Catch Santa Fe Poke brings the seafood bowl to the The City Different - Albuquerque Journal

Catch Santa Fe Poke brings the seafood bowl to the The City Different

Leche de tigre salmon with half-forbidden rice and half-bamboo rice at Catch Santa Fe Poké at CHOMP. (Heather Hunter/For the Journal)

Living in a high desert town, many people erroneously believe it’s impossible to get fresh seafood because Santa Fe is a “land-locked” city. But high-end restaurants in New York and Los Angeles – and everywhere in between – fly in fresh seafood daily and planes fly here as well.

Whatever your relationship is with seafood, let me tell you about the best catch in town – Catch Santa Fe Poké serving uber-fresh and uber creative poke bowls that shines a bright light on how spectacular fresh fish and shrimp can be – and they also have a plant-based option. Located at 505 Cerrillos in the CHOMP Food Hall (which has yet to capture the community’s full attention as a culinary destination) is where you will find Catch Santa Fe Poké for their summer residency through August or until they open their brick-and-mortar location.

Coyote Café’s Executive Chef Dakota Weiss and her boyfriend and business partner, Rich Becker, are warming the market up with this culinary concept that is exactly what CHOMP needs to drive traffic. And what Santa Fe can definitely use more of – fresh seafood. Interestingly, this dynamic duo met when they worked at another poke restaurant in Venice, California, and, together, they are launching this concept in the City Different.

Yuzu Kosho Salmon bowl with bamboo rice at Catch Santa Fe Poké at CHOMP. (Heather Hunter/For the Journal)

Poke is a Hawaiian tradition that continues to gain attention as a healthy option. Rice is topped with raw and cubed seafood, different sauces and additional ingredients to add a punch of color, flavor and textures that make poke a wholesome meal – and a perfect summer food.

On two different occasions, my dining companions and I met at CHOMP, a venue that offers four different culinary concepts, an artisan’s market and a bar under one roof. It was a sweltering 91 degrees the first time I went and we were greeted with a serious air-conditioning system that quickly and gratefully cooled us off. Unfortunately, we were not greeted by anyone working behind the bar, so we sat for more than 10 minutes waiting. This also happened the second time I went and it felt awkward and uncomfortable to be in a bar where no one pays attention to you. So, if you go to CHOMP, go boldly and step right up to the bar and place your order.

On my first visit, we went for the mocktails – the Cactus Cooler ($6) and a Monday Maria ($7). I had heard about the Monday Maria from a friend who said “CHOMP has the best Bloody Mary in town.”

The Monday Maria arrived in a high-ball glass with just enough ice, a lime quarter on the rim of the glass and a wooden stick speared with a green olive, pepperoncini pepper and a gherkin. The smart combination of a briny olive, pickled pepper and dill gherkin paired beautifully with the spicy tomato concoction that felt virtuous enough to consider a single vegetable serving. Chomp owner Ken Joseph told me he has been working on the Bloody Mary recipe for a long time. This proves that practice makes perfect as this drink went down easy and adding a shot of vodka will amplify the weekend brunch experience.

Monday Maria and Cactus Cocktail are a few of the mocktail drinks at CHOMP in Santa Fe. (Heather Hunter/For the Journal)

On my second visit, we ordered cocktails. I had a gin and tonic ($8) and my friend ordered an old fashioned ($10). Both drinks were good, but mine was served in a plastic cup while my companion received a real glass. This was another awkward moment but I am hoping the bar gets it together before long and realizes they are in the hospitality business.

After sipping our drinks, we headed straight for the Catch Santa Fe Poké food stall – the only food stall open. This was the first official week of operation for the Catch Santa Fe Poké team, but they had their act together and our bowls were ready to go as we finished paying.

All priced at $15, six poke bowls offer something for everyone. If you don’t eat raw seafood, they created the Camarones de City Different with cooked shrimp for you. And if you don’t eat seafood or are vegan, they have The Delicious Imposter, a plant-based tuna bowl made from bamboo, algae and potato starch. For poke beginners, they created the Pokay Tuna bowl. When they open the restaurant in early fall, they intend to expand the menu.

During my visits, we sampled the Spicy Tuna, Yuzu Kosho Salmon and Leche de Tigre Salmon and all were righteous. As Weiss says, “These are not traditional poke bowls, but are inspired by ‘California, Japan, Hawaii and New Mexico.’ ”

Served in compostable bowls, each begins with a layer of black forbidden or light green bamboo rice – “a short-grain white rice that is soaked in the juice of young bamboo, so it’s very rich in vitamin B, D and chlorophyll,” Weiss informed us. At her recommendation, I ordered half-forbidden and half-bamboo on my second visit and was delighted with the gorgeous combination of textures and flavors this approach imparted.

When we returned to our seats near the bar area, of those there, everyone was eating poke. Of the Yuzu Kosho Salmon bowl, Weiss says, “Yuzu kosho sauce is Japanese citrus with green pepper paste and that sauce has a lot of mirin, orange juice and yuzu juice so it is on the sweeter side.” The bowl also has avocado, sake-braised lotus root and Persian cucumbers for crunch and cilantro for garnish.

On both visits, my dining companions had the Spicy Tuna poke, which will likely be the most popular, and they were happy with their order. Carefully cubed tuna is dressed with togarashi mayo and topped with avocado, sliced Persian cucumbers, hijiki (tiny seaweed that grows on rocks), cubed sweet mango and Hot Takis, a Latin-inspired Hot Cheeto, which adds serious spice and crunch factor. I also tried the Leche de Tigre Salmon poke and loved it. A critical part of Peruvian ceviche, Leche de Tigre sauce is made with lime juice, chiles and aromatics and “cooks” the salmon. Then they add avocado, edamame and jicama for crunch, cilantro and pickled Fresno chiles for a kick of heat.

“The menu is still evolving and we will have a build-your-own bowl offering as well. Once we are fully operational in our own location, we will add a vermicelli rice base and keto-friendly vegetable base and we will probably expand to 8-10 more items that can be added to the bowls. Plus, we have six different sauces to add to the bowls,” Weiss said.

When Catch opens the doors to their restaurant, I will be there. Until then, I will go to CHOMP for poke where I hope to be more than one of a few people dining on fresh seafood that’s perfect for hot summer days.

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