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Sweetfin’s trademarked poke box

A visit to the mall for plant-based poke dressed in pink cardboard

Plant-based poke-like creations packaged in a "Sweetbox" for takeout
Plant-based poke-like creations packaged in a "Sweetbox" for takeout

An email about plant-based poke bowls caught my attention. Which is weird, because I didn’t actually stop to read the thing. But it must have made an impression, because days later I found myself driving to the Westfield UTC in search of vegan poke alternatives at Sweetfin.

If I’d stopped to read that email, I probably wouldn’t have bothered.

Place

Sweetfin

4301 La Jolla Village Drive Ste 2035, San Diego

Loads of mall customers were coming and going from the counter shop when I arrived. The Los Angeles-based brand has found plenty of regional success behind its executive chef Dakota Weiss, a former Top Chef contestant. It touts a “pole to bowl” ethos, which its website describes as using the “most sustainable raw fish we can find while still maintaining a reasonable price point.”

A poke counter at Westfield UTC mall

Sweetfin couches its offerings in a lot of such words and ideas — well, words, at least. The business went to the trouble of trademarking “pole to bowl,” and the term “Chef-driven, California inspired poke,” which puts a smiley-face on the idea its food is pretty far removed from authentically Hawaiian poke. Sweetfin doesn’t have a trademark on the claim, “we pride ourselves on making everything in-house daily with a true focus on flavor and quality of ingredients.” Which is a shame, given a simple Google search reveals this exact language is attributed to competing “healthful, chef-driven” poke counters and a taco shop in south Florida.

Public relations may be the dominant art form of this century, but when a restaurant relies so heavily on carefully manicured language, it raises red flags that you’re paying for marketing more than food. Elsewhere in its PR materials, Sweetfin describes itself as a “fine-casual restaurant” that concerns itself with “premium quality” and yet “approachability.” Some of the bowls are keto-friendly, some feature superfoods boosts. All are “affordable,” “customizable,” and “easy to eat!”

Salmon poke with black garlic gochujang sauce

Sweetfin is everything you want it to be, so of course it’s vegan when it needs to be. That email that caught my attention mentioned its plant-based offerings are available in a “Sweetbox” (trademarked). For $20, two of the vegan poke offerings are packaged in a sort of bento box with a spicy noodle salad and taro chips.

I’d hoped to find a creative alternative to the Hawaiian poke dish that replaced raw fish with something, hopefully, texturally similar. But that’s not what this is. The first bowl is sort of a tofu salad with lettuce, chilis, and shitake mushrooms served over (oooohh) forbidden rice. The “sweet potato poke” puts cooked, cubed sweet potato together with sliced cucumber, edamame, and ponzu lime sauce over bamboo rice.

Tuna poke with sweet onions and seaweed salad, the most familiar item on Sweetfin's poke menu

Neither of these things taste bad, per se, but not terribly memorable and they don’t resemble poke in any way I can tell. And being in a Sweetbox just means it gets prettier take-out packaging. And by prettier, I mean a cardboard box created with the help of a graphic designer, that is pink. When I look back at that original email, I realize the plant-based Sweetbox is tied together with a cross-promotion involving a Postmates delivery partnership, a YouTube personality, and — why not? — a charitable giving campaign.

Ultimately, the plant-based dishes are more an extension of Sweetfin’s regular pokes, which are raw fish dishes assembled with lots of nice ingredients with appealing sounding sauces such as “creamy togarashi” and “black garlic gochujang”. I’m sure it will expand to a bunch of other San Diego locations, but it’s not for me. If you could eat marketing language, Sweetfin is what it would taste like.

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Plant-based poke-like creations packaged in a "Sweetbox" for takeout
Plant-based poke-like creations packaged in a "Sweetbox" for takeout

An email about plant-based poke bowls caught my attention. Which is weird, because I didn’t actually stop to read the thing. But it must have made an impression, because days later I found myself driving to the Westfield UTC in search of vegan poke alternatives at Sweetfin.

If I’d stopped to read that email, I probably wouldn’t have bothered.

Place

Sweetfin

4301 La Jolla Village Drive Ste 2035, San Diego

Loads of mall customers were coming and going from the counter shop when I arrived. The Los Angeles-based brand has found plenty of regional success behind its executive chef Dakota Weiss, a former Top Chef contestant. It touts a “pole to bowl” ethos, which its website describes as using the “most sustainable raw fish we can find while still maintaining a reasonable price point.”

A poke counter at Westfield UTC mall

Sweetfin couches its offerings in a lot of such words and ideas — well, words, at least. The business went to the trouble of trademarking “pole to bowl,” and the term “Chef-driven, California inspired poke,” which puts a smiley-face on the idea its food is pretty far removed from authentically Hawaiian poke. Sweetfin doesn’t have a trademark on the claim, “we pride ourselves on making everything in-house daily with a true focus on flavor and quality of ingredients.” Which is a shame, given a simple Google search reveals this exact language is attributed to competing “healthful, chef-driven” poke counters and a taco shop in south Florida.

Public relations may be the dominant art form of this century, but when a restaurant relies so heavily on carefully manicured language, it raises red flags that you’re paying for marketing more than food. Elsewhere in its PR materials, Sweetfin describes itself as a “fine-casual restaurant” that concerns itself with “premium quality” and yet “approachability.” Some of the bowls are keto-friendly, some feature superfoods boosts. All are “affordable,” “customizable,” and “easy to eat!”

Salmon poke with black garlic gochujang sauce

Sweetfin is everything you want it to be, so of course it’s vegan when it needs to be. That email that caught my attention mentioned its plant-based offerings are available in a “Sweetbox” (trademarked). For $20, two of the vegan poke offerings are packaged in a sort of bento box with a spicy noodle salad and taro chips.

I’d hoped to find a creative alternative to the Hawaiian poke dish that replaced raw fish with something, hopefully, texturally similar. But that’s not what this is. The first bowl is sort of a tofu salad with lettuce, chilis, and shitake mushrooms served over (oooohh) forbidden rice. The “sweet potato poke” puts cooked, cubed sweet potato together with sliced cucumber, edamame, and ponzu lime sauce over bamboo rice.

Tuna poke with sweet onions and seaweed salad, the most familiar item on Sweetfin's poke menu

Neither of these things taste bad, per se, but not terribly memorable and they don’t resemble poke in any way I can tell. And being in a Sweetbox just means it gets prettier take-out packaging. And by prettier, I mean a cardboard box created with the help of a graphic designer, that is pink. When I look back at that original email, I realize the plant-based Sweetbox is tied together with a cross-promotion involving a Postmates delivery partnership, a YouTube personality, and — why not? — a charitable giving campaign.

Ultimately, the plant-based dishes are more an extension of Sweetfin’s regular pokes, which are raw fish dishes assembled with lots of nice ingredients with appealing sounding sauces such as “creamy togarashi” and “black garlic gochujang”. I’m sure it will expand to a bunch of other San Diego locations, but it’s not for me. If you could eat marketing language, Sweetfin is what it would taste like.

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