October 9, 2018
Restaurant Row

Poke craze births third eatery

Liese Klein
Liese Klein
PokeCape owner Jason Park and manager Jenny Cho.
Liese Klein
The new Taco Bell Cantina on Chapel Street.

Low-carb, gluten-free and infinitely customizable, poke (pronounced "poh-kay") has become the Elm City's latest food trend. The Hawaiian-Japanese concoction of raw fish and vegetables served over rice with spicy sauce is showing up on Asian-fusion menus everywhere.

Now a third restaurant centered around poke has opened downtown: PokeCape at 165 Orange St., across from the Government Center. The eatery joins Pokelicious on Church Street and Pokemoto on Audubon Street as a poke specialist. Pokemoto also recently opened an outpost in Hamden Plaza in Hamden.

Owner Jason Park opened PokeCape in late summer after a career running restaurants in his hometown of Seoul, South Korea. His eatery distinguishes itself from the poke competition with an array of organic offerings and quality fish. Nearly 80 percent of the menu items are organic, Park said.

Why has poke caught on in New England, so far from its island home? Park says customers are looking for something fresh and healthy, and they like sauces spiked by Korean chili paste and other ingredients.

"They like the fresh fish and vegetables," Park said. "The sauce is special, customers like the Korean and Japanese flavors."

As befitting its organic focus, PokeCape's signature bowl features lots of fresh vegetables, raw tuna and salmon and spicy sauce with Korean flavors. Other bowls center on cooked proteins like shrimp, chicken and tofu. Toppings include garlic chips, shredded nori and tempura flakes.

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Late-night revelers have a new destination on Chapel Street -- the nation's newest Taco Bell Cantina, which serves alcohol in addition to fast-food fare. The hybrid restaurant and bar opened Friday at 956 Chapel St. on the New Haven Green and hopes to appeal to collegiate night owls and other midnight snackers by staying open until 3 a.m. for food on weekends.

Alcohol -- beer and some cocktails -- will be served until 2 a.m. on weekends. Offerings include sangria, alcoholic slushies, craft beer like New England Brewing's Sea Hag IPA and a $5 "cantina margarita" served on the rocks.

Taco Bell Cantina is a new concept rolled out in cities starting in 2015 that features alcohol, an open kitchen, upscale design and a "tapas-style" menu. New Haven's Taco Bell Cantina is the first in New England to serve alcohol.

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