“Pokémoto” is located in Main Street Market, in the space formerly occupied by a fro-yo spot. It’s hardly the sandy beaches of Hawaii, but its owners have gone to great lengths to endow the space with its own charming spirit, including free samples outside and dotting the sleek, minimalist space with a variety of autumnal and Halloween decorations.
Poké is a traditional Native Hawaiian dish that consists of sliced raw fish tossed in a savory sauce. Poké commonly features tuna, octopus, or salmon with either a soy sauce or a creamy, spicy aioli. In contrast to Hawaii, Connecticut does not sell poké in every grocery and convenience store.
Despite poké not being commonplace on the mainland, Chipotle-style poké bowl establishments have been popping up in all manner of climates. Poké bowls pair traditional poké with rice or salad and a wide range of toppings. Pokémoto embraces this philosophy, offering a substantial array including typical toppings such as green onion, avocado, and fish eggs as well as quite a few unexpected toppings including cashews, jalapeños, and mango. While the final product is quite different from the poké served in Hawaii, where esteemed poké reviewer Chloe Thorburn ’20 first cut her poké teeth, it is nevertheless a treat to find the dish in Connecticut.
Pokémoto offers several standard bowls, including Hawaiian, Miso Salmon, Pokémoto Tofu, Sweet & Spicy Shrimp, and Sesame Ginger Chicken. It also offers customers the option to design their own orders.
The dozens of options, which could be combined to create hundreds of distinct bowls, left the reviewers overwhelmed. Reviewer Chloe, the more poké-experienced of the two, ordered a bowl with white rice, fresh greens, tuna, shredded seaweed, masago, edamame, ponzu sauce, and wasabi aioli. The ponzu sauce offered a tart, citrus note to the bowl, balancing the salty seaweed and masago.
Reviewer Dani, a Midwesterner who was significantly less experienced in the world of poké bowls, ordered a bowl with white rice, tofu, avocado, seaweed, cashew (a hot take!), greens, hot sauce, and spicy mayo. Although the vegetarian version of the bowl was obviously a departure from the traditional poké bowl, it was a lovely, lighter alternative to stir fry, and the spicy mayo was delicious, despite not being particularly spicy.
Chi Hing Sze, the owner of Pokémoto Middletown, ventured a guess that the increasing popularity of poké bowls in the continental United States was in part due to the adaptability of the dish.
“It’s not like when you go to an Italian restaurant or something and you have to get what’s on the menu,” he said. “This is very customizable, you get it that minute.”
He said that the Pokémoto franchise opened in New Haven in 2017.
“The owner [of the franchise], he and his buddy went to Hawaii for a while and then he came back with the idea of opening a business,” Sze explained. “So we’re originally from New Haven and we have seven stores, including this one…lucky number seven. The reason why we opened in Middletown is obviously the location, the way the college is here.”
“When the location first opened in New Haven, I was one of the first customers and ever since then I liked it,” Sze said of his motivation for going into the poké bowl business. “But that’s when I was working in the pharmacy business. And then I realized that one of my pharmacist co-workers was best friends with the franchise owner’s sister. So I was the manager in Hamden for a while, learned the business, and now I’m here.”
The Middletown Pokémoto location is already making an effort to reach out to the Wesleyan and Middletown community. When Sze brought us free dole whip, we wondered if it might just be our status as reviewers, but several other Wesleyan students confirmed that they had received free dole whip as well.
Sze explained that the restaurant’s offerings were directly impacted by customer feedback. He mentioned that pineapple was a new venture for the business, and that they were planning to bring in other new toppings as well, such as kale.
“And it’s very interesting how in different towns people like to eat differently,” Sze noted. “In this place, radish is very popular, in other places maybe daikon is very popular. So we get information from all our franchisees and then we put it together and every year or so we come together and talk about what can make us better.”
Overall, both reviewers would recommend the establishment as a standout in the—albeit limited—poké bowl sphere of central Connecticut. While the options cannot all be considered within the poké bowl canon, they are nonetheless delicious.
Dani Smotrich-Barr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chloe Thorburn can be reached at email@example.com.