When I think of Creve Coeur, Missouri, I imagine wealthy bankers, or the families of young professionals. I certainly do not think of a hip new restaurant owned by a first-time restaurateur. But Nadeem Hosseini, a former medical transport business co-owner, has managed to create an innovative menu and ocean-escape venue in the middle of suburban St. Louis.

The story

Jenna Thomas

Hosseini fell in love with poké while at his brother's wedding in Hawaii, and became determined to follow the trend as it flooded the continental US. Eventually, Hosseini decided that it was time to stop chasing the best poke across the country and create his own version. So he recruited his mother and sushi chef James Choi to help craft the menu that eventually became Poke Munch

Creve Coeur was selected as the perfect location because of the high number of businesses in the area—lending itself to a lunch scene of thousands of potential customers. But Hosseini noticed that the area provided very few non-chain options, so he placed his new restaurant in the middle of it all as a more creative, personalized, and tantalizing alternative.

The space

Jenna Thomas

Due to the extensive process and municipal codes regulating development in Creve Coeur, Poke Munch had months of construction and designing to get every detail perfect. Though the storefront is located in a mini strip mall that doesn't look particularly special from the outside, it was clear as soon as we entered the front door that this place was something special. The first element that caught my eye were the Nanoleaf light panels covering the face of the order counter. The panels create a series of LED-powered "fish lights," which are programmable from Hosseini's phone. The patterns and pulsations of the lights are set to shift depending on the level of noise activity in the space—a quiet restaurant signals calmer lights, but when the place gets busy, the fish do too.

The order counter, unlike most poké places I've tried, does not display each ingredient in open containers behind glass panels. Though this would facilitate a build-your-own experience, leaving food (especially raw fish) uncovered for extended periods of time means that the ingredients don't stay as cold or as fresh as they are meant to be served. Poke Munch's refrigerated metal containers keep food fresh, cold, and protected from dust or other contaminants. And despite the actual ingredients being hidden, there's no missing out on visualizing Choi's creations, thanks to the 55-inch curved digital menu panels. The screen displays each menu item with a full description and high-quality image, and employees are happy to walk each customer through the intricacies of any menu item.

Each aspect of the physical space was handpicked to combine a sea-inspired, high-tech vibe with an eco-friendly production model. Hosseini's goal is to create the smallest carbon footprint possible, and plans on continuing to experiment with new ways to achieve this mission as the restaurant finds its footing.

The food

Jenna Thomas

I've had lots of poké before, but I've never had it quite like this. Almost everything on the menu is made in-house, combining painstaking attention to detail with refreshing, clean flavor varieties. The tagline "roll it or bowl it" signals the option of indulging in one of the handmade creations in bowl or giant sushi roll form, both of which create satisfying and delicious options. Knowing his customer base, Hosseini wanted to promise customers poké with a Midwestern flair, incorporating n-fish items into the menu and providing multiple ways of accommodating specifics diets (such as vegan options and Halal chicken).

We tried a little bit of everything, and I can honestly that each dish impressed me. To start off, we sampled the sweet potato fries, which are fried in waffle batter, sprinkled with scallions, and drizzled with housemade sauces. The result was a crispy, decadent appetizer that both left me craving more and feeling anxious about the amount of food we were preparing to eat.

Jenna Thomas

My fears were definitely misplaced, as the sweet potato fries were probably the heaviest dish we ate. Because I'm allergic to pineapple, I stayed away from the most traditional option, the Aloha Classic poké bowl—though my photographer, Jenna, raved about the freshness of each ingredient and the beauty of the sauce covering it all. The Aloha Classic features freshly cut ahi tuna (which looked truly marvelous, thanks to the knife skills of chef choi), a spring salad mix, persian cucumbers, sweet onions, edamame, pineapple, scallions, crispy garlic bits, scallions, sesame seeds, and their signature aloha sauce, all spread over a bed of white rice.

Jenna Thomas

The favorite of our visit was the Kilauea Krunch, which consisted of tempura shrimp, white cabbage, persian cucumber, carrot slivers, crab salad, avocado, fried onion, and a combination of the PM and unagi sauces (again, over rice). The unagi sauce is made from scratch in a three-day, laborious process, but the result is worth every second. I found myself dipping individual ingredients from other bowls into the unagi sauce, just to try a little bit more.

Jenna Thomas

In close second came the Avocoloco, Poke Munch's vegan option served with sweet chili tofu. The bowls also incorporates the spring mix, persian cucumbers, sweet onions, avocado, shiitake mushrooms, edamame, yellow daikon, and sesame ginger mayo. The mushrooms are soaked in sweet soy sauce, infusing that flavor into each bite. But the balance of the ginger mayo, tofu, and daikon prevented the mixture from becoming too saccharine; instead, the flavors blended into a pleasantly refreshing bowl of culinary wonder. 

My favorite individual ingredient was the fury sauce, my love of which surprised even myself. I'm not someone who generally craves additional hot sauce or is found sprinkling extra pepper flakes on my dishes, but I adored this sauce. It combines over 20 ingredients into a spicy, complex addition to the clean brightness of the rest of the menu. I didn't feel as though the sauce was created purely for the sake of adding heat, but rather that the heat was a byproduct of carefully combining each individual flavor. 

Jenna Thomas

Overall, each dish we tried combined a variety of ingredients, textures, and flavors so well that I've been nondiscriminating in who I recommend Poke Munch to—I think everyone will be able to find something to crave. The roll-it options obviously bring the appeal of a slightly more portable meal, and it's hard to go wrong with an amusingly large roll of sushi. But personally, I preferred the bowls because I found it easier to combine multiple ingredients into one bite that way. And carefully selecting the texture combination of each bite was one of my favorite parts of this visit, which is a lot more feasible with a fork than while devouring a sushi burrito.

I think the best way to describe my thoughts on Poke Munch is that I've already made plans to go back for more. I have been dreaming of trying the tofu fries and red bean ice cream sandwiches all week, and I look forward to seeing how the menu progresses as Hosseini and Choi get established in the space.