A place for poke: New restaurant focusing on popular fish dish opens in Florence

  • At left, a poke bowl with tuna, salmon, seaweed salad, pickled ginger and avocado made by Johnny Wu, above, of Uya, a poke restaurant in Florence. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A Spicy Tuna Poke bowl at Uya, a poke restaurant in Florence co-owned by Johnny Wu, and Yve Zhang. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • In top photo a spicy tuna poke bowl. Below, co-owners Wu and Zhang work behind the counter at Uya. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Johnny Wu and Yve Zhang, co-owners of Uya, a Poke restaurant in Florence. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Johnny Wu and Yve Zhang, co-owners of Uya, a poke restaurant in Florence. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Johnny Wu who co-owns Uya, a Poke restaurant in Florence, with his wife Yve Zhang. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A salmon burrito at Uya, a poke restaurant in Florence co-owned by Johnny Wu and Yve Zhang. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A Salmon Burrito at Uya, a poke restaurant in Florence co-owned by Johnny Wu, and Yve Zhang. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Johnny Wu who co-owns Uya, a Poke restaurant in Florence, with his wife Yve Zhang. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Cheryl Silvernail with her two sons, James, 8, and Peter Silvernail, at Uya, a poke restaurant in Florence co-owned by Johnny Wu and Yve Zhang. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 10/28/2018 11:02:16 PM

NORTHAMPTON – When one thinks about the cuisine in Florence, eggs, pizza, ice cream and pies are easy to find. But raw fish salad? That’s certainly a new kid on the block.

Nevertheless, despite breaking new ground, or perhaps because of it, UYA Poke Bowl & Sushi Burrito has become a bit of a hit in the weeks since its opening.

“I’m really happy to see more diversity than just pizza places,” said Elijah Hammarlund, of Florence, a high school student eating at the restaurant for the second time last week.

“Hopefully it’ll stay open for a long time,” said Cheryl Silvernail, of Westhampton, dining with her two sons, who said she preferred the poke to sushi. “I would have never expected to be able to drive 15 minutes away and get something like this.”

For husband and wife and co-owners Yue Zhang and Johnny Wu, UYA is a literal dream come true. Wu is originally from Taiwan and he came to the Valley because he has family here, while Zhang, who is originally from China, came to the Valley to study at the University of Massachusetts, graduating in 2011.

“We love it here,” said Zhang, on why she and Wu decided to put down roots.

The couple met while working at Teapot in downtown Northampton, which is owned by Wu’s relatives, and Wu has worked as a chef in several Asian restaurants, including Teapot, Taipei and Tokyo and Panda East.

UYA gets its name from the nickname of Zhang and Wu’s 2½ year old daughter, Olivia. UYA is what Olivia said when she started trying to pronounce her name.

Poke is a raw fish dish of Hawaiian origin, and it is only about a year ago that Zhang and Wu ate it, while visiting New York City and Boston. However, once they did, they knew this would be the concept that they would build their restaurant around.

“I realized, this is the one we want,” she said.

At UYA, two dishes are offered: poke bowls and sushi burritos. Poke at UYA consists of proteins, such as raw tuna or steamed shrimp, sauce and additions like avocado and seaweed salad, over rice or mixed greens. Customers can choose a signature poke bowl, such as the Spicy Tuna Poke or Philly Poke, or they can customize and pick out the ingredients they want for their poke bowl or sushi burrito.

The poke bowl prepared for the Gazette consisted of raw salmon, raw tuna, avocado, cucumber, eel sauce, radish, seaweed salad, sesame seeds and ginger pickle over white rice.

Sushi burritos, meanwhile, consist of a “burrito” filled with poke fillings whose wrapper is either Nori seaweed or soy paper.

Customers visiting the restaurant one day last week were happy for a new dining alternative in one of Northampton’s villages. Zhang said that they chose to open in Florence, the restaurant is located at 89 Main St., because the community needed more diversity in its culinary offerings.

“Florence definitely needs something different,” she said.

Gina Zanvetter, of Florence, was eating poke, as well as raw fish, for the first time. She said she loved.”I’m sure I’ll be back.”

“It’s just amazing,” said Becca Merrill, of Northampton.

Wu is an experienced sushi chef with almost two decades under his belt, and Zhang said that preparing Poke was an easy transition. Wu cuts all the fish at the restaurant and also makes all the sauces himself.

Zhang said that the main reason they chose to do a poke restaurant as opposed to a sushi restaurant is because it takes a long time for people to be trained to become a sushi chef, and poke allows for local people to be hired.

“We want to hire local people to work for us,” she said.

She said that aside from Wu and herself, UYA currently has five employees.

In terms of how quality is maintained, Zhang said the freshness of the fish and the quality of the sauce is key.

Zhang spoke about her husband’s love of all things fish, from cooking fish, to eating fish, to going fishing and keeping an aquarium.

“Anything about fish, he loves it,” she said.

“When I was a kid,” Wu said, when asked about when his love of fish started.

UYA recently added raw yellow tail to its menu, a fish that Zhang personally loves.

“That’s one of my favorites,” she said.

UYA is also looking to add an air fryer, so that it can provide hot food like tempura shrimp and fried soft-shell crab.

Delivery is another area that Zhang said UYA is looking to expand into, and she said that it’s been asked about by customers, including those from Smith College and Cooley Dickinson Hospital.

Zhang said that the reaction to the restaurant has been a good one, and that it is already enjoying a number of repeat customers.

“They keep coming back,” she said. “It makes us feel so proud.”

One of those customers is Benjamin Krell, of Florence, who said that he’s been to it five times since its opening.

“It’s the best,” said Krell.

He credited the restaurant with being both inexpensive and convenient, and he said that it’s way above the level of Florence’s other culinary offerings.

“Don’t advertise because the lines would be too long,” he said.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.




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