It feels as if we’ve gone from zero-to-60 with poke bowls in the last year.
As of last week, we’ve one more option.
Aloha Poke opened April 3 on the edge of Fircrest near Tacoma Community College. It’s a casual restaurant, somewhat similar to a Chipotle Grill in style and assembly. Diners build a bowl from a choice of five fish (plus unagi and tofu), an assortment of fresh vegetables, brown or white rice, seaweed, masago (fish eggs), sauces and other flavorful add-ins.
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And opening this week will be Poke to the Max. The Seattle-based poke cafe started as a food truck before expanding to two locations. It’s a choose-your-own adventure with a number of poke choices. Owner Max Heigh said he was expecting to open later this week with limited lunchtime hours, but will open with regular hours Monday (April 17).
Poke is pronounced poh-kay (like okay) and is a dish of raw fish, usually cubed, splashed with soy sauce and served chilled with a simple salad. It’s a Hawaiian specialty that long ago hit the mainland, but an even bigger dining trend has percolated the last few years with the supersized bowls of raw fish, rice, vegetables and flavorful sauces becoming a dining darling.
In Tacoma, we’ve had poke on the menu for years, but it’s mostly been simpler versions of poke salad, not the choose-your-own-ingredients big poke bowls.
Aloha Poke falls into the big-bowl camp with large plastic bowls filled with a meal in a bowl. If you skip the rice and sauces, poke bowls are heavy on fiber and lower on carbs and calories.
Aloha Poke is from brother-sister team Kevin Chung and Esther Sung. Chung is the manager and chef. He traveled to Los Angeles to explore the wide world of poke there and ate in “just about every” poke stop in Seattle to research opening the family’s first restaurant. He also has three years’ experience working with fish company Young Ocean.
“All the sauces we offer, we make here,” said Chung, who noted that his experience with Young Ocean has helped him understand how to source the best-priced fish to keep prices low.
Here are dining notes based on a first-bite visit. It’s this paper’s policy to skip criticism of food and service in a restaurant’s first month.
Dining room: The airy 40-seat dining room features deep wood bench seating with an assortment of two- and four-top tables. Modern finishes include wood-wrapped walls, metal-and-wood chairs and plenty of natural light from oversized windows. One modern touch is welcomed for mobile device fiends: Electrical outlets line the base of the wood bench.
Ordering: Order at the left side of the counter, pick up on the right. Tell the staffer your choices, and the bowls are assembled on the spot. Pay attention, there are a lot of choices.
Prices: A poke bowl with one fish choice is $9.99; two is $10.99 and three is $11.99. Unagi bowls (fully cooked) are $9.99. Miso soup is $1 a bowl (with free refills).
Fish choices: Choices include ahi tuna, farmed Atlantic salmon, red snapper (which Chung confirmed is tilapia), cooked shrimp and scallops. Octopus salad is available for a $1 upcharge.
Base choices: White or brown rice, or skip the rice and have a double salad at the base.
Add-in choices: Mixed greens salad, chopped iceberg, organic tofu, edamame, cucumber, seaweed salad, dried seaweed, ginger, onions, masago (fish roe), chopped surimi (krab) salad. Select as many choices as desired. Add sliced avocado for a $1 upcharge.
Sauces: Sweet mayo dressing, spicy Sriracha mayo, wasabi mayo, poke sauce. Additional sauces are available at the counter if you decide you want more.
Try the: On a first visit, start with an ahi tuna bowl built with white rice (served warm) sprinkled with a seaweed seasoning mix, a shake of spicy seasoning (it won’t cause tears) and a tangle of snappy fresh mixed greens ($9.99). Don’t miss the spicy Sriracha sauce or wasabi mayo for extra pain. For add-ins, ask for the briny seaweed salad, a few pieces of fresh ginger, fresh edamame beans, masago, dried seaweed and a scoop of the surimi (krab) salad mixed with mayonnaise.
Do pay the $1 upcharge (each) for sliced fresh avocado or chilled octopus salad.
Also try the unagi bowl ($9.99) built with a base of warm rice and topped with cooked unagi (eel) that flaked easily with a nudge of the fork and came coated in a savory-sweet sauce. Pair it with ginger, masago, edamame and seaweed salad.
Coming soon: Sushi burritos will be coming next, as will shave ice. Sushi burritos will have similar pricing to the poke bowls and will be made with, most likely, either soy paper or a seaweed wrapper. Shave ice will come in five flavors.
Brew tip: Aloha Poke is a few doors down from bottle shop Pint Defiance, which allows outside food to be brought in. Pint Defiance owner Barry Watson said he’s already helped a number of diners pair his beers with poke. Said Watson, “I think pairing something crisp and bright or slightly tart is the key to complementing poke’s fresh and light flavors. A bright pilsner or pale ale such as pFriem Pilsner or Fremont Summer Ale fit the bill nicely. Also a tart gose like Dogfish Head Sea Quench with lime and sea salt. Incline Cider Co. Lemmongrass Hard Cider is a great option for our gluten-free friends.”
Up next: Also coming to the neighborhood soon is Sushido, a sushi restaurant four blocks away.