Poke is Having its Moment

Proven Poke in Asbury Park offers fast-casual bowls and burritos.

If you’re hip enough to go to Asbury Park, you likely know how to pronounce poke, as in the Hawaiian street-food dish that’s having its moment, and maybe you’ve already entered the inner sanctum of raw fish-rice-plus-add-ins at Proven Poke Co., the new kid on a chic block.

Proven Poke borrows part of its name from Proven Muscle, a fitness spot just up Cookman Avenue. They’re tied by romance: Breana Van Rye owns Proven Poke and her boyfriend Carmen Provenzano owns Proven Muscle. It’s a one-two punch of workout and feeding, for sure.

Proven Poke is set up much like—what else? Chipotle. You order at a counter, choosing from a short selection of “House Favs” or build your own poke bowl or poke burrito with customized add-ins that include mix-ins, sauces and toppings (as part of the price) or “splurge” options (avocado, shiitakes) that come at an extra cost. You’ll catch the drift of this in no time if you’ve eaten on the fast-casual, Chipotle-inspired circuit.

Overall, Proven Poke is a good introduction to the genre—but it needs finesse. Your chosen bowl or burrito’s quality is dependent on the skills of who’s behind the counter putting together your meal. My experience is that these folks are kind and want you to have a good time, but they don’t know much about balancing accents. And the pre-made sauces (say, sriracha aioli or sweet sesame) can be out of whack—burning hot or snoozingly mild, cloying or flavorless. So be aware and ask for a taste of a sauce if you’re in doubt.

I’ve tried a couple of the House Fav bowls, KickFlip and Off the Hook. Off the Hook is traditional: salmon and shiso mingle with cukes, scallions and onions atop a heap of rice, all of which is crowned with a scattering of sesame seeds and chunks of avocado. It comes with a sweet sesame sauce that can be, as I said, very sugary or bland.

Off the Hook bowl

KickFlip is for those not going the raw fish route. It’s a bowl that starts with rice and gets toppers of chicken (dried-out the day I tried it), edamame, scallions, lots of fried onions and not-quite-ripe mango. There’s a nifty chili-ginger sauce coating the chicken, and I would’ve like to see a bit more of it mixed into the bowl. It needed a pick-me-up.

Kick flip bowl

The poke burritos are a kind of large sushi roll crossed with a wrap. On the whole, the rice—which had little or no seasoning—brought down the package, even though there was plenty of filling. The ahi tuna was fresh, as were its recommended mix-in mates of pickled ginger, scallion, cucumber and onion, but the cold rice leaden.

Ahi burrito

The salmon burrito had far too little fish and the snippets of unripe mango, hijiki and crispy onion our counterman recommended didn’t upgrade the out-of-balance roll.

Salmon burrito

Crab salad and seaweed salad are a couple of the sides offered. Simple, barely dressed. Looking for a sweet to end your poke experience? There’s mochi in the house, ice cream snacks that come in assorted flavors. Black sesame steals the show from mango.

Crab salad

No doubt about it: Proven Poke will be quite the scene once the summer crowd descends on Asbury. So the folks here have a few weeks to fine-tune their bowl-and-burrito act and make it ready for the rodeo.

Proven Poke, 644 Cookman Avenue in Asbury Park. Open daily for lunch and dinner. 732-455-5969; provenpokeco.com.

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