For its one-year anniversary, Pok the Raw Bar, the trendy poké bowl concept in the West Village, launched a new project: a $24 reservation-only omakase (chef’s choice tasting) experience at their raw bar.
Already, the casual spot that’s the creation of an SMU student who is also a Los Angeles native, is a temple of freshness, where poké bowls might make friends with ceremonial matcha or high-quality junmai daiginjo sake. Now, the tiny five-seat bar at the center becomes the stage for an eight-piece tasting for lunch or dinner. You’re in, you’re out, and you’ve had an extraordinary interlude.
Yes, the matcha-making swirls around you, but across the counter from you is sushi chef Carmelo, who worked at Nobu before this, and the first nigiri he slips across the counter is an indication of the quality that’s to come: Hawaiian bigeye tuna, which he paints with 30-year aged soy sauce and accents with a tweezered petal of gold leaf.
From there, he takes you through the flight of five more nigiri, each accented beautifully with its accoutrement. Lean Japanese Hamachi gets a jolt from the addictive house wasabi salsa, mildly chunky with white onion. Korean live flounder is so fresh it arrived in water earlier that day. Its flesh, accented with shiso leaf and a crumble of dehydrated soy salt, is pure satin. Buttery Japanese sea bream gets treated with a squeeze of lemon juice, while New Zealand King Salmon is dressed with a beautiful chiffonade of negi (Japanese scallions) and sesame seeds. The wasabi salsa shows up again to bring out something remarkable in the creamy wild Spanish o-toro, salmon belly. Some at the seating wait for this final, melt-in-your-mouth nirigi drum roll.
And then it is on to handrolls. They come wrapped in warmed nori sheets that are sourced out of California and roasted to Pok’s specifications. The line-up includes two: toro (salmon) and a melting version of broiled unagi (fresh-water eel). They’re handed to you warm. (If one of you leaves for a minute to use the restroom, your handroll will be foisted on the unsuspecting neighbor: “Quick!” Handrolls must be eaten immediately. Immediately. To respect the fish, the crackling crispness of the nori, and the contrast of warm and cool. The folks behind Pok have the sourcing right. They also respect the fundamentals.
Three more a la carte handroll options tantalize you at the bottom of the tiny menu. Do you want the scallop, accented with spicy mayo? The Japanese Wagyu? Or more decadent still, the one that marries richly marbled Wagyu with tongues of uni? Can you truly stuff another bundle of exquisite fish into your gullet? Yes, you want the Wagyu and uni. You will not regret it, no matter how happily sated you are with the omakase’s miniature indulgence, exquisite craftsmanship played out in silky fish.