New outposts are popping up throughout the downtown core at an alarming rate, with some even spreading uptown to relieve the fishy desires of North York and Markham residents alike. With each shop introducing an individualistic flair of their own, it's become increasingly onerous to monitor and evaluate the numerous options on a fair scale.
I'm not entirely certain what type of establishment had occupied by the super-compact space beforehand, but from the grey exterior and stony-looking concrete steps, it appeared to be anything but a poke restaurant when viewed from the outside. While the front-facing side was primarily composed of glass panes (all windows and the door), signage was extremely minimal and it hadn't occurred to us that we passed it until we carefully scanned the vicinity for landmark hints.
Before noon, the establishment was enveloped in a tranquil emptiness. We took our time in analyzing the available options, and the staff readily took to answering to our concerns and inquiries without delay. The general concept of offering both signature and customized creations was present, but the main differences were that The Poke Box carried a Poke of the Day selection and that bowls had been substituted with takeout-friendly brown boxes (as indicated by its name).
It was observed that their in-house creations and signature bowls comprised of pre-marinated species, while the BYOB choices usually combined fresh fish with customers' preferred sauce(s) and slapped on additional charges for specialty picks (ie. tuna and avocado).
From previous experiences, the standard base options usually comprise of white sushi rice, brown rice, and spring mix. I've witnessed sweet potato slaw and soba noodles as well, but the spiralized zucchini noodles and purple-brown rice "Grain Blend" were refreshing alternatives to lay eyes on.
Both bowls - er, boxes - permitted personalized bases, sides, and additional sauces and toppings. Where Poke Box automatically included all three salads (Wakame salad, a Tropical Slaw of spiced pineapple chunks, and unseasoned, shredded sunomono Crab Salad), the Rainbow Poke permitted the two salads. (One of the staff members bearing a manager-like aura kindly squeezed in a small portion for me when he overheard my playful complaint though.)
Tobiko and pink pickled ginger did not induce any additional costs, which is always a plus in my books.
Our picks were downright sensational: they were formidable in terms of flavour and texture profile, and also bore a beautiful array of diverse tones. Boasting a broad spectrum of fresh, nutritional ingredients and a multitude of complex flavours, the signature boxes immersed all senses in wonderful enchantment. It wasn't simply the Rainbow Poke that was colourful - both allowed us to taste the rainbow of the poke world.
Portion sizes were also greatly commendable - regular-sized boxes ranged from $11.50 to $13.50 and were already more than substantial in satiating our ravaging appetites.
A few bar seats (with outlets positioned high and low) were situated along one side of the shop. I appreciated this immensely, since I was in no particular rush at the time but also did not wish to hinder the busier bunch from returning to their daily duties. The corner spot allowed us to munch comfortably while using the shop's password-secured Wi-Fi.
Washrooms, should they be needed at all by the regular grab-and-go crown, can be found on the second floor of the adjacent commerical building.
We departed with satisfied tummies and huge grins on our faces.
The environment was addicting for a plushie-lover such as myself. Step by step, I inched towards the patio-like seating area, capturing a 360 view of my short trek. A huge digital print of teddies wearing teddy-themed clothing hung on a stark white wall above several two-person tables. A curtained presentation screen was situated at the very back; an overhead projector aired a modern version of Hamtaro with Chinese subtitles while mellow French and Japanese tunes played simultaneously.
Doesn't this bear look like Youngjae??
We were informed that the Toasted Marshmallow Hot Chocolate and Strawberry Cupcake Cappuccino were amongst the most popular beverages, though both sounded too painfully sugary for our liking. Relative to the immaculate facility that we were standing in, I didn't find the prices to be as ridiculously high as I anticipated. Teddy Story was charging an equivalent amount to typical cafes in the downtown area and weren't even close to some of the price tags I've seen in North York (looking at you, Bake Code) or Markham (Initium).
The Organic Milk Tea were claimed to be concocted of real tea leaves as opposed to powder, but my eyes locked in on the three airtight containers in the preparation area. A series of beige, green, and brown powders stood side by side on one of their many shelves, presumably milk powder, green tea powder mix, and hot chocolate mix respectively. This is not to rebut the part-timer's previous statement; rather, it means that not all beverages are free from synthetics.
After much debate, we agreed on sharing a slice of Tiramisu Cheesecake and two piping cups of Lavender Green Tea and Citrus Oolong. Strangely enough, several options were only served hot, but a cup of ice was provided for sensitive tongues.
The part-timer that had welcomed us into the cafe seemed dazed at times, but an evidently more superior staff member soon arrived to rectify that. She presented our requested slice of Tiramisu Cheesecake with swiftness atop a small plastic plate and a set of pink plastic forks. Teas in hand and bears around us, it was as if we were living the birthday party of a teddy bear-obsessed heiress daughter.
While I was absorbed in shop decor and all its teddy-adorned glory, my friend observed the cake-slicing with scrutiny and relayed her thoughts to me. The part-timer had replied in the affirmative when I asked whether the pastries were made in-house, but the plastic container from which it was removed indicated inconsistency in her claim.
This aside, there was an unanimous nod that the slice was delicious and perfectly cheesy. Severely rich and decadent, it was clear that the body consisted of a significant amount of heavy cream and cream cheese. It would be inaccurate to compare the slice to a traditional tiramisu, as its graham cracker crust and lack of coffee liquor are more indicative of a Western-style cheesecake. The topmost layer of piping was likely cream or buttercream; the centre layer was perceived to be a mix of heavy cream, cream cheese, and mascarpone in unknown ratios. I will also not forego the possible addition of stabilizers.
Most commendable is that the at-grade stall also features low positioning of light switches, which is both accessible and children-friendly.
Personally, I would have loved to invest in one of my own, though firmly stood ground in fear of angering the companions of more senior status at home.
Shopping had worked up a slight appetite, which we suppressed with scoops of delicately flavoured Genmaicha and Houjicha.