The dog days of summer are already over but the heat we associate with this time of year, when the star Sirius makes its appearance in the pre-dawn sky, is showing no sign of abating. And as the temperature in my Pasadena driveway soars from a mere mid-90s at 11 a.m. to the low 100s by 4 p.m., my torpor increases in perfect sync with the thermostat.
Thinking of meal prep or even a usually enjoyable lunch or dinner out is impossible. And my former favorite beat-the-heat local hangout, Pasadena’s Souplantation, where we could park for free in the cool, dark subterranean garage and graze on do-it-yourself salads, down bottomless iced teas and indulge in swirls of soft-serve, pulled up its tent and sneaked out of town with nary a word of goodbye — the traitors!
Well, thank goodness for six-week-old Bay Poké Fish House, a small poké bar that took over the defunct frozen yogurt shop at the front of the Vons parking lot on the northwest corner of Colorado and Sierra Madre boulevards. It’s the latest branch of a fast-growing chain which started with the opening of an Anaheim storefront last November and has grown into a set of four (Santa Fe Springs and Irvine complete the quartet) in only eight months.
Bay Poké’s website calls the concept “express poké with authenticity… streamlining the poké serving process, yet not losing the authentic Hawaiian taste.” James Park, the founder of the chain, has “implemented the state-of-the-art poké preparing system” and promises “many more stores to come.” Park’s entrepreneurial spirit is admirable but, frankly, all I care about as the sun bakes my brain is that the Pasadena outlet (only three short minutes from my house) stays put until summer finally dies.
Poké (the Hawaiian word for cut or section) has been a traditional favorite for eons with the islands’ fishermen, who season the cut-offs from their catches as snacks. According to Wikipedia’s discourse on the subject, food historian Rachel Laudan has pinpointed the rising popularity of poké with the general public in Hawaii to the 1970s. But it was only about five years back that the dish, along with other Hawaiian food, began to take off among mainland diners.
Now I have to confess to not being a great fan of Hawaiian cuisine (or the hula or ukulele). Luaus just don’t appeal. I can’t bear to look into the sad cherry eyes of a roasted baby pig. Seasoned beef jerky and sticky-sweet barbecued meats are not to my liking. Long rice (cellophane noodles) is fine but poi (mashed taro) is way too bland. As for Spam, I realize Hawaiians get a bad rap for its popularity among the natives. I’m willing to give them a pass since it was World War II military that brought the stuff to the islands in the first place.
But there is one thing I adore, and that’s raw fish. Along with ceviche, sushi and sashimi, seafood tartare and carpaccio, smoked salmon, gravlax, maatjes herring, esqueixada and my grandmother’s pickled herring, traditional Hawaiian lomilomi salmon (cured raw salmon mixed with tomatoes, onions and various condiments) has been a favorite of mine for years. So the recent poké craze suits me just fine.
Pasadena has had good poké restaurants (Spinfish, Poké Salad Bar, Pokemix, Pokenoya and Pokebar) since 2015, most west of Lake Avenue. The proliferation has been incredibly rapid, and although I believe Bay Poké to be the latest, I could be wrong if yet another has opened in the week between the writing of this review and its publication.
Some offer a more extensive menu than others. Some have fancier décor. Pokemix (by Flour+Tea) features their pastries as well. But, as I mentioned above, the most salient feature of Bay Poké in this damnable climate is its proximity. And, of course, that their poké bowls are just as well made and delicious as those of the other more distant establishments.
I dragged my husband away from his computer this week to grab an early lunch before what I assume are a slew of other East Pasadenans desperate for a cool, refreshing meal who probably descend on Bay Poké by noon. No matter how familiar one is with the myriad choices for size (2), base (4), protein (11), mix-ins (2), sauces (7), sides (3), toppings (15) and drizzle (4), getting it all right while other customers wait in line behind me is nerve-wracking.
We decided that rather than starting from scratch, modifying the Bay House (ahi, salmon, spicy tuna, sweet onion, cucumber, edamame, green onion, corn, cilantro, masago, sesame seeds with house sauce, sesame oil, spicy mayo, crispy onion, crispy garlic, furikake and sweet lime cream) would be more expedient. We forewent the lime cream, added sides of (fake) crab and seaweed salad, three colors of tobiko (flying fish eggs) and nixed the spicy tuna in favor of albacore. (Am I the only one who finds spicy tuna an abomination, more or less like blueberry bagels — surely forbidden somewhere in Leviticus?)
When we were finished we had two large ($12.50 apiece — regular would be $9.50 each) masterpieces bedded on spring greens and brown rice. Although we could have enjoyed them in the spare but sparkling dining area, we decided to take them home. Once there I destroyed their beauty by dumping both into a large salad bowl and thoroughly mixing the ingredients into a delicious mishmash. The two of us were only able to consume about a third of it, but were glad to put away the rest for a cold dinner to be enjoyed with iced beer after the sun finally set.
As for dessert, a freezer-case at Bay Poké displays an appealing assortment of six multicolored and multiflavored recent fusion favorites, macaron ice cream sandwiches ($3.50 apiece). We took home a cup of “legendary” pineapple Dole whip soft serve ($3.75) advertised as gluten, dairy and fat (but alas not sugar) free. The evanescent whip, topped with coconut flakes, was a wonderful hot-weather treat, its piña colada flavor evocative of tropical vacations. I postulated blending it with rum might make it even better, but it was polished off before any such experiment could be undertaken. Not to worry, we’ll bring home an extra on our next visit and let you know.