POKE ROW

Food: () Tuna and salmon, delivered daily, are served as bowls and wraps.

Service: () Most servers are well-trained, but inexperience may interrupt the flow.

Atmosphere: () Full-size windows frame streamlined space in new building.

More Info

Location: 2735 NW Crossing Drive, Suite 105, Bend

Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Thursday, to 8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, to 4 p.m. Sunday

Cuisine: Hawaiian-style fish

Price range: Bowls $12 to $15.

Credit cards: American Express, Discover, Mastercard, Visa

Kids’ menu: $7 option

Vegetarian and gluten-free menu: Tofu can replace fish for non-pescatarians.

Alcoholic beverages: Beer, wine and sake

Outdoor seating: Sidewalk tables

Reservations: No

Contact: pokerow.com, 541-306-6796

For more area restaurant reviews, visit bendbulletin.com/restaurants

The single most important factor for a successful seafood restaurant should always be: How fresh is the fish?

Guaranteed freshness becomes more difficult for a restaurant as far inland as Bend. But the new Poke Row cafe in NorthWest Crossing is a step ahead of the game: Its tuna and salmon arrive fresh-frozen in Central Oregon daily.

Poke (pronounced “poh-keh,” with two syllables) is a Hawaiian specialty of filleted, chopped and marinated raw fish. Traditional island poke is served with sea salt, seaweed and ground kukui nuts. In recent years, adapted versions of poke have found their way to the U.S. mainland — initially in large West Coast cities, including Portland, but expanding to smaller regional centers, such as Bend.

Owner Justin Chu and chef Tyler Shen, two young Oregon men of Pacific Asian heritage, opened Bend’s first poke bar in August. Their fast-casual cafe is the first tenant in a new mixed-use building on NW Crossing Drive, a block and a half east of the main roundabout.

Poke is served in bowls with rice and/or greens — or, alternatively, in bulky nori seaweed wraps, called burritos but actually more like sushi rolls on steroids.

Cafeteria-style

If you’re a sushi lover, as I am, there’s nothing not to like about Poke Row. Patrons arrive for meals at the cafe’s streamlined premises — full-size windows framing the space on two sides, with a free-standing lunch counter dividing booths from the serving line.

A team of servers direct patrons, cafeteria-style, to fill their bowls with a series of ingredients. Those choices begin with a “base”— white rice, mixed greens, or a combination of the two. My preference is white rice.

Next come the proteins, which for most diners is fish: yellowfin tuna (ahi), albacore, spicy tuna or salmon. For nonfish eaters, there is cooked chicken or cubed tofu. Two choices comprise a small bowl ($12), three go into a large bowl ($14).

Third are “mix-ins,” stirred together with the proteins before saucing. With my tuna, I like to add edamame, cucumber and sesame seeds. My dining companion enjoys mango and jalapeño peppers. Other choices are pineapple, carrot and sweet onion.

Sesame soy or sweet ginger soy sauce are typical Hawaiian-style options that might be blended with the ingredients. Other choices are spicier: wasabi aioli, spicy mayo and spicy yuzu. Yuzu is an East Asian citrus fruit similar to a small grapefruit; this is my favorite of the five sauces.

Finally, there are 10 choices of extra toppings. I love wakame (a seaweed salad), shaved ginger and tobiko (flying fish roe) in my poke. Additional options include green onion, fried onion, crispy (chow mein) noodles, toasted seaweed, wasabi (Japanese horseradish), furikake (a dry seasoning) and avocado.

New and different

You can get many of these ingredients in the $15 NWX Signature Bowl, chef Shen’s personal choice: yellowfin tuna, albacore and salmon with mango and sesame seeds; sesame soy and spicy yuzu; green onions, toasted seaweed, crispy noodles and avocado. Several other combination offers are also available.

An excellent miso soup ($3) is available as a starter, with several flavors of Hawaiian shaved ice (a snow cone, $5) as a dessert. Kids’ bowls are priced at $7.

And sake specialist Jason Wong offers frequent workshops on choosing Japan’s favorite brewed rice wine, served at the cafe along with beer, wine and kombucha.

“Every time people come back, they can discover something new and different,” said Lilian Chu, a co-owner of Poke Row’s sister restaurant, the 5 Fusion & Sushi Bar in downtown Bend.

In part because 5 Fusion has long-term contracts with Portland-based Pacific Seafood and Seattle-based Ocean Beauty Seafoods, whole fish are delivered to Bend each morning and kept in new commercial coolers before they are prepped for meals. For now, those are strictly tuna and salmon, but other fish may later be rotated in as specials.

Justin Chu, born and raised in Bend, is a 1999 graduate of Mountain View High School. After completing studies at Oregon State University, he lived in Seattle and Los Angeles, where he continues to own and operate an outdoor advertising agency. He returned to Bend in 2016 after his wife, Yoom, a registered nurse for St. Charles Health System, gave birth to twins.

Tyler Shen, born and raised in Salem, graduated from the Cascade Culinary Institute in Bend. Before joining Poke Row, he cooked at 10 Barrel, Ajii and 5 Fusion. Having grown up with a Chinese-Japanese father, surrounded by Pacific Islanders during his high school football days, he was drawn to Hawaiian-style food. “The flavors just made sense to me,” he said.

— John Gottberg Anderson can be reached janderson@bendbulletin.com

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected. In the original version, the location of Poke Row was misidentified. The Bulletin regrets the error.

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