12:15PM / 12/18/2021
Today’s lunch is Poke at Chaodown Poki. They are located on Douglas in the small center with Sunrise Natural Foods and Mario’s Early Toast. I arrived at 12:15 and this parking lot was jam-packed. I’ve been here just once before, back in July 2020 when take-out only was in full force. As is the case with many of my recent posts, this is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to dine in.
I stepped inside just behind a family which gave me plenty of time to review the space and the menu. Although they had some tables stacked up in the back of the dining room, a row of tables along the bench seating was available to sit at. It’s a nice clean and modern space with much of the kitchen open to view.
Looking at the menu I was slightly disappointed at first to see the # of scoops per bowl seemed low. They start at two with the regular bowl and top out at four for the largest size. I usually get the largest option so I peeked over to watch for the size of the scoops as the family was being served. They looked about the same size as my regular lunch Poke place in Rancho Cordova (Poke Cube). Seeing that I decided to just stick with a regular bowl ($12.50), because the 4-scoop bowl was sort of pricey at $17.50. I decided I’d order a side item to round out my order.
When my turn was up I started by asking about the Chaodown Fries. They were described as seasoned fries with a couple of sauces and topped with green onions. I decided instead to get the tempura shrimp (4 for $9 – well the menu says $9 but I was charged $7). On with my bowl, I chose a base of white rice and salmon for both scoops of protein. For sauces I picked ponzu and a wasabi cream sauce, with a little extra ponzu over the rice. Asked if I wanted any other sauces I asked for recommendations and went with the suggestion of a sesame shoyu on the side.
Moving on to the toppings I chose egg, edamame, corn, crab salad, two types of masago (regular and a habanero flavor), then finished it off with some roasted sesame seeds, crispy onions and chopped peanuts. I would have added avocado as well (+$1.75) but totally forgot. With a $2.50 fountain drink my total came to $23.71 after tax.
I took a seat and dug in while my shrimp were finishing up in the deep fryer. There’s always a lot going on in these bowls, flovor and texture-wise. My usual spot doesn’t offer peanuts and I really enjoyed that little crunch and taste with everything else. I’ve seen two different types of crab salad, one that seems to stick together well and the other, which is used here, that seems a bit more coarsely sliced, a little dryer and scatters easily when stirred in the bowl. I’m not super crazy about this type but it’s a minor complaint. I was hit with a powerful wasabi aroma as I took a bite of the salmon. The flavor was much less pronounced and faded quickly. The egg was a new addition for me. While I enjoyed the soft texture it did not overcome the other flavors to be very noticeable. The habanero wasabi seemed more like a colorful variation than anything that supplied a detectable heat. I decided to check out that side of sesame shoyu about 1/3 into my bowl. It smelled incredible of strong roasted sesame. I poured the whole side over my bowl. It added a saltiness that I didn’t realize I had been missing. This was the missing flavor that took it from OK to Good. I would not omit this in the future here.
My tempura shrimp arrived within a few minutes and were very hot and crispy. They had a perfect, golden flaky batter that was a delight to bite into. They were a smidge on the greasy side and were the only thing I really needed napkins for. For the $7 that I was charged I was pretty happy with these. For $9 I might reconsider. It’s interesting to note that they offer these as a protein option for the bowls themselves.
I’ve found many poke joints to not quite hit that threshold where I return and I’ve been thinking a lot about why that is, especially given the ingredients and construction are largely similar. It feels exactly the same way with Mongolian BBQ, a connection I made today as I was eating and thinking about the flavors. With Mongolian BBQ, at least for me, their sauces are a key factor. If they aren’t rich enough or if I can’t add it myself (looking at you, Galleria’s O Tasty Mongolian) I find that I don’t return often, if at all. There is a flavor intensity to the sauces here (those that I’ve tried on my two visits thus far) just didn’t quite hit the spot for me. Other than that, the service, the dining space, and the ingredient selection here is honestly pretty decent. It’s hard not to mention the price feels a touch on the high side, but that’s going to be the case at so many places now and I doubt they’ll return to the levels we’ve enjoyed for so long. Although it probably sounds like I’m being kind of hard on this place, it was good, I’ve just become picky with my poke (that is a silly sounding phrase). I think a score of 4 of 5 is fair here.