Poke Bay serves up authentic Pacific fare

Stephen Acevedo

With their competitor recently wiped off the map, the new Poke Bay is filling the void of raw seafood salad near campus.

Located in a small building on the Drag near Dobie, Poke Bay boasts an extensive bar of seafood and toppings for students to build their own poke salads with.

Owner Paul Song, who previously ran a successful Korean barbecue joint in Los Angeles, said he originally had no intention of starting a new restaurant when he moved to Austin.

“We came here not exactly wanting to start a restaurant, but this place opened right next to UT, and it was too good of an opportunity to pass up on,” Song said.

Song said the inspiration behind serving poke at his new restaurant was the lack of authentic Pacific food in the area.

“I feel like a lot of food other than American is misrepresented and fusion-oriented,” Song said. “We wanted to be more traditional. We looked around the campus before we decided on opening this place, and, as I said, I felt like a lot of the food was misrepresented in a way.”

With the only front patio space near campus, Song’s intention is for Poke Bay to become a regular hangout spot for
UT students.

“I really enjoy when the students are dining and they see their friends or other people they know,” Song said. “You get that ‘Cheers’ vibe, where everybody knows everybody. I want to be able to create an environment where people don’t necessarily have to come and eat all the time, but they can just come and hang out.”

He said being around so many students for the past two months has been a great experience that has made work especially enjoyable.

“I’m all about the students,” Song said. “Being around students makes me feel young. I’m 50 years old, but I feel more and more 21 again working here.”

With a patio that sits about 16 people and an interior that fits about 13, Poke Bay offers a pleasantly comfortable dining area. It’s small enough to feel cozy without being too cramped.

The ordering process is simple enough, with a Chipotle-style bar where you can choose a base, protein and toppings. The white rice and mixed greens base is definitely the way to go. As for the proteins, the spicy tuna and the albacore go well together. The spicy tuna has a milder, more approachable flavor while the albacore has a little more fishiness to make the bowl’s flavor more interesting.

All of the toppings served at Poke Bay are exceptionally fresh. Even the imitation stuff, like the masago and the crab, manage to pack a solid flavor that adds a lot to the overall dish. The kimchi in particular is a great topping choice. The spices in the kimchi are different enough from everything else to make it really stand out and improve the entire salad.

There are several sauces from which customers can choose to marinate their protein. The spicy house special actually has an impressive amount of spice that, while noticeable, keeps from overpowering any of the other parts of the poke bowl. For people who don’t like much spice, the sesame soy sauce is a great alternative.

The only downside of Poke Bay is the ambiguity of the prices. Nothing on the menu has a price attached to it, so you really don’t know what you’ll be spending until the person behind the counter has finished making the bowl and reads off your total. My total came out to $14 after I added a drink and an extra-dollar topping, so I would say that most of the dishes will fall between $12 and $15. The prices are high, but the portions are generous. For anyone craving a fresh but filling meal, Poke Bay is a great choice.