Sweetfin, the chef-driven California-inspired poke place, popped up at One Paseo in Carmel Valley this month. The Los Angeles-based Sweetfin Poke aims to bring a splash of fine dining to a fast casual restaurant, offering an approachable way to enjoy fresh raw fish, with high quality ingredients and inventive flavors.
With eight Sweetfin locations in LA, One Paseo is San Diego’s second location—the first landed in Westfield UTC in 2018.
Originally from South Africa, Sweetfin co-founder Alan Nathan attended high school in San Diego and he said bringing the concept down from LA was a little like coming home—he hopes San Diego is a place where Sweetfin can grow even more.
“One Paseo felt like a perfect fit,” Nathan said of how well Sweetfin has settled in with its surrounding lifestyle, health and fitness tenants. They celebrated a grand opening on July 12 with local bands, beer and kombucha with balloons bubbling over the front door.
Inside the eatery, the minimalistic design features a beach-inspired palette of pinks and blues, with playful finishes like patterned wallpaper and coral pink countertops. The exterior of the white building features a sweet sea-life mural by local San Diego artist Natalie Bessell.
Sweetfin’s packaging is equally playful, stamped with phrases such as “You’re a Catch!”
Nathan has been in the restaurant and nightclub industry in Los Angeles since the 1990s. In addition to several successful nightclubs, his group ran an LA sushi restaurant for 10 years and took on the food and beverage operations at the W Los Angeles.
In 2014, he began exploring the concept of poke in a fast casual environment with Sweetfin’s executive chef Dakota Weiss, who competed on season 9 of Bravo’s “Top Chef.”
“At the time, I hadn’t heard a lot about poke but I approached Dakota and she loved the concept,” said Nathan, who had always been a sushi lover.
They worked for over a year and a half on what goes into a good poke bowl. “She threw a lot at us,” Nathan said of the inventive research and development process in which Weiss reimagined the Hawaiian soul food using the abundance of fresh produce available in California.
In 2015, they opened up the first Sweetfin in Santa Monica and caught a wave. Four years in, Nathan said Chef Dakota remains unafraid to push the innovation of how to eat raw fish in a bowl.
“It’s been fun to continually offer great new choices to our Sweetfam,” Nathan said of the changing menu and monthly collaboration bowls with other chefs.
Sweetfin’s menu includes signature bowls like the chef-created mango albacore, sriracha yuna and the truffled yuzu albacore, with white truffle oil, avocado, shimeji mushrooms and daikon sprouts drizzled with citrusy yuzu kosho sauce.
“I love what we’re doing with plant-based bowls,” said Nathan of their signature bowl options starring sweet potato, eggplant and mushrooms.
Guests can get creative by building their own bowl, picking a protein, sauce, base and up to six complimentary add-ons.
Protein options include line caught, wild yellowfin tuna, albacore tuna or responsibly raised salmon.
Many of Chef Dakota’s sauces have a Japanese influence such as the creamy togarashi spicy mayo, Yuzu Kosho citrus sauce and sriracha ponzu—the Black Garlic Gochujang is a Korean spiced garlic sauce.
The over 30 different add-ons include options like crispy onions, wasabi toasted coconut, herbs and spices and a selection of fruits and veggies including carrots, pickled ginger, seaweed and chile-marinated oranges. Premium picks include macadamia nuts and sautéed asparagus.
“I love to mix the bases,” Nathan said of the bases of bamboo rice, kelp noodle slaw, citrus kale salad, black forbidden rice and the new offering, cauliflower rice.
Nathan said Sweetfin boasts over 94 million different combinations. “There’s no right or wrong,” Nathan said. “There’s so many choices so each time you come you could add something to your bowl that becomes your new favorite.”
He urges no guest to leave without sampling Sweetfin’s “seriously addictive” taro chips.
Nathan said an important part of the Sweetfin culture is their well-trained scratch kitchens where everything is made in-house daily and the Sweetfam follows Chef Dakota’s fine dining style of prep, cleanliness and proper food storage.
Sustainabilty is also very important to the brand—with their “Pole to Bowl”philosophy, their fish is responsibly sourced from all over the world to ensure maximum quality with minimal environmental impact. The restaurant is also gradually moving toward all paper products—currently they employ wooden utensils and paper straws and in time they aim to be completely plastic-free.
Check out the menu and more at sweetfin.com