Chelsea Leeds / Sun Contributor

May 10, 2017

The Poke Bowl Craze Continues with Pokeland

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The poke bowl a dish originating from Hawaii and consisting of raw fish, rice, avocado and vegetables is a fad that was slow to catch on in Ithaca but has taken off over the past few months. It all started with the food truck That’s How I Roll, which recently added poke bowls to their menu to go along with their delicious sushi burritos. The next to follow suit was CoreLife Eatery, which specializes in healthful customized grain, broth and salad bowls. Unlike That’s How I Roll or Pokeland, CoreLife offers their ahi tuna poke bowl with a quinoa and kale base.

Most recently, a new fast casual restaurant called Pokeland opened near the Commons on East Seneca Street. As its name suggests, its sole focus is poke dishes centered on fresh fish.

The day after its grand opening, I had the chance to stop by and give Pokeland a try. This is the first of two anticipated locations in Ithaca, with the second set to open soon on Dryden Road, next to Asian Noodle House. Pokeland doesn’t yet have an established brand or customer base like That’s How I Roll and CoreLife Eatery, so I needed to know if I could rely on it next year to satisfy my poke bowl cravings.

The space itself is clean, with neutral-colored finishes, white walls, marble counter tops and wooden floors. There is bar stool seating along the window and two small tables. The offerings are not limited to poke bowls: Pokeland also offers poke burritos, poke salads and poke zoodles (zucchini noodles). If none of the signature bowls, such as the Aloha Bowl, which features ahi tuna, Hawaii red sea salt and Umami Shoyu Sauce (a savory soy-based sauce) catch your eye, you can personalize a bowl yourself. The protein options include ahi tuna, salmon, shrimp, scallop, chicken, organic tofu, seared albacore and octopus. The toppings are plentiful, including cucumber, edamame, tobiko, pickled ginger, avocado, seaweed and onion crisps. Compared to That’s How I Roll, Pokeland has a much wider selection of add-ons.

Since I came for the poke bowl, I tried one of their signature options ($10.50 for a regular size and $12.95 for a large), the Fire Ball: ahi tuna, avocado, green onion, sesame seeds, kani salad and Hot Chili Gochu, substituting their spiciest dressing for the Ponzu Fresh — a tart, citrus-based sauce made of rice wine, rice vinegar and yuzu (a Japanese fruit). I’m very conscious about the source of my seafood and I always ask where it comes from to ensure freshness and to learn more about the distributor, such as their sustainability practices. While I wasn’t able to get a very specific answer from the owner, she said the fish is sourced from their distributor in California.

The poke bowl craze is fueled in part by the fact that they’re insanely photogenic, but when I received mine, it didn’t seem ready for a close-up. The ingredients weren’t arranged in an aesthetically pleasing fashion, and their sizes varied greatly, making for a not-so-pleasing presentation.

The tuna was not the freshest, but definitely still not the lowest quality that I have had in Ithaca. It ranks similar to that of That’s How I Roll. The sesame seeds added a nice, nutty crunch to the sweet tuna. The rice came out fresh from the cooker, which is something I have seen at many poke places, ensuring the rice does not lose its moisture.

Overall, Pokeland delivered on their endless options for customization but fell short in the transparency of their ingredients and in presentation.

Serves: poke bowls, poke burritos, poke salads and poke zoodles

Vibe: fast casual

Price: $$

Overall: ★★★☆☆