Addicted to poke
Fish Face1104 R St.
Sacramento, CA 95811
Sacramento, unlike many cities, doesn’t seem to fall into the niche food fads that run rampant through other major cities. For example, we dodged that inane barrel aged cocktail business. (Though, admittedly, we did hit the cupcake craze pretty hard and I’ll take partial responsibility for that one.)
Rather, we seem to be a city that strives to cultivate the people who can do a type of food best and let them run with it. Take Ginger Elizabeth with chocolate, Shannon McElroy for pizza and Matt Masera’s genius dessert menus as prime examples.
Then there is, naturally, Billy Ngo’s clever penchant for fish. Having sated the masses’ demand for sushi that both appreciates the classics but also brings modern verve to the cuisine, he’s opened a somewhat hipster poke bar appropriately located in the Warehouse Artists Lofts on the continually gentrifying R Street corridor.
Poke, for those who haven’t yet experienced it, is essentially a raw fish salad whose origins lie in Hawaii. It’s what a seafood tartar aspires to be.
Fish Face is built as a to-go bar and set up in a Chipotle-esque fashion. Choose a size of poke bowl ($8 for small, $12 for medium, or $16 for large) and then select a protein from a list including options such as spicy tuna or sturgeon, or mussels and octopus.
Next, select a sauce to dress your mess such as a traditional yuzu ponzu or a more eccentric spicy kimchi sauce.
Lastly, pick a number of add-ons (50 cents to $2 each, depending on the item). Popular options include crispy garlic, avocado, macadamia nuts and masago. Seasonal additions such as persimmons may be available as well. The whole lot gets served with toasted sesame seeds and salty wisps of seaweed.
On a recent trip, I ordered meaty chunks of locally sourced sturgeon tossed with sweet bites of Fuyu persimmon and sauced it all with a creamy, though frankly uninteresting, cilantro sauce mislabeled as a pesto. A companion ordered his with salmon, salty-sour yuzu ponzu sauce, and avocado; a crack-sy sushi-like combination that would make anyone horribly addicted to poke.
Cooked mussels were also recently added to the menu and they make for one of the most intriguing poke options when paired with salmon, crispy garlic, cucumber and plenty of kimchi sauce.
Speaking of kimchi, those who don’t enjoy kimchi should try it one more time ($3). This one possesses a smart burn; one powerful enough to sear your lips, but measured so that it doesn’t annihilate the flavor of the fish.
Likewise, a captivating chef’s choice chirashi ($15) is on the menu for those who are still unsure of poke and want to ease in with a sushi-similar option.
The strength of the poke lies in the utter freshness in every piece of seafood and produce served. Ingredients are respected and smartly executed.
Service is friendly and informative, which is great as those used to stagnant sushi menus may be daunted by the sheer number of options as to what fish goes with what sauce goes with what add-ons.
The dining room is open and communal. Surrounded by maladroit hipsters at the WAL and mingling in the scents of fresh fish and the baked goods from next door’s Metro Kitchen + Drinkery, you can’t help but feel you’re at a turning point for city’s ever-evolving food scene.
All I can say is that if Kru didn’t solidify Ngo’s role as Sac’s seafood master, Fish Face certainly does.