Location: 3812, 11114 W Magnolia Blvd, North Hollywood, CA 91601
Cuisine: Japanese, Poke, Asian Fusion
When I first heard about the PokeMotto in North Hollywood, no joke I honestly thought it had something to do with Pokémon. (Because yes, I’m a dork and I grew up playing it on the Game Boy and I now play Pokémon Go too. #stillakid) Anyway, I soon learned that PokeMotto was a small poke bar/shop that my sister Aimee had visited before as she raved about how they served up super fresh fish and delicious poke bowls. Poke it is, then, let’s go get it.
But then she said, “I want to take you there to try their omakase—it’s reservations only.” Ooooohh la la. Omakase, which in Japanese translates to literally “I leave it up to you” is typically attributed to sushi restaurants where the chef chooses a series of dishes to make for you—omakase style sushi dining allows the chef to be creative and to prepare it in whatever style and manner he chooses. It can define a sushi chef and it can show you his personality, his style of preparation and his relationship to the craft. My sister also noted that the head chef of PokeMotto went out and specifically chose rare and interesting kinds of fish for our dinner. Whaaaaaat? So cool. This started sounding more and more fancy, and I started imagining how the rich enjoy their million dollar meals with rare and exotic ingredients. Suh-weeeeeeet. This meal was gonna make me feel like a crazy rich Asian! (haha, pun intended?)
Being that poke is essentially raw fish on rice, I could understand how they could double up as a sushi place. But reservations only, huh? Interesting. Must be something really special—after all, like dim lighting, exclusivity makes everything more fancy.
Mind you, I am by no means a person who is a pro when it comes to talking about sushi—I simply am a person who enjoys eating it and I know a handful of terms here and there 😊
Upon entering the Poke shop I noticed the amazing Japanese style wall murals. One wall featured a mural of the Great Wave made famous by ukiyo-e artist Hokusai, and the opposing wall with a more modern mural with spiraling koi fish and a giant green octopus. Awesome!! My inner artist beamed with appreciation, and I was immediately excited, especially because they were blaring Lincoln Park on their sound system. *Crawllinggg innn my skinnnnnnn!!!* 🤟
This was for sure, different and had a way more casual and fun vibe than I expected. No slow playing shamisen instrumentals here or luau music for that matter. We took our seats and got my niece settled in as Chef Brian and his partner Chef Sang came out to greet us. Upon meeting my sister’s 4 year old daughter, Evelyn, Chef Brian said, “Evelyn, I’ll be your very own personal sushi chef allllll night tonight, okay?” She giggled and said “Okay!” We were also happy to learn that Chef Sang would soon be having a daughter of his own!
After learning that she loved ikura and fish eggs (what she calls bubbles) he said, “Okay, I’ll give you lots and lots of bubbles okay? I’ll give you the best bubbles everrrr!” Check out just how many bubbles she got in her customized ikura bowl!
This playful banter between both chefs and our little Evelyn continued through the night and it was the most adorable thing ever. Not only was my niece thoroughly enjoying herself and eating everything he put in front of her (an amazing feat, for sure), Chef Brian and Chef Sang were just genuinely welcoming and friendly individuals to everyone who stepped through their door. They had a way of making every customer feel special and almost every person who came in seemed to know them or say “Hey bro, good to see you!” —it was a very cool atmosphere where everyone came knowing they’d be welcomed with a friendly face and served good, fresh, delicious seafood.
Throughout the omakase, Chef Brian would explain each type of fish and where he got it from. Every fish was chosen based on seasonal availability and are all wild caught from all parts of the globe. The omakase started with a refreshing yuzu ponzu salad with spring mix and edamame.
We had several different kinds of salmon from Alaska, New Zealand and Scotland (some of my favorites of the night), a variety of sea breams (baby sea bream, blue seabream, black seabream), wild barracuda from Japan, scallops from Hokkaido (also Japan), mackerel from Norway, tuna, yellowtail and more.
The 16 course dinner was prepared as nigiri sushi and a few collaborative hot dishes were prepared by Chef Sang in the kitchen.
The meal had a good balance of different kinds of fish and the transitions from nigiri to warm cooked fish dishes was smooth. One of my favorite hot dishes was the Hokkaido scallop with seared salmon on top served with truffle oil and a Korean spicy sauce—the scallop was succulent and sweet from the ocean, and the salmon added a fattiness to the dish. Of course, I loved the spicy gochujang style sauce since I’m a lover of all things spicy 😊
Typically I love salmon and rarely order much else—sometimes tuna, sometimes yellowtail, squid, scallop, sweet shrimp, but at PokeMotto’s omakase, I found that I really enjoyed the wild Three Line Isaki, also known as Grunt fish, a whitefish from southern Japan. It had a delicate sweetness and firmness, with a light, briny ocean flavor. It was new for me and not a type of fish that you would be able to find at any run of the mill sushi restaurant.
Besides the impeccable depth of flavor and variety of textures each fish had, Chef Brian’s ability to connect with his customers and share his experience as a sushi chef truly made omakase experience into something approachable and extremely enjoyable—not just for the palate but for the social and educational learning aspect in all things fish, sushi, and what it means to live a life as a sushi chef. He described the different flavors and textures each fish had—for example the wild Alaskan Sockeye Salmon he served was caught from the Copper River of Alaska. The fish is rich in minerals and amino acids, and therefore has a firmer, nuttier flavor than other types of salmon.
We ended the meal with a seared wild barracuda from Japan presented as nigiri sushi as well as in a hot dish paired with a comforting, no frills and warm-you-to-the-core bowl of shrimp porridge. Finally, fresh orange was served, and specifically cut to make my niece squeal with joy. Teddy bear oranges! Then Chef Sang came out to top off the night with a very special little gift for Evelyn, a little shark toy! She was absolutely ecstatic, and we were pretty much stuck in a perpetual mode of “AWWWWWW”. (This was the case for most of the night whenever the Chefs interacted with her!)
Besides gaining the favor and love of my niece, we are now unabashedly huge fans of PokeMotto. With each dish that Chef Brian served up, the finesse in which he prepared the fish, the way he described its origins and flavors, clearly showed his passion for his craft and his wealth of knowledge as a sushi chef. His stories about the fish markets and his treks to find the best fish, sea urchin and various shellfish (best in late autumn, according to the chef) were captivating and made me salivate. Juicy scallops, shrimp, sea urchin and more straight from the sea and so sweet you might cry. The experience at PokeMotto was one of the best omakase experiences I have had by far—and a restaurant that can make me truly appreciate the ingredients served, having been chosen with seasonality and sustainability in mind.
For a down to earth, honest, and welcoming experience that you won’t soon forget, you’ll find the best, unforgettable stories and delicious omakase from the chefs behind the counter at PokeMotto. Make your reservation. LIKE NOW. (or stop by for the Pokebowls for the abridged experience).
Until next time,