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Photos: Marie Torio/QNS
Photos: Marie Torio/QNS

The diversity of this city leads us as individuals to feel empowered to freely, honestly and passionately celebrate the rich cultures that make us who we are. That mentality is what has brought a whole new culinary adventure to the streets of Astoria in the form of PokeWave, a healthy hotspot that’s changing the way we approach the casual, grab-and-go style of dining.

Born in Gramercy, brothers Chris and Jonathan “JT” Tsang spent the majority of their lives in Flushing, Queens. Hitting the workforce at a young age, they’ve been exposed to the ins and outs of the restaurant business through the many hats they’ve worn.

“Everything that we picked up was just from growing up in restaurants,” explained Chris Tsang, the elder of the two.

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It is through this hands-on exposure that the brotherly duo built up their confidence to share with the community the inspiring richness of their Polynesian culture.

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More than just a sandy hotspot, the islands of Hawaii have a way of life unlike anything you’d find here on the East Coast. Enriched by a fusion of cultures from its floating neighbors, Hawaii acts as the northernmost tip of Polynesia — one of three areas that make up the diverse islands of Oceania. Now, thanks to the Tsang brothers, we mainlanders can experience a taste of what this group of islands has to offer without the burden of a pricey plane ticket.

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As an essential dietary staple, poke is to a Hawaii native as a bodega egg and cheese is to a New Yorker: quick, delicious and seemingly everywhere. Traditionally served as an appetizer, classic poke refers to marinated raw fish, typically ahi tuna, and can be found just about anywhere in Hawaii: gas stations, delis, you name it.

The poke bowl is somewhat of a newer concept, taking this delicious snack to the next level as a well-rounded, satiating meal. The poke bowl, which has already taken the West Coast by storm, consists of poke typically accompanied by scallions, vegetables and onions, tossed with soy sauce and garnished with sesame.

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At PokeWave, the classic poke bowl is modernized to accommodate the ever-changing palates of a diverse community, giving a build-your-own option to those looking to add a personalized touch. From eel and chicken to shrimp and tofu, the options are truly endless for any diner.

As much of a picky eater as I can be, I succumbed to the idea of adventuring outside of my comfort zones the moment I saw what the Tsang brothers were offering.

They started me off with a classic of theirs titled Big Island, which is the closest representation the eatery offers to the original poke bowl. Accented with fresh cilantro and sliced avocado, the salty, savory soy sauce merged the veggie flavors expertly with the lightly seasoned tuna. The meal was perfectly rounded with a side of the Spam Bam onigiri, a delicious snack of Spam, scallions and eel sauce sandwiched between rice and tightly wound by hand in a crunchy seaweed wrap.

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While this was more than enough for a hearty meal, JT and Chris Tsang excitedly took it to the next level, creating a personalized bowl based on my likes and dislikes.

Catered just for me, the vast medley of vegetables including cucumber and bell pepper were tossed in a citrus ponzu sauce. The bowl was led by shrimp and something new to my dining vocabulary: unagi, or eel.

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All hesitations were put aside, for it was plain to see that I was in good hands. And sure enough, with a flavoring and texture reminiscent of freshly roasted chicken, the unagi proved to be my favorite part of the meal. As with before, the bowl was perfectly paired with onigiri, this time featuring the savoriness of salmon sashimi, the sweetness of fresh cucumber, and the kick of a spicy mayo.

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“Nobody wants a rice bowl anymore,” said JT Tsang, in reference to their menu. “You have to mix it up a bit and give the customers something worth coming for.”

And something worth coming for is exactly what you’ll get, proven by the success of their first location in Flushing. While keeping the simple takeout style of their original place on Roosevelt Avenue, the Tsang brothers found their expansive new Astoria restaurant to be as much of a want as it was a necessity.

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“Customers came from all different parts: Long Island, Astoria, Whitestone. People even came from Westchester,” Chris Tsang explained. The Flushing space, with small countertops and a handful of seats, wasn’t enough to accommodate diners on the hunt for something fresh and new.

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“We didn’t want to be in the city,” he added, “but we wanted to be somewhere that would remind us of the city. The diversity [of Astoria] is what brought us here.”

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They wanted to cater to health-conscious Astorians, and their drive to provide something uniquely flavorful to the often bland world of dieting has set their menu apart from the common salad bar.

“When [people] feel good about themselves, we feel good about ourselves,” JT Tsang explained. “It’s what we are here for.”

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And with an open-kitchen concept, diners are seeing just what they’re getting when treating themselves to a unique and healthy meal.

Chris Tsang designed the open, airy eatery in a way that pays homage to the luxurious, beachy feel of the Hawaiian islands. With wooden paneling reminiscent of driftwood, accentuated by white tiled walls, guests are made to feel as if they’re escaping the waves for a quick bite.

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“We wanted to make it really feel like when you came in, you were in Hawaii,” JT Tsang said.

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The giant, authentic surfboards mounted on the wall act as the menus and ingredient lists while paying tribute to the wave-riders of the islands. Each board was found and purchased out on the beachfronts of the Far Rockaways, creating a fusion between the shores of Hawaii and the coasts of Queens. Given their lifelong connections to the area, the Tsang brothers wanted nothing more than to support the local business market that they are now a part of.

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With all the excited buzz heard up and down Broadway of this new and noteworthy culinary experience, it will undoubtedly become a one-of-a-kind neighborhood staple. It’s a place to celebrate a diversely delicious culture that is finally getting its due.

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PokeWave is located at 35-07 Broadway, between 35th and 36th streets. PokeWave is also available for delivery through their website.

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