A good cake should be sweet, moist and melt in your mouth. Good sushi should be fresh, the correct temperature and uncomplicated. Poke Sushi restaurant is taking these two very different food items and combining them — and finding a fan base.
But the “cake” in the restaurant’s sushi cake just refers to the shape of the dish and the fact that it is presented in a traditional cake box. Poke Sushi wouldn’t really attempt to combine the beloved dessert and popular Asian cuisine. The mere thought of it is stomach-turning.
Poke Sushi Operating Manager Donny Halim said the idea for a sushi cake came last December from a loyal customer who asked the restaurant to create something new, but still sushi-based, for his birthday.
“Thanks to the Internet, you can Google search anything,” Donny said, with a laugh. “So we found sushi cakes and then created our own version here.”
The cakes can be tailor-made to fit any tastes and can accommodate almost any number of people. Donny said the largest cake Poke Sushi has made so far was 80-centimeters square and loaded with enough fish and rice to feed 40 to 50 people.
He said that sushi cakes can be ordered two days beforehand, but added that his team also warns customers about the short shelf life.
“Especially if it is topped with sashimi,” Donny said.
“We always tell them that if they don’t serve it within two hours, they need to put it back into the refrigerator. The fish can go bad very quickly.”
Quality is something that Poke Sushi takes very seriously. Tuna is bought locally to ensure freshness, while shipments of salmon that come in from Norway or New Zealand undergo two 24-hour deep-freezing sessions to make sure the fish is bacteria-free.
“It is very important that you maintain the ingredients from receiving them to washing and preparing them and storing them in standard normal temperatures,” Donny stressed.
But it’s not only the quality of the ingredients that Donny is concerned with. He said the staff at all four Poke Sushi outlets — Dharmawangsa Square, the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Grand Indonesia and Summarecon Mall 2 — are certified in multiple health and hygiene standards.
“In Indonesia, the most important thing is communication because the levels of education aren’t the same. You have to build the team up from the bottom to the top,” Donny explained. “My goal is to make the whole team smart, independent, and, most importantly, wealthy.”
With a background in business management rather than culinary arts, Donny relies on his team, especially head chef Caryo, to keep the chain running.
“I don’t have a background in food, just management, that’s why I trust my chefs to maintain the level of quality and create new menus for Poke,” Donny said.
So far this trust in its people has paid off as Poke Sushi enters its eighth year.
“When we opened the Dharmawangsa location [the original Poke Sushi outlet], if I’m not mistaken, there were only 40 or 50 Japanese restaurants in Jakarta, and now according to our data there are about 250 Japanese restaurants in just over eight years,” Donny said.
In addition to its custom-made sushi cakes, Poke Sushi also distinguishes itself by offering a 50-plus-item all-you-can-eat menu, every day of the week. It also has an extensive list of rice bowls, main courses and noodle dishes.
Poke Sushi is named after the Hawaii slang term for diced fresh tuna, “ahi poke,” which also happens to be one of its most popular dishes. It’s a pyramid of fresh ahi tuna atop crispy cucumber slices and a pool of special poke sauce that is sweet with hints of spice. The bare-bones ingredients let the quality of the fish shine — the whole point of sushi.
The ability to taste high-quality fish is the key to another Poke customer favorite, the Chef’s Special Salmon Salad — a generous stack of imported salmon is tossed with cucumbers and a light mayonnaise dressing.
“That is why I love Japanese cooking,” Donny said. “In Chinese cooking, it’s about throwing a lot of things in there but in Japanese cooking, it’s just a few ingredients so you can really taste the quality.”