Fast Times

Nippon Schools the Competition at the First Annual Texas Poke Showdown

Nippon's "firefin" entry was light, fresh and citrusy.
Nippon's "firefin" entry was light, fresh and citrusy. Photo by Cuc Lam
click to enlarge Reverberate, in partnership with Musesabouts, hosted Houston's first Poke Showdown at Bar Bleu. - PHOTO BY VU LE
Reverberate, in partnership with Musesabouts, hosted Houston's first Poke Showdown at Bar Bleu.
Photo by Vu Le

Anxious, hungry poke fans lined up outside of Bar Bleu, 2506 Robinhood, near Rice Village last night for Houston's first ever poke competition. Eleven teams entered the contest and three winners each were presented for judges' choice and people's choice.

Judges' Choice:
First Place: Nippon Restaurant
Second Place: Flip N' Patties
Third Place: Moku Bar

Peoples' Choice:
First Place: Wokker
Second Place: RA Sushi
Third Place: Moku Bar

click to enlarge Nippon's "firefin" entry was light, fresh and citrusy. - PHOTO BY CUC LAM
Nippon's "firefin" entry was light, fresh and citrusy.
Photo by Cuc Lam

Nippon
, 4464 Montrose, known as Houston's oldest Japanese-owned restaurant, presented a citrusy salmon poke that was fresh, light and savory. With thinly sliced Fiji apples, shishito, green and purple onions, cucumber and almonds and topped with Korean red pepper threads, smoked black and white sesame seeds and a "firefin" sauce made of ponzu, shichimi, chile oil and yuzu.


The other ten teams from RA, Wokker Texas Ranger, The Fish, Flip N' Patties, Cabo's Coastal Kitchen, Agu Ramen, Moku Bar, People's Poké, Mochi Sushi and Enso Donburi submitted creative and interesting poke plates.

click to enlarge Moku's poke was inspired by a traditional Vietnamese dish called bo tai chanh, which is a preparation involving beef marinated with lime juice and fresh herbs. - PHOTO BY CUC LAM
Moku's poke was inspired by a traditional Vietnamese dish called bo tai chanh, which is a preparation involving beef marinated with lime juice and fresh herbs.
Photo by Cuc Lam

Standouts included Moku's Vietnamese-inspired tuna, marinated with lime, fresh Thai peppers and herbs similar to bo tai chanh, a popular Vietnamese happy hour dish. Currently poke fans can find Moku in the Conservatory Food Hall downtown, but owner and chef Tuan Tran told the Houston Press that he is actively looking at a possible brick and mortar in the Heights.

Food truck kings Wokker brought home a trophy as the People's Choice first-place winner with a small mound of salmon and avocado mixture presented in a golden nest of crispy, fried sushi rice. Wokker has set up a semi-permanent home and partnership with Craft Beer Cellar at 907 Franklin.

click to enlarge One of the judges, Channel 2's Lily Jang, snapped a photo of Second Place, judge's choice winner, Flip N' Patties. - PHOTO BY LILY JANG
One of the judges, Channel 2's Lily Jang, snapped a photo of Second Place, judge's choice winner, Flip N' Patties.
Photo by Lily Jang

Filipino food truckers Flip N' Patties’ rendition was one of the tastiest tuna bites of the evening. The pieces were fresh and fat, the umami flavors were brilliant, and the fried croutons were semi-sweet and reminiscent of pound cake.

Flip N' Patties has made a home inside Lincoln Bar in the Washington Corridor at 5110 Washington.

click to enlarge Ra Sushi's poke and a delicious mangonata from Magic Cup. - PHOTO BY INSTAGRAMMER @YOOEE
Ra Sushi's poke and a delicious mangonata from Magic Cup.
Photo by Instagrammer @yooee

More than 400 tickets were sold; guests were limited to one sample from each team's booth. Sponsored partners included Magic Cup, Bumble and Exitus VR. The showdown was Reverberate's debut public event. The new marketing agency pledged to donate profits from ticket sales to a local nonprofit organization, Kids Meals. Videography was provided by Museabouts, a local media company.

click to enlarge Newcomer Enso Donburi topped its rice with a savory, salty k-pop blend of spices and dried seaweed strips. - PHOTO BY CUC LAM
Newcomer Enso Donburi topped its rice with a savory, salty k-pop blend of spices and dried seaweed strips.
Photo by Cuc Lam

Many new poke establishments were missing in last night's contest. Favorites like Seaside, Ono, Northshore and Pokéology were nowhere to be seen. For now, the poke force is strong in Houston. Let's hope we see a Second Annual Poke Showdown that's even bigger and better next year.
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Cuc Lam is a freelance food writer for the Houston Press and local pop-up chef. She enjoys teaching cooking classes and hosting dinner parties when she is not writing.