Two restaurants focusing on poké – a traditional Hawaiian dish with marinated raw fish that’s surged in popularity – are opening within weeks of each other.
Poké, pronounced “poh-kay,” means diced or sliced-up fish. It already has a presence at some Triangle restaurants. Pho & poké House opened earlier this year in Durham. Raleigh Raw on West Hargett Street in downtown Raleigh has a selection of the bowls on their menu, alongside its pressed juices.
And while poké bowls appear on the menus of many sushi and Asian fusion restaurants, ZenFish and One Fish Two Fish appear to be the first fast-casual restaurants devoted exclusively to serving them. They’re following a trend that’s emerged in the past few years, moving from California to the East Coast.
Never miss a local story.
“I think it’s a cool thing to bring to the Triangle,” said Scott Kleczkowski, who is opening One Fish Two Fish with his wife, Lauren, and is the owner of Goose Hospitality.
“Poké is sushi’s laid-back cousin,” Kleczkowski said, relaying a description he heard of poké bowls that he thinks is apt. “It does incorporate sushi flavors, but it’s not held to that.”
This is the general concept of poké, though it varies a bit at these two restaurants: Diners pick a base of rice of salad to start their bowls. ZenFish, owned by Duke Business School graduate Janet Lee, also has quinoa and zucchini noodles or offers a “burrito” with a seaweed wrap in place of a tortilla.
Diners move down a line at the counter to complete the bowl. They pick a protein, which could be ahi tuna, salmon, spicy tuna, scallops or shrimp. There might also be tofu or other vegetables, like sweet potato.
Add toppings, like green onions, greens, ginger, edamame, cucumbers, mango or avocado and a sauce. ZenFish has a sriracha aioli, ponzu, eel sauce, miso ginger and spicy cashew. The sauces are scratch-made.
Finally, add crunch: roasted seaweed, wasabi peas, wonton crisps, sesame seeds and more.
Both restaurants have signature bowls, where ingredient combinations have been pre-selected. There also are vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options.
“At the end of the day, it’s a delicious, healthy quick option,” Kleczkowski said. “It hits every dietary restriction you can think of.”
Lee has had a dream of opening a restaurant for years and is thrilled to see it come to fruition after several delays. When she was at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, earning a master’s in management studies, she had a hard time finding time to eat healthy. She knows that happens in the workplace, too. Poké, she said, is healthy and can be customized with different possibilities.
“It’s for people who crave sushi without the whole formality of sitting down at a restaurant and ordering it,” said Lee, 30.
Lee prides herself on using locally sourced ingredients when she can. She buys some of her greens, for example, from Mama Springs Farm in Durham and says she think it helps add to the sense of neighborhood and community she’s trying to cultivate.
“For me, I had no idea where food comes from,” Lee said. “Now I’m seeing every little piece of ingredients has a story behind it. You can taste the food differently if you know the story. The people who grow this put their hearts into that.”
With that philosophy, Lee continues to add toppings – and stories – to her menu as she finds them.
The restaurant is small, at the base of the Solis Ninth Street apartment building. Lee calls it cozy. She said the location will attract a mix of Duke students and year-round residents. Eventually, she’d like to expand to delivery and catering.
ZenFish’s signature bowls have names like the grateful bowl, the kindness bowl, the courageous bowl and the compassion bowl. Customers can write how they’re feeling on the “grateful wall” chalkboard. The restaurant’s chef has worked at Juju, an Asian restaurant down Ninth Street.
The components of Lee’s restaurant are coming together as she envisioned, she said.
“When you see what other people are grateful for, it makes you appreciate what you have,” she said. “When you see positive, uplifting words, it lifts you up.”
One Fish Two Fish
He said he had been wanting to do a poké concept for the past year and had been searching for the right space. When the former Tom and Chee grilled cheese restaurant closed, just a few spots down from his restaurants in a burgeoning Carrboro shopping district, he jumped.
In addition to the make-your-own bowls, One Fish Two Fish will have a sweet bowl and a spicy bowl as well as an edamame, lime and salmon bowl. The spicy tuna bowl will have yellowfin tuna, sticky rice, habanero pineapple sauce and macadamia nuts. Kleczkowski was fine-tuning the menu a few weeks ago, but is excited about what his chef, Bryan Kowalski, is working on.
They also will have traditional Hawaiian shaved ice with homemade syrups like pineapple, strawberry, kiwi and guava flavors. There also will be tempura-fried vegetables, for a side.
Kleczkowski has extensive dining and hospitality experience. He worked in downtown Raleigh before owning a bar in Connecticut from 2004 to 2009. He came back to the Triangle and has worked at Hibernian Management Group.
In Chapel Hill, he also owns Country Fried Duck, a bar on Rosemary Street.