Raw Foods to Relish at Coastal Virginia Restaurants
Coastal Virginia Chefs are Serving Up Exquisite Options for Meat and Seafood—Unrivaled in Quality and Untouched by Flame
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Hawaiian Ahi Tuna Tartare, Byrd & Baldwin. Photo by Ilsy Serrano
It wasn’t too long ago that the majority of local restaurants serving raw fish were attributed to sushi. Every now and then, a menu would feature exciting, uncooked offerings: a carpaccio here, a tartare there. Suddenly, splendidly, the poke craze took over, leading to bowlfuls of sparkling, fresh cubes of fish adorned with soy sauce, sesame oil and green onions. Before long, crudo started popping up in the most exciting ways—beautifully garnished and thoughtfully enhanced with a variety of oils or fresh herbs. And as chefs began preparing, our palates got a little more daring.
Interested in taking a walk on the raw side? Below we divulge some standout selections of fresh meats and seafood, from cubes of poke and slices of carpaccio to neat cakes of tartare, slivers of ceviche and crudo in its crudest form. We also explore a few cool caviars and some out-of-the-box options for sashimi. Go ahead and indulge—we don’t see this not-hot trend cooling down any time soon.
Photo by David Uhrin
Zeke’s Beans and Bowls
A pioneer for poke, you might say, Zeke’s won our hearts back in 2013 with their original location near the ViBe District (before it was even a thing), then became twice as nice with their NEON District opening. They’ve since expanded further to Wrightsville Beach. With a relaxed, come-as-you-are vibe, local coffee options and fresh fish galore, there’s plenty of reasons to love Zeke’s.
Start with the beloved basic OG Poke (tuna, shoyu, sesame oil, green onion, sesame seeds and red rock salt). Turn it up a notch with Spicy Poke (all of the aforementioned plus Sriracha, crushed red pepper and wasabi). Sweeten the deal with a Sweet & Spicy (tuna, pineapple, crushed red pepper and seaweed salad), or enjoy extra textures in their Keali’l Special, featuring crisp cucumbers and crunchy panko. In each of these, tofu can be substituted for tuna, if you’re not up for taking a walk on the raw side. For $2 each, poke patrons can top their creations with brown or white rice or for $1 each, they can opt for add-ons like avocado or seaweed salad. While rice is nice, another popular choice is the Poke Nachos—chili chipotle and lime seasoned tuna with cilantro, tomato, kale, pineapple, green onions and jalapenos served with tortilla chips to scoop up each flavorful bite. 800 Granby St., Norfolk. 757-963-5220. Facebook.com/ZekesNfk. 616 Norfolk Ave., Virginia Beach. 757-963-5155. Facebook.com/ZekesVB
Not going to check a Hawaiian sojourn off the bucket list this summer? Do the next best thing and head to poke powerhouse Aloha Snacks for some fine pineapple state fare. The bright and casual eatery will make not being on a tropical island palatable with specialty burgers, breakfasts, ramen, smoothies and not-so-average “snacks” like Egg Salad Manpua—a steamed bun with crispy spam—all made better when paired with available local craft beer and wine. Poke, though, is certainly the extensive menu’s star, especially when it’s elevated in interesting renditions like The Farmers Poke, including spicy salmon, fried green tomatoes that give amazing texture, mango for a sweet contrast and coconut aioli or the Hurricane Bowl packed with tuna and salmon, pickled black forbidden rice, seaweed salad and pineapple. 501 Laskin Road, Virginia Beach.757-428-7653. AlohaSnacksVB.com
Poke meets Chipotle-style dining in Chesapeake at Poketastic, a modern-appointed space located at the end of an understated shopping center along Battlefield Boulevard. Here, you are the chef and artist as you build your bowl with the usual poke suspects as well as lesser found accoutrements such as tomago (picture a light egg cake) or lotus root. Energetic and knowledgeable poke chefs help diners pair and select from 11 house-made sauces that are mixed on demand with protein selections including toasted salmon and scallops or shrimp in addition to traditional favorites like yellowtail or spicy tuna. 1200 North Battlefield Blvd., Suite 101, Chesapeake. 757-410-3089. PoketasticVA.com
North End Juice Co.
Richmond’s famed North End Juice Co. is making waves in Virginia Beach for its selection of boujee bowls. On the menu are three unique poke combinations with distinctly Hawaiian slants. Brimming with rainbow colors and a host of fresh ingredients is the Yellowfin Tuna Poke Bowl. A bed of warm sushi rice gives rise to a filling layer of diced tuna, avocado, mango, pickled cucumber and wakame seaweed salad. Green onions, several dashes of sesame seeds and a dribble of housemade poke sauce pack extra tastes into the Hawaiian delicacy. The Tsunami Bowl harness similar flavors but adds panko and edamame and trades the North End poke sauce for a spicy siracha aioli.
North End Juice Co. supports its non-fish eaters too. Enjoy a Vegan Poke Bowl crafted with roasted golden beets, avocado, mango, pickled cucumber, wakame seaweed salad, sesame seeds, green onion and, of course, poke sauce. 1556 Laskin Road, Virginia Beach. 757-226-7104. NorthEndJuiceCo.com
At Mr. Boil, you can get your fill of Cajun seafood and Hawaiian-style poke bowls. The restaurant allows diners to build their own bowls through a three-step process. First, choose your base from options such as white rice, brown rice, purple rice and zucchini noodles. Then, pick two or three proteins and as many toppings as you’d like. Choose from sushi-style raw tuna, salmon and spicy tuna, then select from over a dozen fresh mix-ins. Finally, dress your poke bowl with the savory, spicy or tangy sauces. The mix-ins and sauces you choose will establish your bowl’s flavor profile, whether you’d like a tropical bowl or one with some kick to it. 704 Mariners Row, Suite 108, Newport News. 757-807-2888. MrBoil.com
Waterside is known for their popular restaurants, from Blue Moon TapHouse and Guy Fieri’s Smokehouse to Stripers and The Harbor Club. But nearly smack dab in the middle of seemingly endless food and drink options is Luk Fu, a fast casual Asian experience serving simple apps, ramen and build-your-own poke bowls. Grab a seat at the bar to skim the selections, starting with fish (salmon, tuna or spicy tuna). Up to four toppings are available per bowl and include avocado, chili flakes, bean sprouts, edamame, cucumbers, ginger, green onion, masago, wasabi and sesame seeds. Then experiment with one or two sauces to alter the poke’s flavor profile. Go mild with garlic soy or sweet citrus, or kick it up with Sriracha soy, wasabi citrus or spicy creamy for a little spice and a lot nice. 333 Waterside Drive, Norfolk. 757-426-7433. WatersideDistrict.com/Tenant/Luk-Fu
Two years ago, 757 Poke assumed a former Subway at Pembroke Mall. Fitting, for this independent, local pioneer could be called, poetically, poke-Subway. You move down the line calling the shots starting with size. Owner Leo Zhu or one of his crew will whisk together your protein pick (gleaming fish such as ahi, spicy tuna, yellowtail or salmon as well as shrimp, tofu or chicken) with your sauce choice (shoyu—soy with hint of sesame oil and rice vinegar, citrus-kissed ponzu, zingy yeiyaki, spicy aioli) before layering it on your preferred base (white or brown rice, mixed greens, seaweed salad) and first layer (spicy crab salad, red onions, pickled cucumbers, avocado). A dozen toppings from pickled ginger and edamame to masago and unagi drizzle await your direction. Overwhelmed by options, the uninitiated can’t go wrong with “The Classic Hawaiian” (ahi, pickled cucumber, red onions, shoyu sauce, white sesame seeds, seaweed salad, green onions), one of three signature bowls. Once hooked on 757’s delicious freshness though, they customize. There’s a mega-size that manager Markell Mullen says mostly groups order online for delivery. But why share when you can have your own bespoke bowl? 4554 Virginia Beach Blvd., #740, Virginia Beach. 757-500-4665. Facebook.com/757pokebowls
If you need to grab your poke and roll, the new supermarket mecca in Virginia Beach—Wegmans, of course—is where to find fresh and fabulous pre-made and packaged bowls in the well-stocked sushi section. Friendly staff members frequently pass out samples to help you decide on whether you will conveniently pick up a King of Poke Bowl with salmon, pistachios and fried shallots or go for the Beet and Macadamia Bowl option. Both of these come served over quinoa, but if you want to go completely raw, our favorite is the Sweet & Spicy Ahi Tuna Salad—firm zucchini noodles topped with avocado, arugula, edamame, cucumbers, tempura crisps, almond slivers and an Asian-inspired sauce. 4721 Virginia Beach Blvd., Virginia Beach. 757-271-0500. Wegmans.com
Photo by Melissa M. Stewart
Other Places For Poke
Though not poke restaurants, per se, these top-notch eateries feature various forms of poke on their menu and are certainly worth sinking your chopsticks into.
RSCH Poke, River Stone Chophouse, Suffolk
Diced, fresh cut (made to order) sushi-grade ahi tuna tossed in poke dressing (soy, sambal oelek, sesame oil, lemon, diced pineapple, onion and cilantro) stacked with sushi rice, topped with seaweed salad, salmon roe, togarashi seasoning and Sriracha
Rayen’s Famous Ahi Poke, Todd Jurich’s Bistro, Norfolk
Served over wakame salad with oshinko and benne crisp
Tuna Poke, Hot Tuna, Virginia Beach
Ahi tuna, avocado slices, cucumber, sesame oil, seaweed salad, sesame seeds and sticky rice
Hawaiian Tuna Tower, Civil Libation, Virginia Beach
Mango cucumber salsa, marinated tuna, avocado, pea shoots, wonton crisps, wasabi and Sriracha aioli
Tuna Poke, Catch 31, Virginia Beach
Ginger soy dressing, togarashi scented wonton, wakame and micro cilantro
Poke, Passion the Restaurant
Fresh ahi tuna tossed in a signature poke marinade and served atop brown rice with pickled vegetables
Would You, Could You, From a Cart?
Photos by Ilsy Serrano
Ceviche and Poke Cart at Saltine
In a world skewing fast-casual, nothing evokes classic fine dining like a gueridon trundling up to your table. But rather than flambéed steak Diane or cherries jubilee, iced ceviche and poke fixings take a spin on Saltine’s trolley. “We had originally thought of doing a raw bar cart,” explains General Manager Michael Cubilete. But with shellfish already displayed theatrically throughout the seafood restaurant on the ground floor of Hilton Norfolk The Main, they deep-sixed that notion. Besides, they wanted interactivity, and alit on the razzle-dazzle of raw compositions. It didn’t hurt that The Main’s executive chef Fabio Capparelli’s wife is Peruvian. She influenced Peruvian Mixto, the ceviche always available along with a ceviche of the day (lobster on Sundays and Mondays, when the restaurant runs Lobster Main-ia, salmon belly typically on other days). Every server is punctiliously trained to ensure consistency among ceviches and ahi poke. Mixto consists of octopus, scallops and baby shrimp (cured overnight in lime) mixed with bell peppers, chopped red onions, a splash of citrusy yuzu sauce and peppery Peruvian spices, spooned into a cradle of wonton chips. A shake of shallots adds color. Diners may request tweaks but if they want ahi tossed in, Miriam Herola, restaurant supervisor, draws the line. “The flavors will kill it,” she cautions. The other ceviches follow similar steps, except that Thai chili sauce replaces yuzu. For poke, ahi is combined with chopped garlic, sesame oil, soy sauce and black sesame seeds. It’s placed on wonton chips and garnished with a tangle of seaweed salad and another flurry of black sesame seeds. Orderable at the bar or on the patio, they’re prepped tableside only in the dining room. 100 E. Main St., Norfolk. 757-763-6280. SaltineNorfolk.com
Champagne Wishes and Caviar Dreams
Photo by Ilsy Serrano
Caviar Service, Byrd & Baldwin
Caviar at Byrd & Baldwin is more than a meal; it’s an experience. Choose from two realms of roe: the moderately priced bowfin or the celebratory-worthy sturgeon, then prepare to be dazzled by the gorgeous mini-buffet delivered to your table. The shining star, of course, is the dainty jar of caviar chilled on ice in a silver server. The fun starts when you begin experimenting with various combinations of toppings: truffle oil relish, diced eggs (whites and yellows separate), capers, diced red onion and crème fresh—all to be enjoyed on toasted baguette slices. 116 Brooke Ave., Norfolk. 757-222-9191. ByrdBaldwin.com
Caviar Service, Saint Germain
To many, caviar is the epitome of fine dining, and you’ll certainly feel posh with swanky Saint Germain’s traditional caviar service. Choose from two types of fish roe: Siberian sturgeon or choupique. Those who are balling on a budget should opt for the choupique, also known as bowfin or Cajun caviar. Both selections come beautifully plated with an array of accoutrements, including crème fraiche, shallots, soft butter and diced egg. Use the mother-of-pearl spoon to scoop the beads of caviar onto the blinis for a lavish meal paired with playful cocktails. 255 Granby St., Norfolk. 757-321-9445. SaintGermainNorfolk.com
Caviar and Blinis, The Atlantic on Pacific
Craving just a fleck of brine? The Atlantic on Pacific has you covered with their adorable blinis, served pillowy soft and topped with a smattering of crème fresh, a spoonful of caviar, a bit of red onion and a crumbling of egg yolk, capped with a tiny chive. The bites are petite, but the flavor is full. 3004 Pacific Ave., Virginia Beach. 757-422-2122. TheAtlanticVB.com
Sashimi: Not Just For Sushi Spots
Spicy Tuna Sashimi, Hook-U-Up
Call it the “Oh! Calcutta!” of Tim Brown’s appetizers: longest-running and in the raw. It was so popular at erstwhile Mariah’s at Tower Hill, he continued serving it when he opened Hook-U-Up on Mason Street seven years ago. And when he moved that restaurant recently to the Cape Charles Yacht Center (into a circa 1906 building brought by barge from Oyster), it came, too. Set in a martini glass, #1 ahi basks in rice vinegar, sesame and olive oil, hoisin and soy sauce, fresh ginger, onion and garlic. He shaves fresh wasabi root using a truffle slicer onto it, finishing with daikon radish and chive microgreens. It could win a Tony for tuna. 1011 Bay Shore Road, Cape Charles. 757-331-2275. Facebook.com/HookUUpGourmet
Ode to Doumar’s, Riverbank
Phillip Craig Thomason recently rebranded locavore-leading Vintage Kitchen as Riverbank, a swank steakhouse featuring Wagyu and Pat LaFrieda’s dry-aged beef. The name reflects its location in Downtown Norfolk’s Bank of America tower on the Elizabeth River. He still offers a version of “Ode to Doumar’s,” a celebration of the nearby drive-in’s ice cream cone invention: glossy sashimi grade tuna, barely seared to teeter on raw, diced and tossed with soy ginger molasses, cracked pepper and herbs, then pressed into a fragile savory cone flecked with orange zest, black sesame and red chili, reminiscent of Thomas Keller and Wolfgang Puck, whom Thomason worked for in L.A. 999 Waterside Drive, Norfolk. 757-625-3370. RiverbankNorfolk.com
A Quick Course on the Art of Uncooked Cuisine
Before letting your primal side take over, there may be some questions about the differences in fresh meat dishes. What separates a sashimi from a ceviche or a crudo from a carpaccio? Here’s a rundown of raw methods featured on the pages ahead.
Carpaccio: When it comes to carpaccio, it’s all in how you slice it. Typically consisting of thin shavings of raw beef (but sometimes fish as well), carpaccio is drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice, often accompanied by capers and onions.
Caviar: Lightly salted fish eggs (roe). Although menus feature several varieties with a range of price points, Sturgeon roe is preferred and considered the “true” caviar. Classic accompaniments range from simple toast points and lemon wedges to more elaborate setups including crème fresh, minced onions or hard-cooked egg yolks and whites. Caviar is often enjoyed with iced vodka or a glass of champagne.
Ceviche: Hailing from Latin America, ceviche consists of raw fish marinated in citrus juice. Essentially, the acid in the juice “cooks” the fish, rendering its texture firmer than that of a crudo, and turning the flesh opaque. Classically paired with onions, tomatoes, green peppers or avocados, ceviche is often enjoyed solo or with tortilla chips used for scooping the flavorful juices.
Crudo: Italian for “uncooked,” crudo often incorporates additional ingredients to alter the taste of the fish. “Crudo is not only about the pristine fish but also about the olive oil, salt, citrus and other flavors that can draw out and accentuate the flavor of the fish,” says king of crudo, Eric Nelson (owner/chef at Crudo Nudo). “It’s the combination of delicate flavors that form one harmonious note.”
Poke: Hawaiian for “to slice,” poke (pronounced po-kay) began with fishermen slicing off pieces of their fresh catch, seasoning it and serving it as a snack. Poke served in our local restaurants is decidedly more fun and, in some cases, more engaging, as diners are given a plethora of options to flavor and texturize their fish, ranging from various sauces to accompaniments such as seaweed salad, avocado, green onions, sesame seeds and masago.
Sashimi: Not to be confused with sushi (which is based on boiled rice flavored with sweetened rice vinegar), sashimi is simply sliced raw fish, often served with condiments including wasabi and soy sauce. Sashimi chefs are trained in slicing the fish a particular way, both for artful presentation and ease of eating.
Tartare: Originated in the Baltic provinces of Russia where the Tartars shredded red meat with a knife and ate it raw, tartare these days is much more sophisticated, although the basic premise is similar. Consisting of coarsely ground or finely chopped, high quality beef or sushi-grade tuna, tartare is generally presented in a mound and adorned with tasteful accompaniments—seaweed salad and a form of wasabi often join a tuna tartare while a cracked egg yolk often rests at the center of a beef tartare.
Photo by Ilsy Serrano
Hawaii Ahi Tuna Tartare and Certified USDA Prime Beef Tartare, Byrd & Baldwin
What’s better than a gorgeously plated tartare? Two tartares, that’s what. And while both are naturally worthy of praise, they’re each splendidly differently at this sophisticated fine dining restaurant in Downtown Norfolk. First up: their Hawaii Ahi Tuna Tartare features sushi-grade tuna that’s delivered to the restaurant fresh daily. The tuna is piled perfectly on a circular cluster of seaweed salad and garnished with a colossal lump of crab and a twist of lemon. Beautifully dotted alongside a fan of cucumber slices are Sriracha and wasabi cream, adding vibrancy in color and flavor.
Meanwhile the Certified USDA Prime Beef Tartare is composed of trimmings from Byrd & Baldwin’s signature filets. Nestled atop a hearty tomato, served with buttery toasts and surrounded with a crown of capers, green and red onions, sesame oil, salt and pepper, this tartare is top notch for those who love their steak rarer than rare. 116 Brooke Ave., Norfolk. 757-222-9191. ByrdBaldwin.com
Beef Tartare at Terrapin
This even-more-upscale version of an always swanky appetizer is plated as a river of delicate beef swimming in a piquant mustard emulsion and sprinkled with fine herbs. Thinly sliced circles of radish slipped into the creation gets presentation points, along with adding some nice peppery texture. Soak it all up with a side of charcoal-grilled sourdough ciabatta from capable local bakery favorite Prosperity Kitchen and Pantry. 3102 Holly Road, Virginia Beach. 757-321-6688. TerrapinVB.com
Bluefin Tuna Tartare, Zoës
“From the moment I had Bluefin, I understood why it’s so sought after,” Chef Mike Koch says ardently. “It’s so beautiful! I couldn’t stop thinking, how can I show it off?” His solution is an exquisite appetizer founded on black forbidden rice mixed for umami-oomph with Kewpie mayonnaise and hoisin sauce. But the next strata, cubes of wild-caught tuna from the Sea of Cortez, is undressed, nothing covering its pure buttery nature. Atop that is menu-labeled exotic fruit, purposely nebulous so Koch can employ what’s best and accessible—mango, his favorite—followed by avocado and crunchy rice paper. Then his guests begin their Bluefin love affair, too. 713 19th St., Virginia Beach. 757-437-3636. ZoesVB.com
Chopped Prime Sirloin, Crudo Nudo
Not all of Eric Nelson’s raw dishes are fish. Customers clamor for his take on steak tartare which he unpretentiously describes as super simple: chopped prime grade sirloin with a touch of mayo (“less than some might use,” he surmises), mustard and mirin whose sweetness balances the huge hit of fresh horseradish. No capers, no shallots. Salt-cured egg yolks and a bit of chives bespeckle the top and, on the side, grilled slices of made in-house baguette. Simple can be sublime. 727 W. 21st St., Norfolk. 757-351-6080. CrudoNudo.com
Prime Steak Tartar & Sea Urchin Soufflé Duo, Becca
The Cavalier Hotel marries merrior and terrior with landscaped hills and sweeping ocean views. The out-of-the-box starter at the resort’s Becca Restaurant & Garden seeks to do the same by pairing a traditional tartare with a unique, sea-centric soufflé. On one end of the stone platter is a trimmed prime steak tartare topped with a raw quail egg yolk. Its umami and mustard-forward savors rival the pungent white truffle mousse and dollop of briny caviar that cap the sea urchin dish. Dense in texture and cream in color, the soufflé is creamy and borderline sweet, asserting the dish as the ideal spread for toast or as an appetizer to be enjoyed straight off the spoon. 4200 Atlantic Ave., Virginia Beach. 757-965-9899. BeccaVB.com
Fire & Ice, Eat
A bartender cracked a joke—perhaps mimicking the flashy names hyping rock band tours and epic magician shows—but Fire & Ice stuck, and a decade later Erick Heilig can’t take it off his menu. He seasons top-grade tuna with togarashi and sears it just enough for the Japanese condiment (including chili, tangerine zest, hemp seeds, ginger) to stick. He hand-chops more glistening tuna, melding it with jumbo lump crabmeat and scallion mayo. He tops those layers with wakame, dresses them with fried wontons, microgreens, an unagi drizzle and soba noodle antennae, and plates everything on black slate so the dramatic dish of contrasting temperatures and colors lives up to its name. Seriously. 4005 Atlantic Ave., Virginia Beach. 757-965-2472. EatBistro.net
Photo by Ilsy Serrano
Le Thon and Classic Tartare de Boeuf at Le Yaca
If you are searching for consistent and well-executed French cuisine, look no further than Le Yaca. Both Peninsula and Southside locations of this endearing gem offer traditional takes on dishes like beef tartare, a cylinder of hand-diced, high-quality meat with capers, onion and decadent egg yolk. In their Le Thon, a tuna tartare, diners can expect both raw and slightly seared ahi paired with a ginger vinaigrette and topped with a juicy sliver of citrus. 741 First Colonial Road, Virginia Beach. 757-500-4773. 1430 High St., Williamsburg. 757-220-3616. LeYacaWilliamsburg.com
Photo by Angela Blue
Tuna Tartare, Fin Seafood
First course stunner or stunning work of art? That’ll be up for discussion when presented with Fin Seafood’s impeccable tuna tartare. Glistening cubes of yellowfin tuna come sacked in the center of a stunning matte black plate and topped with seaweed salad, made in house. But here’s where things get wild. Perched atop the salad is a perfect scoop of Sriracha ice cream (just trust us on this one) artfully garnished with crispy tendrils of a spring roll casing. Sprinkled about the plate is a white sesame oil powder. Combined, these superb flavors and textures make for a fresh take on tartare. 3150 William Styron Square, Newport News. 757-599-5800. FinSeafood.com
Lamb Tartare, Café Provençal
“Why go the usual route when there are so many different routes to take?” muses David McClure, chef at The Williamsburg Winery including Café Provençal (inside Wedmore Place, the winery’s inn), describing his tartare twist. Virginia’s Border Springs Farm natural, grass-fed lamb inspired him, for while Café Provençal has a decided French accent, he sources locally. McClure finds the fat content perfectly complements juicy squeezes of citrus and capers after cold-smoking the loin with cherrywood. A local farm egg crowns the tartare, and rosemary lavash, pickled veggies and sour cherry mostarda complete the plate. Impressed diners often request more. Encore! 5800 Wessex Hundred, Williamsburg. 757-229-0999. WilliamsburgWinery.com/Cafe-Provencal