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About
Big Tuna Poké Bar located on Bloor West in the Annex is Toronto's first poké bar serving up fresh ahi tuna and salmon daily.
 

Review: Go Poké man, go!

By Alan A. Vernon, reviewed on July 21, 2016
 

While poké (pronounced poh-kay) has long been a popular snack served in a plastic cup on Hawaiian beaches and surf shops, it recently made its debut in Koreatown.


Meaning "to section, slice, or cut", poké is really just a raw fish salad. Cubed much like a European tartare, its portion is often more generous than the amount of fish that fills your typical sushi roll, though you may as well just call it deconstructed sushi.


Yet as similar as the tastes are to sushi, Toronto's first family-run poké bar (the first of a handful set to open) can't keep up with the demand. If you don't get there early enough, you're outta luck, kane and wahines. Only a few weeks in and owner Anh Tran is already stressed out; he can't help telling me how hard it is to run a business as he personally constructs each bowl topped with either fresh yellowfin (ahi) tuna or salmon, which he gets in daily.


You're probably better off doing take out as the teensy restaurant only has a few stools and a shallow ledge to eat over. And ordering is quick and easy with only four signature bowls ($10.95 for two ounces of fish/$12.95 for four ounces): two tuna, one salmon and one with agedashi tofu and shiitake mushroom, plus a variety of toppings (up to six) from lotus chips and wasabi peas to pickled beets and tobiko. The process goes something like this: first you choose your base of white or brown rice or mixed greens. Then you pick your protein and then toppings. The only other item on the micro menu is taro nachos ($7), which is basically just Polynesian chips and salsa.


Tran recommends the classic Big Katuna, featuring freshly cut, ruby red tuna, cucumbers, sweet onions, macadamia nuts, sesame seeds, lotus chips, sesame oil, green onions and a classic ponzu sauce all over brown rice. The result is a very healthy and filling bowl, if a bit flat on flavour. On the other hand, the salmon dish, named The Ninja, has a bit more punch with a serious pour of spicy mayo. Salmon, cucumbers, edamame, green onions, wasabi peas, togarashi shichimi (a mix of seven spices), taro chips, sesame oil and roasted seaweed may all top simple white rice but it has a depth of flavour and creaminess that the tuna bowl lacks.


Is this new food trend an out-of-body, line-up worthy experience? Not exactly, but if you hanker for a clean, healthy, no nonsense meal with top quality fish, Big Tuna is the right place for ya. And make sure to opt for the larger salads with four ounces of fish; they are by far the better value. And don't hesitate to ask for more of one ingredient. Tran will happily oblige as he meticulously measures each scoop hoping to keep his costs down.


Yet as much as I like Big Tuna, I can't quite figure out what the fuss is all about with poké. It really is Hawaii's answer to sushi: fresh, raw fish served alongside ingredients familiar to anyone who's ever set foot in a Japanese restaurant. If that's the next big food trend the surf brings in, then enjoy it. I did, but not any more than many other sushi haunts in town. Perhaps if Tran expanded the menu to include sashimi poké or at the very least combined salmon and tuna in one bowl. He might even consider adding more Hawaiian snack foods beyond the poké category. How about saying aloha to spam musubi?

Reviews are meant to describe a dining out experience at a given period in time and are the personal opinion of the writer.
All meals are paid for, including all taxes and gratuities. All reservations are made under assumed names. Menu items, prices and individuals mentioned in this review may not be up to date. Dine.TO encourages its users to share their feedback.

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