International Poke Company spins the trending raw-fish form, achieves brilliance 

click to enlarge MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
When International Poke Company owners and longtime friends Jon Polkow and Al Alvares first started researching their venture in late 2017, more than a year ahead of their eventual opening date, Polkow says he knew of six poke eateries in the Denver area. Since that time, many more have opened (enough for Eater Denver to pen a “15 poke bowls to try in Denver” article back in May 2018).

Let that speak for the poke trend moving inland, decades behind popularity on the West Coast; poke (usually chopped raw fish with soy and sesame oils, seaweed and onions, today) hails from native Hawaii, where earlier, simple versions of the dish (reef fish, seaweed, candlenut and sea salt) reportedly date back centuries in Polynesian culture.

Colorado Springs will soon see more poke places, including more locations of International Poke Company if all goes according to plan. Alvares and Polkow have taken a very deliberate approach since the beginning. Even though Polkow graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, they employed the help of a consulting chef out of L.A., James Bailey, who recommended certain products — from just the right white rice to fine seafood purveyors — and helped refine dishes to create a fun fusion menu that incorporates elements from other Asian pantries, most notably those of Japan, China and Korea. Additionally the team has built in vegetarian/vegan options such as swapping fish with jackfruit (or tofu for tuna, which a friend did to success with a modified North Shore Ahi Tuna bowl), and almost everything’s gluten-free.

Most importantly, everything we’ve thus far tried ranks damn delicious, light, fresh and filling for the $12 to $14 a bowl or wrap will set you back. (Pay the extra $2 for a grand at $14 vs. classic bowl, to get 5 ounces of fish versus 3 ounces — a no-brainer.) Between an early media preview and follow-up visits, we’ve sampled more than half the nine bowls and five salad options, and have yet to discover a misstep or off note. Foundationally, that all starts with as sustainably sourced as possible albacore, ahi, salmon and shrimp, usually frozen, but a recent snag with one vendor had Polkow subbing in fresh salmon from Seattle Fish Co. out of Denver. It about melted in my mouth and made for a stunning Korean BBQ Salmon bowl which comes with sesame-oiled sweet potato glass noodles, red onion, cucumber, scallions, bean sprouts and napa cabbage all mixed in a faintly agave-sweet, relatively low-heat gochujang sauce. Texturally and sensory-wise, it pleases with snap, crunch, starchy chew, redundant onion bite, buttery protein richness and an ultimate spice linger. That and cold toppings on warm rice contrasts for a pleasing temperature balance.
Location Details International Poke Company
122 Tracker Drive, #120
Colorado Springs, CO
Sunday 11:00am – 6:00pmMonday - Saturday 11:00am – 8:00pm
The same notes regarding textures and layered flavors really apply to all bowls, irrespective of other elements like creamy sauces, crunchy nuts and crisp vegetables. In the delicate Wabi Sabi Shrimp (precooked but served cold), for instance, a wasabi sauce and wasabi peas offer the sharp bite, cucumbers the juicy freshness, radish the crispness, edamame the starch, and furikake (Japanese spice with sesame seeds, seaweed and fish flakes, usually) the umami to heighten a pure prawn essence. The Kung Pao Albacore sings with a medium-hot Szechuan pepper and pre-made “crunchy garlic sauce,” with toasted cashews, snow peas, scallions and bean sprouts over brown rice. In the Coco Loco Salmon, diced jalapeño handles the heat, mango the sweet, red onions the sharpness and a coconut milk sauce the velvetiness — I sub forbidden black rice in for brown, for a touch of nutty-sweet flavor, too.

Goodness abounds.

Regarding the aforementioned salads, $3 each in side portions, I try two: the Edamame el Diablo, another fusion flavor that heads Southwestern with chile lime vinaigrette, Serrano chiles and roasted corn. And the IPC Seaweed Salad, more approachable (less pungently ocean-y) than most found in sushi spots, with hijiki (brown, stringy) and wakame (green, leafy) seaweeds, mixed in a ponzu dressing, garnished in brown sesame seeds.

For drinks, you can do Stubborn sodas (PepsiCo’s less artificial and sugary label) or some regular ones or teas or sparkling waters, but for a not-cheap-but-worth-it $5, get a 12-ounce pour of Wild Tonic’s Jun-Kombucha — either blueberry basil or tropical turmeric — which bears a lovely underlying honey essence (Jun’s signature) and less acidic/carbonic bite than most booches. Expectedly, it pairs well with the spicier poke options.

On the whole, we’re quite impressed by International Poke Company, and can easily see its expansions in the Springs finding traction. As other entities come into that market, they’ll be hard-pressed to match IPC’s quality and creativity. Being where we are, inevitably some wiseguy will find a way to insert green chile into a poke bowl or bastardize the form in a way that compromises its virtues. Perhaps some will already view IPC’s own liberties taken with its fusion recipes as a faux pas. But for our tastes, we couldn’t be happier. IPC can get fresh with us any day of the week.


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