In recent months Cos Cob’s hub has been transformed into a dining destination, and Jamie Darnow’s Island Fin Poké, which opened eight weeks ago, rounds out the mix with a unique and healthy Hawaiian menu staple: custom made poké bowls made from fresh ingredients featuring raw fish.
An avowed foodie and fitness devotee, Darnow explained the poké concept, noting that while sushi is thinly sliced, poké is cubed.
The concept of build-your-own poké bowls at Darnow’s 12-seat fast casual eatery may be new to some, but the staff are patient with every customer, working with them choice-by-choice, as they move along the counter making selections.
Choose a base. Choose a protein. Choose a marinade sauce, mix ins, toppings and finishing sauce. The magic is that the total taste experience is greater than the sum of its parts. Every bite is different, and the flavors are abundant.
Asked what’s popular on the menu, Darnow demurred, noting there are thousands of combinations. But as an ingredient, he said the spicy tuna as “off-the-charts popular” because it is marinated overnight in togarashi spice. “It really gets into the tuna and it’s delicious,” he said.
Darnow added that salmon, octopus, shrimp ceviche and rotisserie chicken are also popular.
All the ingredients are fresh and the fish is sustainably sourced.
Darnow said he’d been amazed at the appeal the menu has to all ages. “I have middle school kids eating here, high school kids eating here, working moms and dads eating here, and I have seniors eating here.”
The location at 136 East Putnam Ave in Cos Cob, was previously home to a hardware store. After a major renovation the space has the feel of a breezy Hawaiian surf shack. A flat screen monitor features rolling waves and walls are clad with reclaimed wood reminiscent of driftwood.
Darnow, who lives in Old Greenwich and loves his short commute to work, said everything about the location is ideal, including being located next door to SoBol, who offer açai bowls and smoothies with no added sugar.
He said customers from Old Greenwich and Riverside have an easy drive to Cos Cob, but he is also drawing customers from Glenville, Byram and even Rye and Port Chester, NY.
“And we’re on the right side of Putnam Ave,” he added, noting there is abundant parking along Putnam Ave and in the parking lot behind the building. In addition, Darnow said there are 100 spots underground where there is an elevator and stairs to the lobby outside CVS.
Beyond the fresh ingredients and location, Darnow said what really sets Island Fin Poké apart is the customer experience, and the time taken with each customer.
“I don’t care how long that line is, we educate every single guest. We pride ourselves on that,” he said. “People say our food is good and healthy, but they also say our staff is friendly and knowledgeable.”
For customers who know what they want, Darnow recommends downloading and ordering via the Island Fin Poké app and skippin the line.
What else makes Island Fin Poké unique is the eatery has no stove, no oven, and no microwave.
Let that sink in.
The ingredients for a poké bowl are mostly raw, though they do blend their sauces on premises.
“Anything that is cooked comes to us that way,” Darnow said.
While there is no stove, there is a rack of very sharp knives.
“What we’re doing is cutting, cubing, mixing and making sauces,” Darnow said.
Another goal is sustainability and having a minimal impact on the environment. The bowls are compostable. The plastic cutlery has a much shorter half life of polymer than traditional plastic.
“And I recycle everything,” he added.
The eatery also sponsors different programs that have compatible values. Currently they are selling for $5.00 reusable bags to benefit the Ocean Conservancy.
What truly sets Island Fin Poké apart, according to Darnow, is guest engagement and experience.
“I don’t feel like we’re selling poke bowls. We’re selling happiness,” he said.
“We are the only ones in the fast casual industry who offer five-star service. If you come here and dine in, we will bring your food to your table. If you have not ordered a drink, we will bring you iced water.”
“Five minutes in, we will ask you how everything tastes and make any necessary course corrections,” Darnow continued. “Half way through, we are going to give you a free sample of our Dole soft serve, made from Dole fruit juice so you get a little palate cleanser sample.”
Not only does staff bring customer orders to their tables, but Darnow said staff clear the tables when people leave.
“When they’re done, we will not let them search for a garbage can,” he said. “We hide the garbage cans and then we clear the tables.”
Island Fin Poké is located at 136 East Putnam Ave in Cos Cob.
Open seven days a week from 11:00am to 9:00pm.