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story.lead_photo.caption Tuna, salmon and shrimp make up a large poke bowl, topped with edamame, cucumber, masago, crispy onion and sesame seeds, at Fresh Bowl n Roll in the River Market’s Ottenheimer Market Hall. - Photo by Eric E. Harrison

A year ago, poke appeared here or there on a central Arkansas Asian or Asian-fusion menu, but there was nary a poke place to be seen.

(Poke. That's a two-syllable word, pronounced PO-kuh, a trendy Hawaiian sushi-similar bowl of cubed raw or cooked fish piled on beds of rice or greens, adding fruits and/or vegetables, toppings and sauces for a supposedly "healthy" meal.)

Fresh Bowl n Roll

Address: River Market’s Ottenheimer Market Hall, 400 President Clinton Ave., Little Rock

Hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Saturday

Cuisine: Poke and sushi rolls

Credit cards: V, MC, AE, D

Alcoholic beverages: No

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

Carryout: Yes

Now we don't want to let poke haunt us, but it's proliferating across the landscape, totaling more than a half-dozen outlets. The two "pioneers" -- Ohia Poke and Poke Hula -- have added a handful of branches, the former in west Little Rock and the latter in the Heights, Conway and, pending, North Little Rock.

And another has opened in the River Market's Ottenheimer Market Hall: Fresh Bowl n Roll Bar, which, as the name suggests, sells poke and, on a limited schedule, also a limited number of sushi rolls.

We can't say Fresh Bowl n Roll's bowls are any better, or worse, than anybody else's, but given that we now have three poke places and three sushi places within a relative stone's throw of our downtown office, we'd certainly keep it in mind as a worthy option.

Gallery: Fresh Bowl n Roll

Owner Mordecai Lee, who turns out to be an old acquaintance (he used to run Hanaroo and the short-lived west Little Rock sushi-hibachi place Eastern Flames), is also the sushi chef, and he's in place only four days out of the six the place is open, so you can only get sushi rolls on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

You can choose from among 18 sushi rolls -- 12 regular, $5.99 each, ranging from simple California and tuna rolls to some that are slightly more adventurous. A "Pick 2 Rolls" (from the standard dozen) option is a bargain at $9.99. Almost all of the ingredients for the rolls come off the poke assembly line.

We chose two of the more adventurous rolls for our "Pick 2" -- Crunch Roll, quasi-crab (surimi), avocado, cucumber, spicy mayo, teriyaki, with "crunch" on top, and the Tuna Teriyaki Roll, rice surrounding baked tuna and surimi with a teriyaki drizzle. Together they made for a tasty and filling lunch, especially when we added a small plastic bowl of Miso soup ($1.29). It was slightly salty and just a touch sweet, at least in the first couple of sips, with plenty of small spongy tofu cubes and some scallions, but little if any seaweed.

The six specialty rolls are a slightly more adventurous, though still simple enough for the sushi chef to fix quickly: the Waikiki and Alaska Twists ($7.99 each), consisting of surimi, avocado, cucumber, wasabi mayo and tuna on top of the former and salmon on top of the latter. We enjoyed our Spicy Crab Roll ($6.99), same as the others except for the spicy mayo instead of the wasabi mayo, and with spicy surimi on top. The remaining three options (all $7.99) are put together in just the same way, but with spicy tuna (Spicy Girl), spicy salmon (Pink Lady) and shrimp (Tiger).

The assembly-line poke part of the operation is very similar to those at the other in-market (but out-of-the-Market-Hall) competitors. You decide how big a bowl you want -- small (one scoop of protein, $6.99), medium (two scoops, $7.99) or large (three scoops, $9.99); each extra scoop, add $2. Then you choose your base -- white rice, brown rice or mixed greens.

At step 2, you pick your protein -- tuna, spicy tuna, baked tuna (not an option we've seen at other poke places); salmon, spicy salmon, baked salmon (ditto); squid salad (for which other places charge extra); crab (actually a shredded surimi-crab blend); baby shrimp; chicken; tofu.

Step 3, choose your fruits and vegetables -- lettuce, edamame, pineapple, corn, cucumber, carrot, onion, green onion, jalapeno. Step 4, pick a sauce -- spicy mayo, wasabi mayo, go chu jang (a spicy Korean concoction), ponzu, Hawaiian, teriyaki, sesame. And Step 5, grab onto one or more garnishes -- olives (which we haven't seen elsewhere), masago (the red-orange roe), wasabi, pickled ginger, crispy onion, "crunch-homemade," sesame seeds, dry seaweed, and, for a buck extra, seaweed salad and/or avocado.

So as not to be slowpokes, now that we're experienced and practically poke-proud, we sailed through the order process, compiling bowls with various combinations and spice levels of tuna and salmon; edamame for flavor and firm texture; masago for color; vinegary ponzu, Hawaiian and/or teriyaki sauces (in all of our sampling we feel we didn't get enough of any sauce to more than subtly accent the flavor), plus sesame seeds and crispy onions. The resulting bowls looked good and tasted good, and that's good enough.

Plasticware, chopsticks, straws and soy sauce packets are within easy reach; however, the management controls the napkins, with which it is quite stingy -- one per order. Soft drinks in cans cost extra; if you're not thrilled with the options, you have all of the Market Hall inside and the River Market outside to buy a beverage of your choice.

Photo by Eric E. Harrison
Three scoops — of spicy tuna, salmon and tofu — form the basis of a large poke bowl, with edamame masago, crispy onion and sesame seeds, from Fresh Bowl n Roll.
Photo by Eric E. Harrison
Mordecai Lee assembles sushi rolls at Fresh Bowl n Roll.
Photo by Eric E. Harrison
Sushi rolls — Crunch Roll (left) and Tuna Teriyaki Roll (with a little extra “crunch”) — make up a “Pick 2” order at Fresh Bowl n Roll.

Weekend on 10/25/2018

Print Headline: River Market poke place on roll

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