Full confession: I was skeptical about the prospects of Fresh Catch Poke, a fast casual restaurant in Williamsville based on poke: a dish obscure enough that must be explained (a bowl of rice, vegetables and raw fish you can find in restaurants and gas stations around Hawaii).
It’s been more than 18 months since the restaurant flung open its doors and the concept has been such a smashing success; they’re doing it again by unfurling a second location in the massive new Aloft Hotel building in downtown Buffalo.
Owner Mike Tobin recently credited the success of Fresh Catch to his restaurant’s interaction with the community.
“There’s not many places that are doing the kind of food that we’re focusing on,” Tobin recently told me over the phone. “I think that the community has really embraced us. The feedback’s been awesome and it’s allowed us to shape our menu in a way that’s receptive to what customers want.”
With the new Fresh Catch Poke featuring the Galley Lounge, Tobin and crew are expanding their mission by embracing new menu options and a full bar, replete with a custom cocktail menu from local mixology sensei Tony Rials. The new Fresh Catch is also offering mocktails, non-alcoholic cocktails that are becoming quite popular, they say. Actually, mocktails are a solid option for people expecting to drive home, expectant mothers and anyone who wants to get party feels without committing to the effects of alcohol. The new bar also has a “Low Tide” option, which is halfway between a mocktail and a full-blown cocktail in terms of alcohol content.
We were also told both draft wine and draft sake will be available soon. If you’re a big fan of sake or just looking to expand your sake horizons, flights of the fermented rice drink will also soon be available.
On my recent visit, I found the visually-striking bar area added a lot of swag to the typical fast casual digs. The Aloha OG bowl ($13) I had was explosive with flavors: funky shoyu, hot jalapenos, hearty tuna, peppery radishes and briny seaweed. It was also flush with textures: crunchy, soft, creamy and buttery.
One of the best things about going to Fresh Catch is walking out without a lot of food guilt. The bowl I had was massive, but the heartiest things in it were the steamed rice and raw tuna. The entire menu at the original location is so healthy, in fact, it was approved by the Independent Health Foundation’s Health Options program, which works with area restaurants to help them offer “heart-healthy food options that are considered lower in fat, saturated fat cholesterol, and sodium.”
Tobin said getting approval from the program was a pretty straightforward process because of poke doesn’t require greasy cooking techniques and doesn’t feature many processed ingredients.
“It was a relatively easy review process with (Healthy Options),” he said. “For example, they asked us what was in our rice, they said we’ve got great rice, and we said it’s just our method of steaming rice. There’s no oils, or fillers, or all that stuff. All of our sauces are made by hand. All of our vegetables are chopped by hand. We make our own kimchi, and stuff like that. We’re not buying things that come out of a bag.”
As great as it is, the new Fresh Catch Poke is just one jewel in the crown that is the new Aloft Hotel building, located at 500 Peart St. in downtown Buffalo. Under the watchful eye of developer Billy Paladino, the new building currently or will feature an amphitheater, bowling alley, rooftop bar, different food concepts and 330 spots of interior parking.
“I probably looked at 20 or 30 spots throughout the city,” Tobin said. “Once I saw down with Billy and understood his vision and how he wanted to make this a destination complex… it was just a perfect match for us.”
Fresh Catch Poke & The Galley Lounge
500 Pearl St Suite 107, Buffalo, NY 14202
Hours: Monday to Wednesday 11 a.m. – 9:30 p.m., Thursday to Saturday 11 a.m. – 11:30 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.