Struggling Mall Gets a Bright Spot: Poke

Big Fish Little Fish (red fish, blue fish).

The Little Fish (with as many add-ons as we could throw in there) (Peter Lawrence Kane)

The Westfield Centre, which I must tangentially traverse daily in order to reach the business-card graveyard and plastic laminate mug-scape that passes for my workspace, has had a rough go lately. Keeping pace with the national decline of malls, there wasn’t an insufferable crush of shoppers this holiday season. Although it’s in markedly better shape than nearby 6×6, the 250,000-square-foot palace of emptiness that hasn’t landed even one commercial tenant a year after it opened at 900 Market St., the Westfield has suffered from some turnover among its eateries (to say nothing of the horrible and still-unsolved 2016 homicide of a Sons & Daughters chef). And the privately owned public space on the roof is totally disappointing, in that all you hear up there is the dull roar of HVAC.

However, there is one ray of hope like a plucky sunbeam pouring through the dome and somehow radiating its way to the cellar-level food court, and it’s the same thing that’s saving lunch everywhere else: fast-casual. Specifically, it’s the trendiest sub-trend of the fast-casual choo-choo, which is to say, poke. Big Fish Little Fish is one of those extremely generic-seeming places that’s better than it appears.  

Although the website looks like the kind of place that does wacky rolls and sushirritos, it’s mostly an assembly line of scooping. But it has two virtues. One is price — the two-scoop “little fish” is $11.95, the three-scoop “big fish” is $13.95 — and the other is variety. Beyond tuna, spicy tuna, and salmon, there are albacore and octopus (or tako). That’s an easy thing for skilled kitchens to transform into something with the texture of a pencil eraser, so let it be known that this tako passes the test.

The sauces are arguably the weak link, although personally I think it’s better to go easy on sauce (I stick with ponzu) and load up on toppings instead. Like a giddy schoolchild who can’t believe his good fortune, I’m still impressed that they’re essentially free and unlimited. Why can’t more fro-yo places follow suit? Turn it up for furikake.

In the final analysis, does Big Fish Little Fish make me want to brave the ambient fragrance-sample-and-pretzel smell during the lunch rush rather than get on my bike and pedal to the Tenderloin for banh mi? Yep.

Big Fish Little Fish, inside the Westfield Centre, 835 Market St., lower level,

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