Monday, February 05, 2018

Poke from Big Fish Little Fish

The poke fad has hit the Bay Area.  Poke bowl establishments a la Subway/Chipotle are popping up, not nearly as prevalent as in Los Angeles (or even Seattle), but, we are getting there.
Poke Bowls!
And by "the poke fad", of course I mean customizable poke bowl places, that bare very little resemblance to their Hawaiian inspiration.


Big Fish Little Fish is located in Rincon Center, open only for lunch, only during the week, clearly geared at nearby office workers.  It is adjacent to Eatsa, the fast casual "robot" customizable vegetarian quinoa/salad bowl place, that I've reviewed before.
Lines, Always.
You will find Big Fish Little Fish easily, as there is always a line leading to the front.
Outside Seating.
Large size communal picnic tables fill the courtyard, shared with the other establishments nearby.  No heat lamps though, so, during San Francisco "winter", these largely go unused.
Indoor Seating.
Big Fish Little Fish has some limited indoor seating, but most people get their bowls to go.
Ordering Counter.
The ordering counter is at the front, with a big line leading to it from outside.

The Food

The menu is pretty simple: poke bowls.
Signature Bowls.
They have a few pre-designed bowls if you want to go simple, or you can build your own.  The only side dish available is soup.  Not even chips.  No desserts.  Very bare bones.  Some of their other locations seem to offer poke burritos, but not this one.

The ordering system is a bit confusing.  Everyone waits in the long line, and then you step up to order.  If you are ordering one of the pre-designed bowls, you then just get directed down the line to order and pay, and are given a number to wait for your bowl to be delivered.

Otherwise, for build-a-bowl style, you start down an assembly line, where the staff rush you through.  I understand that the line is long and they need to provide quick service, but, they really rushed us.
Base Options.
If you are building your own bowl, the first step is to pick your base, from 4 options: brown rice, white rice, mixed greens, or kale.

Your base of choice (you can pick two) is placed into the cardboard bowl, and you are handed off to the next station.
Next is your choice of proteins, 2 choices for a "Little Fish" or 3 for a "Big Fish".

Choices are all seafood, nothing here for your vegetarian or non-seafood eating friends (no tofu, chicken, etc that are common at other places).  For raw options there is salmon, albacore, "tuna", and spicy tuna, plus cooked shrimp and octopus.  All are cubed or chopped into bite sized pieces.  I laughed at the "tuna" vs "albacore" listings ... albacore is a type of tuna ... I assume the "tuna" was ahi?

Your choices are placed into a separate, aluminum, bowl, 1 small scoop of each.  And you move down the line.
Now, time for sauce. Two creamy options are available: "srirach" aioli or wasabi cream, plus four lighter options: ponzu citrus, traditional yuzu, sweet onion, and mustard sesame.  Yes, the "srirach" I'm pretty sure was meant to be sriracha.

These are normally mixed in with the proteins, but you can also ask for them on the side, in little containers.  And then, passed on again.
The next person controls only two toppings: seaweed salad and "crab".  I was glad to see these not considered premium offerings, and I asked for two scoops of crab and it was no problem.

Then, on to the rest of the toppings.  This is where things got very rushed.  And where they got even more stingy, although you weren't limited in number of toppings.  Options were corn, green onion, jalapeno, red onion, carrot, cilantro, pickled ginger, masago, mango, purple cabbage, cucumber, and "edameme".  Avocado was also available, for $1.50 more, the only premium topping.  They seriously need a proofreader for the signs ... "edameme".

The person making my bowl at this stage really rubbed me the wrong way.  "Carrots", I said, and she put in the *tinest* little bit of carrot.  "Cabbage, lots of cabbage", and she just rolled her eyes at me.  She tried to hand my bowl down the line before I finished with my toppings, and I really wasn't being slow!

Your fish was mixed up at this point with the sauce (if you had mixed in) and toppings you asked to have mixed in, and dumped on top of the bowl.  And then, on to the final station.
Crunchy Toppings!
The finishing station offered a drizzle of the same two cream sauces from earlier, plus a few crunch toppings: wasabi peas, crispy onion, sliced almonds, sunflower seeds, and furikake.  Apparently they used to have more options, like crispy lotus chips, but alas, they were removed.  Sunflower seeds seemed really random.
Custom Big Fish Bowl.
One of my co-workers did a custom Big Fish with tuna, salmon, and spicy tuna, plus a scattering of other ingredients.  This gives a pretty good overview of how, uh, lovingly assembled the bowls were, and how not exactly generously filled they were.  The wasabi cream drizzle on top was almost invisible!

The tuna portion was decent, the salmon much smaller.
Custom Big Fish Bowl.
Another co-worker made the same 3 protein choices for a Big Fish bowl, but added more toppings.  This one looked better.
Custom Big Fish Bowl with Proteins & Sauce on the side. $13.
I took the advice of some Yelpers, and opted to have my protein left on the side, and sauces individually packaged, since I had no idea which sauces I'd like, and I wasn't certain I'd eat the whole bowl in one sitting, so I wanted to keep the other ingredients from getting soggy.
Sauces: Traditional yuzu, Wasabi Cream, Srirach Aioli.
So, starting with the sauces.  I kinda wanted to try them all, but I settled on three, both of the creamy options, plus just the traditional yuzu, since, well it was tradition.

I wasn't impressed with any.

The wasabi cream did have a tiny bit of kick, but it seemed to just be, literally, wasabi sour cream.  I expected something ... more, not sure what.

The "srirach" aioli was creamier and richer, since it was aioli, but, I hated the flavor of it.  I don't dislike sriracha, but, this was just not tasty.

So, two sauces down, the ones I expected to love, since I'm all about creamy sauces.  I wish they had miso aioli.

The traditional yuzu was fairly boring, very light, it really tasted just like watered down soy sauce.

I'm very glad I left these on the side, and more glad that I had alternate dressings at home I could use instead.
Proteins: Salmon, Tuna, Octopus.
For proteins, the only one I really wanted was octopus (really, I wanted scallops or crab, but, not options), but the salmon looked good so I added it, and I got the "tuna" for a friend.

The octopus was horrible.  So chewy.  So rubbery.  The mix of pieces was good though.

The salmon was good.  It did indeed seem fresh, the flavor was good, the cuts were good.  The portion fairly small.

I didn't try the tuna, but it too did look decent quality.
Kale Bowl with Toppings.
And finally, all the rest of it.  If you know me, this is what I was really excited for.  Toppings!  Crunchy things!

For my base, I went for a salad, with a choice between mixed greens or kale.  I opted for kale.  It was torn into fairly bite sized pieces, with shredded carrot and red cabbage already mixed in.  It was fine, fresh and crisp enough, although a bit of an odd choice rather than baby kale, as raw kale is pretty tough.  Still, decent.

I added both sides, seaweed salad and surimi crab.  The seaweed salad was a generous scoop, standard marinated mixed seaweeds with sesame seeds, the kind that gets stuck in your teeth.  For the crab, I asked for two scoops, which were given without any hesitation or extra fees.  The benefits of fake crab!  I expected the crab to have mayo mixed in, crab salad style, but it was seemingly just shredded surimi.  I desperately wanted something creamy to mix in, and since I didn't like their creamy sauces, I added my own mayo and mixed it with the traditional sauce once I got home.  This improved things, but plain shredded surimi is pretty boring.

Moving on to the rest of my toppings.  I added corn, pickled ginger, shredded carrot, purple cabbage.  All fairly standard.  This was actually like 5 servings of purple cabbage, because I really wanted a lot, I love the crunch it adds, and I kept saying "lots of cabbage!" "More cabbage" and finally got what I wanted.  The other veggies were added ... sparingly.

And of course, I wnated tons of crunch.  I gave the same guidance for the wasabi peas and crispy onions.  "Lots!"  "More!" "Could I please have another handful? I love crunch!"  Eventually I got as many as I wanted.  These too were fine, fairly standard, good crunch.

So overall, this was ... well, "fine".  Decent quality seafood, decent quality toppings.  If the sauces were better, or the octopus, I'd consider returning, but as it was, I have no desire to go back.