Thursday, June 23, 2022
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Downtown Flavors: Freestyle Poke

Sam Bellefy

Opening over the summer, Freestyle Poke brought the hip Hawaiian seafood dish to Kansas City’s River Market. Is it a good spot for you and your pals to grab a bite to eat? I took it upon myself to find out.
At 509 Delaware St., the exterior of Freestyle Poke looks right at home with the other trendy cafes and eateries that populate the area. For student motorists, parking here is plentiful, although it is only available during weekdays. For those who use public transportation, the KC streetcar passes right by.

Once inside, however, the cozy brick and mortar aesthetic of the River Market is quickly forgotten, replaced by a minimalist, black-and-white interior. The restaurant is cold and sterile, and the laboratory-like atmosphere is barely offset by the warm glow of hanging light fixtures.

Uncomfortable furniture plagues the eating areas both inside and outside, making dining-in seem like a last resort.  I would definitely recommend getting your meal to-go.
Going to the counter to order your food, the “freestyle” part of the restaurant’s title becomes evident. Similar to Chipotle or Subway, is guests choose all the ingredients that make up their poke bowl.
What is a poke bowl, exactly?  It is a mixture of cubed raw fish, soy (shoyu) sauce, noodles or rice and other fresh ingredients mixed together like a savory salad.

The number and variety of unconventional ingredients offered by the restaurant—ranging from sweet potato to pickled seaweed—is a definite bonus, creating an exciting number of possible exotic combinations.
The staff of Freestyle Poke are friendly and fast, assembling the bowl of your dreams in under a minute. The only issue I noted with the service, however, is the forceful attitude of those behind the counter.  Though the choice is yours, they make it very clear to you what they think you should be eating, making clear their doubt of your decision-making capabilities.

For the sake of this review, I chose the establishment’s two most popular “signature” bowls, given the quirky names of “Ride the Wave” and “Why so Serious?”

The presentation of both was a little lacking, though a little mixing made the two dishes look like an inviting amalgamations of color.  “Ride the Wave”, a personalized mixture of rice, salmon, a yuzu ponzu sauce, avocado, and pickled seaweed in a garlic aioli, was a joy to eat.  The flavors of the disparate ingredients blended to create a savory, refreshing ocean flavor.  On the opposite end, however, lies the bowl “Why so Serious?”

With a combination of spicy tuna, quinoa, shoyu sauce, bean sprouts, and jalapeno, the flavors pulled off the baffling feat of being both bland and overpowering simultaneously, leaving you with bad breath and an even worse taste in your mouth.

For both bowls, the ingredients could have been fresher, but this is excusable for a seafood joint far from any ocean.

The disparity of these two dishes demonstrates the essential problem of Freestyle Poke. While the freedom of choice lets you make the dish of your dreams, it also will lead you to make plenty of mistakes. And these mistakes are quite costly, with the smallest poke bowls costing over ten dollars.  For the college student on a shoestring budget, the unreliable nature of this cuisine, and the fact that the restaurant does not accept cash, is troubling news.
My final impression: If you have never had poke before, give this restaurant a try.  Even if you normally would not eat sushi or raw seafood, you might be pleasantly surprised. After the novelty of the first experience, however, the ultimate product might not justify the high cost. I give Freestyle Poke three out of five stars: a lot of potential, but trouble in the execution.

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