Ramen is out and poke is in sounds like the start of a joke about the fickle nature of food trends, but it has also literally happened at Conservatory. The downtown food hall and beer garden recently ended its relationship with ramen shop Samurai Noodle and replaced it with Moku Bar, a poke and tempura concept from Casian King food truck owner Tuan Tran.
Conservatory owner Anh Mai tells CultureMap that Samurai and Conservatory made a mutual decision to part ways when the ramen shop’s one-year lease expired. He chose to work with Tran after hosting a number of poke pop-ups at the space.
“He did a pop-up a year ago, and blew the doors out of this place,” Mai says. “It was the most anyone has (sold) for a pop-up. I think he did almost $4,000 in four hours. We knew we had something with him.”
Tran brings eight years of experience as a sushi chef to his poke, which is reflected in the diverse array of sauces and toppings available. As at more of the new poke restaurants, diners may either build their own bowl or go with a suggested mix of toppings. What’s sets Moku apart, according to Tran, is the way the restaurant prepares its fish.
“We’re different because we do it the authentic way,” Tran says. “(Some other places) put the sauce right on the fish as they serve it, but we marinade our fish ahead of time. The flavors are absorbed into the fish.”
To refine the concept, Mai and Tran worked together to develop dishes that fit with Conservatory’s atmosphere of being a place friends can gather for drinks, including poke towers (marinated raw fish on vegetables), spam musubi, and several tempura options. If it all goes well, the concept will get its own brick-and-mortar in the future.
In addition to adding poke, Mai is making some other changes to Conservatory. First, he’s united all of the individual food concepts within delivery apps, which allows a customer to use an app like DoorDash to order, say, a gyro from Myth Cafe and tacos from El Burro, while only paying one delivery fee. To enhance its appeal to downtown office workers, Conservatory will soon add bicycle deliveries to area offices.
Structurally, the current greenhouse space beneath the stairs will soon become the Noble Rot wine bar. Relocating the wine from the tap wall frees up some space for a kiosk called Mars Bakery that will serve kolaches and doughnuts in the morning and sandwiches in the afternoon. Baker Maryssa Maize, who has worked at both State of Grace and Fat Cat Creamery, will run Mars with her boyfriend Scott Ache, who currently works at Conservatory as a bartender. Other changes could be coming, but Mai said he isn't ready to announce them yet.
“We find talent, people we come across, and say let’s do something,” Mai says. Sounds like the perfect summary of Conservatory’s mission, along with serving an interesting mix of food to downtown denizens all day long.