Found in the Cross Street Market at Federal Hill, one of the U.S.’s oldest public markets, Blowfish Poke and Grill offers a variety of options to build a poke bowl tailored to anyone’s unique preferences.
At home, my mom and I used to have a weekly tradition of getting poke bowls as a post-workout treat. We would look forward to this meal as a nutritious and filling way to refuel, especially since it contained almost all of the necessary food groups: grains, protein, fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, in Baltimore I had yet to find a restaurant that offered poke bowls of any kind... until now.
When I heard that a new branch of Blowfish Poke and Grill opened up close to campus a few months ago, I knew I had to check it out and see whether it was on par with my favorite poke stops at home. Previously, Blowfish Poke and Grill only had two branches in Maryland: Clarksville and Marriottsville.
Native to Hawaii, poke bowls are known for both their colorful appearances and rich flavors. The red and orange hues of the diced tuna and salmon are usually accompanied by the greens and yellows of vegetables and fruits, all layered over rice, quinoa or vegetables depending on your taste. The key to a delicious poke bowl includes fresh ingredients, especially for the raw fish, and complementary sauces that bring out the best in all of the individual flavors.
My friends and I made the trip to Cross Street Market after I rallied them to come with me to satisfy my poke craving, especially since one of them had never even tried poke before. Blowfish Poke showcased many options to choose from to customize our bowls, with protein that ranged from the usual salmon and tuna (though for an extra $1.50) to grilled chicken, beef, tofu and crab salad. The various toppings proved to be more difficult to choose from, such as purple cabbage, red onion, pineapple, carrots, edamame and many more. The sauces were just the cherry on top to finish off our colorful bowls.
Aside from its main dish, Blowfish Poke also provided plenty of sides to choose from, including Hawaiian Mac Salad, Hawaiian Broccoli Salad and a shrimp tempura box. My friends settled on Spam Musubi, another popular Hawaiian snack, and I chose Ube and Strawberry Mochi Doughnuts for us to share for dessert. Since we arrived near its closing time, the market was fairly empty, and we received our orders in no time.
After making my friends wait while I took photos of the multicolored, aesthetic bowls (for The News-Letter, of course), we finally inhaled our meals. A silence settled on our table as we all took our first carefully crafted scoop of our poke bowls, making sure to include as many of the ingredients as our chopsticks could hold. At a first bite, the rich flavors and tastes filled my mouth and fulfilled the months of poke cravings I had longed for. The sauces, vegetables and toppings complemented each other very well, and the rice base was fluffy and filling, at least for me.
However, as we each made our way through our respective protein choices, we all agreed that the tuna and salmon did not taste as fresh and firm as we had expected them to be. The protein to rice ratio also did not seem equal due to the other toppings and vegetables that took up additional space. According to my friends, the Spam Musubi did not seem marinated, which made it taste less flavorful than expected.
But as the saying goes, save the best for last. Unintentionally, we did just that, as the mochi doughnuts turned out to be the highlight of our meal! Initially, we did not have high expectations for the dessert after the slight disappointment from our meal and the tough-looking exterior of the doughnut. But surprisingly, the doughnut’s “taffy-like” consistency, as my friend described it, from the mochi made for a very sweet treat.
While I was full after that meal, my friends, who apparently had not met their daily caloric intake yet, insisted that we go to a ramen place to satiate their still-rumbling stomachs.
Based on my previous poke experiences at home, in Canada and in other places in the U.S., Blowfish Poke did not live up to my standards. However, after not having any poke for quite some time, the restaurant did do justice in satisfying my initial cravings with its rich sauces and pretty bowls. After a few months in Baltimore when I am looking for some poke again, I will definitely be back for more, if only for Blowfish’s mochi doughnuts.