Single Fin: Another milestone in a stellar OBX career

By on June 29, 2017

From right, Phongrit “Pok” Choeichom, his brother Chef Art Maliyam and Sushi Chef Jack. Below, Lobster almond roll, artfully plated.

Single Fin Bistro Bar & Grill
2424 S. Croatan Highway
The Bypass, MP 10.5
Nags Head, NC
(252) 715-3983
Hours are 11:30 am. to 10 pm.
Story and Photos by Jim Trotman

Ever since Chef Phongrit Choeichom let the word out he’d be creating a full-scale sit-down restaurant, the opening of Single Fin Bistro Bar & Grill has been one of the most anticipated happenings on the Outer Banks culinary scene in some time.

Pok, as he is known, has earned a dedicated following among area foodies since bursting onto the scene. We first came to know him at the much-loved and quite eclectic Carolina Blue in Southern Shores over a decade ago, where he helped owners Chip Smith and Tina Vaughn usher in a new wave of upscale dining to the Outer Banks.

But he had been actively involved in area kitchens from a young age, beginning at his family’s Thai Room in Kill Devil Hills at 9.

In the space between then and now, he scored a feature segment on Guy Fieri’s show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives while chef of the Outer Banks Brewing Station, and with his brother Art Maliyam, opened the very popular takeout spot, Pok’s Art Asia Fusion Kitchen in Kitty Hawk.

Single Fin is the latest milestone in the career of this 40-year-old chef and is another family venture. “Art always wanted to do a sushi bar here,” says Pok. It looks like Pok and Art have the cards stacked in their favor. The team they assembled reads like a who’s who from the best Outer Banks restaurants.

Michelle Robertson, former general manager of the Black Pelican, is the manager. In the kitchen they brought Jay Jones, who worked with Pok at Carolina Blue, then followed Smith and Vaughn to The Simone in New York. Joel Mclendon boasts credits at Millie’s Diner, The Blue Point and Todd Jurich’s Bistro.

Also on hand is Andrew McCall, the first chef at The Black Pelican and onetime sous chef at Owens. Pok said.

“Between me, Joel and Andrew, we’ve got over one hundred years of experienced in the kitchen,” Pok said.

Chef Maliyam watches as Chef Jack places the finishing touches to a lobster almond specialty roll.

The center point of the dining room is the sushi bar. To make it top rate, Pok’s brother, Art, brought in Art’s friend from high school back in Bangkok for his expertise. Known by the single name Jack, he was sushi chef at the five-star Grand Millennium Bangkok Hotel.

It took six months to recreate the space that had been a Sweet Frog. When it became available, Pok’s team moved quickly. Though the space had been a food establishment, nothing much transfers from a frozen yogurt spot to a fine dining restaurant.

“Everything is brand new,” said Art. “We had to install hoods, floor drains. Had to come up with a whole new floor plan.”

Growing up on the Outer Banks, Pok spent his non-kitchen hours surfing when he could. Given the surf culture of the area, a surf theme seemed like a natural for this venture. Single Fin is so named for the “old school” single-bladed long board, one of which is on display.

Keeping two businesses running, and being a young father on top of it all, Pok says he is looking to get back in the water once everything is running smoothly.

We spotted many familiar faces as we stepped into Single Fin soon after it opened. The local dining crowd seems eager to try it out. We were led to our table in the back corner, a comfy half-bench, half-chaired affair with a blond wood tabletop, opposite the wall of windows and kitty-corner to the busy sushi bar.

Our server, Whitney, introduced herself and drink orders were placed. Two of us were beet lovers and at least one of our crew is a fan of arugula. So the Roasted Beet and Arugula salad was a natural starter to be shared. A tart roasted shallot vinaigrette and slivers of red onion and carrot dressed the salad, and a disk of fried goat cheese added a shade of happy decadence to the otherwise wholesome plate.

We also agreed to split the Lobster and Almond Fried Roll among the four of us. This was next level stuff; lobster, avocado and asparagus are suspended in the roll with a bit of cream cheese, and the outer layer was encased in slivered almonds and fried and sliced into eight sections. Each portion was topped with alternating colored tobiko (flying fish roe) and anointed with eel sauce, kimji sauce and a slight drizzle of spicy mayo; a dish that is outstanding in every way.

Though we hadn’t intended it, an order each of fried calamari and Johnny’s wings appeared. We appreciated the gesture and dove in. The calamari, flash fried and crispy, sat atop a sweet and sour sauce and roasted peanuts. The wings were plump and moist, and coated in a Korean barbecue glaze. The pickled vegetables that attended lent a sharp balance to the sticky sweet wings.

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A special entree that evening was grilled wild salmon topped with a charred corn and asparagus salad on tender fingerling potatoes. A whole-grain mustard beurre blanc dressed the dish. The salmon was deftly grilled, so it was crisp on the outside and succulent inside.

The evening’s beef offering was char-grilled ribeye, topped with a disk of compound butter and paired with a new take on potato salad. Fresh fried “shoe-string” potatoes were ensconced in baby watercress, aged cheese and grapes in a sherry and black butter vinaigrette for an adventuresome mix of texture and taste. Pok would say later, “You get your veggies and starch in the same place.”

Perfectly pan-seared scallops were lined up on a plate anchored at one end with a potato terrine atop charred greens and Smithfield country ham. This was surrounded in a champagne shallot butter and dotted with springs of micro greens.

Pok’s Pasta of the Day was another outstanding dish. Bucatini pasta was threaded with bits of sautéed Angus New York strip, enveloped in a blue cheese cream and topped with Gorgonzola. It was certainly sensual and about as close to sinful as pasta can get.

With no real room left for dessert, but not wanting to skip the full experience, we chose to share the steamed ginger pudding. This is pudding in the sense of a dense, moist sponge cake and featured candied ginger, local rum and wild flower honey. It was about a fork full or two for each of us and was an excellent capper to the meal.

During the evening, I took note that even with the room bustling with diners and with the background music, we four could still converse in normal tones. Though much of what we were saying was merely, “Oh my!” and “wow!” and, “Can I try another bite?”

The same attention to taste goes into the appearance of the dishes. Single Fin engages all the senses.

The menu is broad in its reach. From the sushi offerings to familiar appetizers, such as wings and calamari, to crispy sweetbreads and rabbit confit, Pok is interested in showcasing dishes, both classic and new, that haven’t been available in the area.

Entrees start at around $20 and up, but many appetizers, salads, soups and sandwiches are around or under the $10. From the sushi side, standard rolls are about $10 and under, the specialty rolls a bit more.

The two-piece Nigiri and five-piece Sashimi are on offer as well. We see great variety and value here.


  • T.W. Mangrove

    Thank the stars, this looks different than the typical hipster hangout that has become the “in” thing on the upper beaches.

    Friday, Jun 30 @ 11:37 am
  • Cliff Claven

    The variety of lunch or dinner selections is only surpassed by the quality. The only drawback is the ability to get in the door. Single Fin is one restaurant that is living up to the anticipation of OBXers waiting for a new Pok creation.

    Saturday, Jul 1 @ 5:39 pm