When the Southfin Southern Poké restaurant concept was announced a few months ago, I was skeptical.
How would Baton Rouge diners greet a restaurant that focused on poké, a Hawaiian raw fish salad?
A few months after opening, Southfin’s location in Southdowns Shopping Center has diners lined up out the door each day at lunch. There's no need to be skeptical: The restaurant has clearly found its spot in the local scene.
Southfin serves poké with a Southern accent. Each bowl begins with a base of rice, gluten-free noodles or mixed greens, served with sushi bar-grade salmon, tuna or marinated chicken. House-crafted toppings like pickled ginger and jalapeno or marinated mushrooms are added along with handmade dressings to create sweet and spicy bowls full of competing and complementary flavors.
Decorated like a modern seaside cottage with a palette of soothing blues and stark whites, the restaurant's distressed wood walls boast coastal kitsch such as deep sea fish. Outside, a bench is made from a paddleboard. At lunch, half the diners are dressed in business attire, while the other half look like they just left a yoga class.
Upon entering Southfin, a greeter handed us a menu and asked whether we had tried the restaurant before. She gave us a quick primer in the ways of poké so we could order knowledgeably.
On my first visit, I chose the Spicy Salmon, one of the Southfin originals — the six bowls designed by the chef (all $9.95 for a regular size, $12.95 for a large). Walking through the line, the servers coached me on my choices. I chose locally grown purple rice as the base, then they added two scoops of salmon and all the fixings — honey sriracha sauce, miso dressing, mango, avocado, fried wonton, pickled jalapeno and a few other vegetables.
The blend of flavors complemented one another well, alternating spicy and sweet, better than the best spicy salmon roll I've had at a sushi bar.
With my meal, I ordered a seasonal pineapple ginger agua fresca to drink. It was lightly sweet with a sharp zing of ginger.
The next day, I returned with a guest who has never liked sushi, so she chose the chicken poké bowl with a purple rice base. The moist cubed chicken blended well with crunchy carrots, red cabbage, mild shallots, cilantro and marinated mushrooms.
That day I tried the Luau, a sweeter poké made with Gulf tuna and shrimp topped with a citrus soy yuzu dressing and spicy mayo. With seaweed salad, pineapple, mango, toasted coconut and macadamia nuts, the salad was sweet and crunchy.
For $10, a bowl from Southfin is a great value when compared to the cost of sashimi at any quality sushi joint. Two handfuls of tuna or salmon are accentuated with an array of flavorful fixings.
The filling, quality poké bowls have made a believer out of this skeptic.
Southfin Southern Poké
4321 Perkins Road, Baton Rouge
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday
INFO: Call (225) 302-7613 or visit southfinpoke.com.
PROS: Good value, unique concept for this area, Spicy Salmon bowl
CONS: Can get crowded easily