April 4, 2017 – Devotees of the Poke Lab’s creative, uber-fresh, sustainable fish and made-from-scratch sauces rejoice: Tomorrow the downtown Monterey restaurant is taking its wildly popular food on the road, debuting regular service to the public in other parts of the area from its food truck.
Until a soft launch last week, the Poke Lab’s big white van could only be found catering to the lucky guests at private or special public events.
But starting this Wednesday April 5, it will serve anyone who gets his or herself to the bottom of Harris Court in Monterey’s Ryan Ranch business neighborhood on Wednesdays between 11:30am and 1:30pm—or before the vehicle runs out of food.
And later this spring, expect the truck to add new locations, starting with Carmel, and additional days of the week, says Poke Lab owner Joey Nguyen. (Watch Poke Lab’s Instagram and Facebook feeds for details.)
To start, the menu will include three options: The Vegetarian Bowl (featuring shiitake mushrooms, tofu and avocado), the new Tun’a Tuna Bowl (containing Ahi Tuna, Spicy Tuna and Ahi Da Kine Tuna) and the Shrimp and Avocado Bowl—all served over organic greens or white rice and priced at $11, the same as at the Poke Lab’s restaurant at 475 Alvarado St.
Eventually, the truck may also serve Poke Lab’s latest menu item, the beloved Hawaiian snack, Musubi, which the restaurant only started serving yesterday, for its first “Musubi Monday.”
Traditionally, musubi is made by wrapping nori around chunks of sushi rice and grilled Spam.
But in true Poke Lab style, chef James Anderson has applied his fine dining background to making it even better, transforming fresh pork shoulder into his own artisanal Jim Jam “Spam,” served with pickled cabbage, soy reduction and black sesame seeds. For the opener yesterday, he also served a smoked chicken version made with Mary’s Chicken and a vegetarian option, but the big hits among the flavors, he said, were the Jim Jam “Spam;” Poke Lab Musubi, made with Ahi Da Kine and furikake; and fishcake with gojuchang. All were priced at $4 each or three for $10.
Poke Lab’s launch of is regular food truck service comes at time when poke-themed restaurants are proliferating around the Monterey Bay region and across the United States. Locally, the new spots include Poke House, now open in Marina, and the soon-to-open Poke Time, in Monterey, and Poke It, in Santa Cruz’s Abbott Square.
But not only are a poke truck and a fine dining chef helming a poke-themed restaurant unusual; Poke Lab has probably distinguished itself the most with its commitment to sustainability. As required by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, it serves only seafood that is rated sustainable (most of it purchased from Royal Hawaiian Seafood, an official Seafood Watch collaborator business), and Poke Lab is in fact one of only two restaurants in the whole U.S. with the term poke in their names listed as official Seafood Watch partner restaurants on the Aquarium’s website. (The other is in Portland, Oregon.)
Why so few? Cost, says Nguyen.
“I’m taking money out of my own pocket to move in this direction with this vision because I believe in sustainability,” Nguyen says, noting that fish meeting Seafood Watch’s criteria can run 10% to 30% higher than alternatives, but he’s also committed to keeping his prices competitive.
Lucky for its customers, Nguyen and Anderson believe in delivering delicious food, too.
For more on Poke Lab, see our profile in Edible Monterey Bay’s Summer 2016 issue or online at http://ediblemontereybay.com/online-magazine/summer-2016/the-poke-lab/.
Poke Lab • 475 Alvarado St., Monterey • www.thepokelab.com • 831.200.3474