When I first heard of Pokéworks, I visualized a store for fans of the world-famous video game and TV series, Pokémon. As Managing Partner Kevin told me with an unsurprised chuckle, I was only one of the many misled by the name. “We struggled to find names for our company that a Pokémon spin-off hadn’t already grabbed. ” In reality, Pokéworks has nothing to do with the digital monsters of Pokémon; rather, it is a store dedicated to bringing the Hawaiian dish “poké” to the mainland. Born in Southern California, but always with a passion for Hawaiian comfort food, Kevin opened Pokéworks' first New York City branch with three co-founders in December 2015. The four frequently traveled to Hawaii, returning to the mainland in want of authentic and accessible poké places. Finding few to satisfy their palates, they took it upon themselves to bring the raw-fish-based meal to California and New York. While first-time customers have taken to social media tagging photos of poké as “sushi burritos, ” poké is different in that its ingredients are all pre-flavored while sushi is served plain. With toppings such as spicy ginger, sesame seeds, and sweet chili over a range of proteins (umami aki, tuna, organic tofu, and more), poké wraps and bowls are both nutritious and accessible to customers of all different lifestyles. Kevin asserts that getting poké here is like having “your own personal chef. ”Although one can customize their poké as they wish, the store also maintains a set “signature works” menu that authentically recreates the ingredients of the poké served in Hawaii. A customer at the store who had recently returned from a summer break on the island state informed me that Pokeworks' menu evokes nostalgia for Hawaii in a way that few other places have - there are simply too few poké places on the mainland. It is not hard to see why the line during weekday lunch breaks zigzags out the door and tumbles onto the street. Poké is a healthy, accessible, and flavorful meal, and we only hope to see more people discover this midtown gem.
After having eaten at Barbes, I was eager to check out Omar Balouma's other restaurant. Stopping to notice the beautiful, ornately carved front door, we learned that it was shipped directly from Morocco, and functions as a literal and figurative portal to North Africa. Inside, a vague smell of hookah smoke hangs in the air amidst beautifully crafted walls done in a soft pastel-hued Venetian plaster. The front of the restaurant is for dining where the menu offers smaller Mediterranean-style plates flavored with Moroccan spices. The back hookah room might be the real star. Benches line the large square room, along with colorful seat cushions while tapestry-esque sheets hang overhead. Saturday nights come alive with belly dancers and music is played by Rachid Halibal, a native of Morocco.
Neon lights, on the back wall, greeted us as we entered Trademark Grind, the “boutique coffee bar” serving Sweetleaf Coffee Roasters from Brooklyn. In this quaint space, we were treated to excellent cups of hot chocolate, perfect on this winter day. A few minutes later, the PR manager, Matt, greeted us and invited the Manhattan Sideways team to follow him through a small entryway where we discovered Trademark Taste, a cozy, dimly lit restaurant... a safe little hideaway in the middle of bustling Midtown Manhattan. Opened in the spring of 2016, by In Good Company Hospitality, Trademark Taste & Grind serves a mixed clientele, from guests at the attached hotel and the pre-show crowd from Madison Square Garden to those looking for a unique weekend bar scene. The menu is impeccably curated by culinary director, Jeff Haskell, to featured favorites like Burrata and Knots and Tuna Poke. However, with its dark, mellow colors, graffiti motifs and hints of industrial flair, Trademark is all about the space. The walls are white and black with accents of red. Intimate hidden booths circle a large center bar, the anchor of the room. As soon as I took a look around, I wanted to settle into one of these booths for the evening. When I repeated this to Matt, he replied, “People tend to not want to leave. ”
Built originally in the mid-1800s, Sniffen Court encompasses a small alleyway running between two quaint rows of brick buildings. With vegetation lending further tranquility to the scene, a wrought-iron gate protects it from the public. The buildings, which were once stables, have now been repurposed into commercial, residential and artistic spaces. Next door, the historic and private Amateur Comedy Club hosts shows performed by, and for, members. Sniffen Court now appears on the National Register of Historic Places.