Written By Justin Jakubisn Photography By Bella Xu and Justin Jakubisn
Sweetfin's DTLA Location
If you’ve ever visited Hawai’i, odds are you’ve seen “Poké” on a menu. The first time I saw it on the menu (of a food truck mind you) I thought, “What the hell is that? Raw fish mixed with ingredients I cannot pronounce? No thanks.” When I leaned into the window asking for help I fortunately pronounced the word correctly as I pointed to it on the menu with a puzzled expression on my face. It is important to note the pronunciation: ‘po-kay’, not ‘po-kee’, or the greatest sin, ‘poke,’ as in “I will poke you in the eye if you don’t notice the accent above the e.” There’s no quicker way to be identified as a tourist in Hawai’i other than by mispronouncing poké… nonetheless this story takes place on the mainland, in a restaurant named Sweetfin located in Downtown Los Angeles.
Sweetfin is self-described as a “chef-driven, California inspired poke” (note the missing accent above the e to further confuse Angelenos). Executive Chef Dakota Weiss created Sweetfin in 2013, and has six locations scattered throughout L.A. at the time of this writing. The Downtown location is located across the street from the 7th Street Metro station, which is one of the busiest intersections in Los Angeles and always buzzing with foot traffic. Poké is a healthy raw sashimi-based food that is a staple of the average Hawaiian diet. It typically consists of diced, marinated ahi tuna salad or salmon, often tossed with shoyu, sesame oil, onions and sesame seeds combining to create a savory snack, or meal depending on your appetite. The dish is highly customizable with plenty of alternate or additional add-ons.
Interior view of Sweetfin in DTLA
First impressions are critical in the restaurant business, and this place doesn’t disappoint. Stepping inside this inviting space you are immediately greeted with potted greenery transporting you from the concrete jungle outside into a tranquil environment. It feels more like a beachside venue than one located within the canyons of skyscrapers. The polished concrete floor makes for a fitting evolution from the cracked sidewalks of downtown. The patterned tables have a southwestern vibe that would feel out of place in Hawai’i, but works in L.A. Through the light wood motif that describes the walls, benches, and pastel colored wire chairs, a relaxed and light atmosphere was generated that would possibly reflect in the lightness of the meal. The fresh ingredients in this Downtown location are on display for all to see behind four glass panels in a temperature-controlled, stainless steel station immediately within eyesight as you make your way to the register.
After much deliberation standing in line, I settled on a Signature Bowl - Spicy Tuna with a bamboo rice base + 5 complimentary add-ons. These bowls seemed less complex than the energy and thought required to BYOB (Build Your Own Bowl). Creamy togarashi sauce (think sriracha mayo), hijiki (sea vegetable), and avocado (sooo L.A.) come with. I selected garlic, wasabi toasted coconut, cucumbers, edamame and seaweed salad as my additional toppings. I could hardly contain myself as I watched the assembly of my bowl and couldn’t wait to take it outside to the beach. Wait – I was over ten miles from the beach, which in L.A. speak might as well be one hundred miles away. I paid for my meal and made my way to one of the tables.
Interior view of Sweetfin in DTLA
The first bite electrified my mouth with crunchiness balanced perfectly with the spicy tuna and bamboo rice. The tuna melted in my mouth and I tried my best to savor the food. “I don’t think I ordered a large enough bowl,” I said to my friend as I eagerly wished the bowl was bottomless. The seaweed salad complimented the texture of the edamame and cucumbers offering a cool respite from the spicy togarashi sauce. The chopsticks couldn’t lift the bites fast enough as the contents of the bowl dwindled. “Remember to breathe,” my friend politely said under her breath. I decided to break up the meal by cleansing my palate with a drink of the Waiākea bottled “volcanic, electrolyte rich” water. The last few bites of primarily bamboo rice and avocado helped to temper the spiciness. The meal didn’t disappoint and brought back fond memories of island vibes and the aloha spirit.
Atmosphere: A bright, contemporary, relaxed dining room where one can escape the hustle and bustle of DTLA. Recommended Dishes: Spicy Tuna; Ponzu Lime Sweet Potato; Miso Kanpachi Acoustics: Fairly quiet, despite several other patrons dining inside. Price: $ (inexpensive) Sweetfin 735 E 7th St Suite G Los Angeles, CA 90017
"At Sweetfin our philosophy is from "Pole to Bowl". That means that in sourcing our fish we aim to use the highest-quality and most sustainable raw fish we can find while still maintaining a reasonable price point. This philosophy extends into all areas of our offerings - from our produce to our sauces and even to the ingredients used to infuse our teas." - Sweetfin's website