Super Bowls

Super Bowls

I was extra hungry the other night, so I went to a place that seemed like it could satisfy whatever craving struck: Natural Kitchen in downtown Milford, where signature and customizable poké concoctions come in rice bowl, salad and “burrito” formats built up with selections from 55 proteins, “mix-ins,” “toppings,” sauces and “crunch”es. I considered the possibilities and landed on the indulgent-looking Triforce ($14.95), a triple threat starring tuna, salmon and shrimp.

Desui Lin, whose wife, Crystal, owns the business, told me it’s a top seller, and as I watched him make it and then began to dig in, the reason became crystal clear. The proteins were laid over the top like the stripes of a flag, with three nicely sized shrimps set between bands of firm, fresh, watermelon-pink tuna and marbled, coral-colored salmon. A light, orange aioli with a hint of sesame crisscrossed the dish, adding sweet and creamy tang to the seafood sensuousness, which popped even more with the occasional burst of pineapple. Cucumbers were sliced as thin as the strips of crab in the kani salad, and the seaweed salad finished with a pleasant crunch. More crispy than crunchy were sheets of roasted, charred seaweed, whose flavor was new to me.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of all was a side of homemade miso soup ($2.95 for 12 ounces), which might have been the best I’ve ever tasted. The flavors of the light and cloudy broth came through in waves, hints of smokiness and brine followed by blushes of heat.

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The fast-casual eatery opened about nine months ago, offering takeout as well as several tables inside and out. The green and white sign overtop and poké pictures on the front window shout “healthy food,” and inside, shiny black subway tiles along one wall offset the grays, whites and silvers that dominate the restaurant.

Attributed to Hawaii, the culinary genre of poké exploded onto the local scene five years ago as part of a wider trend. But it’s clearly not a fad. In a sea of local competitors, Natural Kitchen has earned stellar reviews from Yelp users, offering exceptional execution at a price point that seems on par with other poké establishments. “The place is definitely a good deal,” my dining partner declares as he scoops a fingerful of masago from the top of his Hawaii Sunset (made with spicy tuna, tuna, pineapple, edamame, sweet corn, red cabbage, poke special sauce, kani salad, green onion and that masago; $13.45). Last time, he ordered the Triforce, “insanely good” and filling, he says. (I know. I’m eating mine now.) “I’m a big guy,” he adds, “and I was hungry that night, and I still only ate half of it.”

I didn’t try a dessert, but the ice cream waffles pictured on the website look like cornucopias of dairy and candy goodness. Lin says those are popular in the summer, along with the smoothies and bubble teas.

Milford’s isn’t the only Natural Kitchen out there. There are others in Florida and New York, and while a corporate website advertises franchise opportunities, the Milford restaurant isn’t a franchise, Crystal Lin explains, but rather a family-owned business with familial connections to some of the other locations. Those connections are obvious, from the logo to the menu and the quality espoused by the founder, Tony Chen, an 18-year master sushi chef in Manhattan. “Passionate delivering quality food to consumers, Tony believes our cuisine should not only be focused on taste, but also on health and freshness,” the website says.

Fresh? Mine was. Healthy? I think so. Tasty? Most definitely.

Natural Kitchen
107 River St, Milford (map)
Mon-Thurs 11am-9pm, Fri-Sat 11am-10pm
(203) 283-1318

Written and photographed by Jill Dion. Image 1 features the Triforce. Images 2 and 3 feature Desui and Crystal Lin, respectively, behind the counter. Image 4 features the Hawaii Sunset.

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