Ito hopes to first open at Stanford Shopping Center this fall, and then in downtown Redwood City by the end of the year. At Stanford, Go Fish Poke Bar will take over half of two spaces recently vacated by Red Mango and Auntie Anne’s Pretzels, which both closed on July 10 after three years of business. The Redwood City restaurant will be at 823 Hamilton St.
The two new locations will join the original Go Fish Poke Bar, which Ito opened in San Jose last year.
Ito, a Los Angeles native, attended culinary school there and also earned his chops under well-regarded sushi chef Andy Matsuda at his Sushi Chef Institute in downtown Los Angeles. After spending several years working in sushi bars and other restaurants around Los Angeles, Ito moved to the Bay Area with his wife. Ito spent just under a year as head sushi chef at Bushido Izakaya in downtown Mountain View (he's friends with the owner) before getting "recruited" by none other than Google, he said.
Google had no dedicated sushi bar on campus and wanted Ito to open one. There, Ito honed his recipes as well as his management and hospitality skills, he said. He left Google in 2014 run his own catering company, and opened the first Go Fish Poke Bar the following year.
Ito said he's often asked why, given his background, he doesn't open a sushi restaurant. He said the Bay Area is a uniquely hard place to hire quality sushi chefs. Plus, being a successful head sushi chef — the "focal point" of any good sushi bar — would mean being tied to one place, when he knows he wants to pursue multiple projects.
"Doing a poké restaurant was really my way of doing the same quality fish, the same ingredients, same sauces, same toppings, just in a different form," Ito said.
Go Fish Poke Bar "ties classical Japanese cuisine with intriguing modern concepts," the restaurant's website reads. Ito fully admits that he is not trying to replicate traditional Hawaiian poké.
At Go Fish, diners can customize poké bowls with ingredients like rice, yam noodles, housemade sauces and a range of toppings, from avocado and wasabi to Gilroy garlic furikake and miso crab. The menu also includes pre-set combinations, like the Tataki bowl with seared albacore tuna, ponzu sauce, fried onion, green onion, ginger, wasabi and sesame.
A regular bowl with three seafood picks goes for $10.50; a large bowl with five fish is $13.50. Get extra poké ($2) or extra crab mix ($1). All bowls are served with miso crab and the diner's choice of toppings.
A selection of dishes from Go Fish Poke Bar. Photo courtesy Jerome Ito.
In a nod to Ito’s background, Go Fish also serves handrolls. Opt for the "Bacon of the Sea" (crispy miso salmon skin, cucumber and green onion), spicy tuna (strata, sesame oil, togarashi and cucumber), "Real Crab" (crab, cucumber, mayo and sesame seeds) or veggie (cucumber, sweet soy shiitake, Gilroy garlic furikake and green onion). All are $4. Ito sources the seaweed for his handrolls from Japan. The seaweed is also wrapped separately in plastic to preserve freshness and prevent the roll from becoming soggy if it isn’t consumed immediately after purchase, Ito said. (Don't worry; the packaging includes illustrated directions for how to assemble it yourself.)
The handrolls at Go Fish Poke Bar. Photo courtesy Jerome Ito.
For those uninterested in raw seafood, there's also Ito's four-hour miso-braised short rib or shoyu-ginger chicken served with your choice of white rice, brown rice, noodles, salad or half-and-half mix. Ito also does regular specials, like a recent smoked-salmon cake slider, served with yuzu-cilantro aioli on a King's Hawaiian roll.
For dessert, the San Jose restaurant also has mochi filled with Bubbies Homemade Ice Cream imported from Hawaii. For booze, there's Japanese craft beer and sake.
View the full Go Fish menu here. Ito said he will add a few new items once the Stanford location opens.
He's eyeing a late September/early October opening for Stanford; stay tuned for official opening details. Go Fish Poke Bar is one of numerous new eateries set to descend upon the high-end mall in the coming months. Others include True Food Kitchen, Tender Greens, and Minamoto Kitchoan.
Go Fish is the third poké restaurant to eye Palo Alto. pokéLOVE opened at Town & Country Village in June and Poki Bowl intends to open soon on El Camino Real, just off California Avenue. There are also two poké spots in downtown Mountain View: Poké Bar, and the newly opened Pokéworks.
Chris Lim, right, owner of Poké Bar in Mountain View, preps a bowl during the lunch rush at the fast-casual eatery on Feb. 9, 2016. Photo by Michelle Le/Palo Alto Weekly.
Ito is refreshingly honest about this seemingly incessant trend: Many restaurateurs "are just trying to open as many (locations) as they possibly can while it’s hot," he said. "They don’t care what they do as long as they open more doors."
He claims he’s different, and prioritizes quality and care over trend and profits.
"I don’t want to open a million of them just to make money for the time being," he said. "I'm trying to be the best poké place in the area."