By noon on an average, overcast winter Monday, a line is winding through the small West Village storefront that houses Pok the Raw Bar. It’s bright in here — blindingly white, with Tame Impala thumping through the speakers and out onto the modern stark-white patio out front.
There’s no escaping the first thought that clobbers you over the head when you step foot into Pok: It’s trendy in here, from the minimalist design to the loud music to the build-your-own-bowl concept, a favorite in the fast casual world since the birth of Our Lord and Savior, Chipotle. And poke, a raw fish-based dish with origins in Hawaiian cuisine, is definitely trendy right now. Well, it’s trendy right now in Dallas; it’s already come and gone in larger cities, where the health conscious and oven-averse long ago glommed onto the idea of a gluten-free bowl piled high with sushi-grade salmon.
In the last year, poke has popped up all over DFW, and Pok, which opened in January, is not the only poke concept with plans to open in North Texas this year. Setting aside the inevitable discussion about the whitewashed commodification of dishes with non-Caucasian origins, it’s not hard to see why poke has been having a moment. The healthy end of the fast-casual spectrum is a segment of the industry that continues to grow — people want a quick bite to eat that won’t make them want to nap through the rest of their workday, and they’re willing to pay for it.
Pok’s concept is broken down into three main components: the poke bowls, the raw bar and the matcha bar. If you’d rather Pok did the heavy lifting, there are seven pre-set poke bowls ranging from shiitake tofu kimchi ($7.95) to spicy tuna ($9.95). You can also build your own bowl with components ranging from citrus kale or cauliflower rice, tofu or tuna and sauces like sweet yuzu and spicy aioli. Expect to spend $8.95 for a small bowl and $12.95 for a large, and while a small salmon Asian pear bowl was appropriately lunch-sized, most of the fellas in the room seemed to opt for large bowls.
The matcha bar is based around “ceremonial-grade matcha (the highest grade available), which the team is sourcing from a small village in Japan,” according to a press release from Pok. I’m not entirely sure if the people shopping at Banana Republic nearby care whether their matcha is ceremonial-grade, but the matcha-almond milk latte-type beverage (Matcha X Almond, $5.50) we tried was pretty damn good, and gave a clean afternoon caffeine boost that's not quite as harsh as coffee’s can be.
On Mondays, buying a matcha drink will also get you a free pass for one SoulCycle class at the studio next door, though my Monday visit yielded no such free pass. I opted not to make a fuss about it because, well, I was afraid that once I uttered the phrase “I didn’t get a free SoulCycle pass with my ceremonial-grade matcha latte,” a hole would open up under Tommy Bahama and swallow me whole. Frankly, I would have deserved it.
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The raw bar — a few seats that will offer up the attention of a chef who will feed you whatever’s best that day — is forthcoming. In the meantime, there’s ample sparkling sake and standard wine offerings to tide you over.
Lest I seem like some uppity hipster who finds fault in everything, I will say that lunch at Pok was actually quite nice — both the vegetables and salmon in my bowl were endlessly fresh and flavorful, and both my food and matcha were delivered to my patio table so quickly, I was in and out with a full belly in less than 25 minutes.
If you’re looking for any sort of “authentic” poke experience that reminds you of your last lover’s holiday to Oahu, this isn’t it. But did you expect to find any authentic experience sandwiched between a Kendra Scott and a Taco Diner? Relax and enjoy a quick, flavorful, relatively healthy bowl of food that won’t make you need to take a post-lunch nap in the back of your Toyota Tundra.
Pok the Raw Bar, 3699 McKinney Ave.