tomato-onion-cucumber mixture. In fact, it was beautifully wrapped like a crazy hybrid between a sushi roll and burrito. It just lacked the “oomph” from the successful salad.
Time to give up the reins and let the house design something. The Volcano ($13) is an option for those who have lost faith in their own design skills. It’s built around the house baked fish, which comes off sort of like an appealingly chunky midwestern salmon/tuna salad made with mayo and fish. The heavy hitter teams it with cucumber, avocado, fresh jalapeños, shredded crabstick, coconut, macadamia nuts and, oh yes, MORE FURIKAKE. Furikake for all. Praise the Lord, amen.
There are some fun sides to round out your eating experience. For example, the Seaweed Salad ($3)is a pleasantly light conglomeration of green tendrils, more crunchy than soggy. There are also Bap Chips ($2), which are a great deal like eating air flavored with sesame seeds.
You can find Pokebap at 7561 Sawmill Road.
For more information, visit www.pokebap.com.
Photos by Walker Evans.