There's on-trend, there's zeitgeisty, and then there's whatever Poke Mon is—a spot so of its time and place that it almost doubles as an avatar of the era.
Obviously, there's the name of the new Hawthorne Boulevard counter-service restaurant, announced just before Pokémon Go became the biggest thing to hit gaming since Wii.
Then there's the poke itself. The Hawaiian-style raw fish preparation started with fishermen seasoning the odd bits of their catch with seaweed, sea salt and roasted nuts and evolved into a station wagon-era Hawaiian family meal roughly equivalent to casseroles on the mainland. The new bougie bowl version is served over rice and often includes avocado, kimchi or kale. Think of it as a really big pile of sashimi—ahi is your go-to, though Poke Mon also offers albacore, salmon, octopus and tofu.
With poke shops popping up in New York, Los Angles and, uh, Albuquerque, it's the hottest bicoastal food trend since the Cupcake Craze of ought-six. There's even a poke backlash now, with some decrying the ecological fallout from overfishing in a tuna boom and one chef penning an angry blog post about the prevalence of writing poke with an accent on the e, which Hawaiians do not use, and which he decried as "cultural slander."
So it's fitting that Portland's first poke-specific spot sits in a snug corner spot on the bottom of a shiny new mixed-use building erected on the ruins of the city's worst Ethiopian restaurant. And that it sells six flavors of canned La Croix and two other sparkling waters. And that three of its owners—Brent Atchley, Mike Chin and Nicholas Hyde—are skaters who've appeared in Thrasher.
If you want to hit Peak Portland 2016, put on your blue dad hat with a white P on it, cue up some Drake and grab one of the white patio chairs on the sidewalk outside the bright, white, strikingly modern Poke Mon. Then, spin the marker at the Pokéstop named for the old Ethiopian spot. Achievement unlocked.
You'll be rewarded with a very nice meal from chef Colin Yoshimoto, who was general manager at Nong's Khao Man Gai and a cook at Nodoguro. Poke Mon uses fresh fish, and I've found it uniformly tasty, with meaty little ahi hunks that scratch the same spot as steak bites, fleshy soft pink slices of salmon, rice that's just a little sticky and unobtrusive sauces that heighten but never hide the beauty of the key ingredient.
That's even true of the spicy ahi donburi ($9.75), which uses a creamy orange aioli with a little chili oil in it, but nevertheless allows the plucky flesh to shine.
I ate across the small menu on two visits, and my favorite bowl of all is the garlic salmon poke ($10.75), which is plated with a nice salad of red onion, cucumber and avocado. It's all splashed with an addictive garlic ponzu sauce, lightly enough that I found myself working through the bowl on the hunt, like an oilman drilling for crude.
But that same restraint ends up being a flaw on the sides, which all come in quarts for $3. I wanted a creamier, tangier mac salad, more heat from the spicy cucumber salad and a bit more salt to unlock the umami in the miso soup.
But those are quibbles compared to the joys of the ahi bowls and eating them while seated on a patio, sipping mango La Croix and bagging Magikarp—feeding not only on the flesh of an apex predator but the zeitgeist itself.
EAT: Poke Mon, 1485 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 503-894-9743, pokemonpdx.com. 11 am-9 pm Tuesday-Sunday.