While the pun in my title is bad, you know you were thinking of it too. On top of that, actual restaurants use that name, so I figure I can take a pass there. I know I know, Innovation University. Okay fine. What is John Smith’s favorite dish? Pokehontas.
Poke (poh-kay, no accent on the e), as we know it on the American mainland, really dates back to about the 1970s. It began as a light snack made from the seasoned cut-offs left after fishing expeditions and has evolved today into a complex fish salad echoing the sentiments of sashimi and sushi. As an etiquette note, however, it would be a mistake to reduce poke to “sushi in a bowl”. Poke represents the unique historical and cultural traditions of the Hawaiian melting pot, and it is a unique take on the common pacific theme of fresh fish. History accounted for, Poke is also ragingly delicious, which explains its huge blowup in cities across the nation within the past 2 years.
The first time I heard about Poke was from my friend who recommended Shaka Bowl, all the way down on Monroe and 8th. While I never made it down there, I was delighted to hear of Makai Poke opening on 5th and Washington. This time, I had no excuse. I had to go check out the new trend.
Despite their menu being incredibly compact and simple, I was still at a complete loss when ordering. Chipotle-style food serving works great once everyone knows what’s going on, but my first 10 minutes were spent stumbling through words like Ahi, Kani, and Furikake. Finally, however, I threw in the towel; I copped out and ordered their signature Makai Bowl, which sounded so grand that I couldn’t help myself.
When I first got my Poke, I was slightly disappointed. As someone who eats with their eyes, this bowl seemed like it would barely fill me. Fortunately, I was very wrong. The bowl consisted of Ahi (tuna), salmon, shrimp, sweet onion, scallion, cucumber, edamame, seaweed and Kani salad, and corn, all topped with spicy sriracha mayo, sweet midnight sauce, wasabi avocado cream, and rice puffs and thrown over white rice. Clearly, this was a bowl that was meant to be eaten holistically (my specialty). Despite my tendency to mash everything together, though, I figured I might as well try everything individually first.
Starting with the seaweed salad, the bits had a very chewy and slippery feeling to them. While I enjoyed it for its refreshing, unique flavor, the texture might not be for everyone. Next, I moved on to the Kani salad, which was probably my favorite part of the dish. It was incredibly savory, smooth, and, most importantly, fresh, like crab should be. The various vegetables were all what you would expect, which was refreshing and crunchy. Finally, the fish itself was fantastic. The Ahi and salmon were both incredibly fresh, savory, and delicious, and the shrimp was excellently prepared. After the fact, the sriracha mayo and midnight sauce both combined to give a slight kick to everything, really tying the dish together from start to finish. I was also ready to burst once I was done.
The strongest suite of Makai Poke to me is that they use incredibly fresh ingredients which carry the dish on their quality alone. On top of that, their prices are quite reasonable. If you’re feeling top notch fish and the casualness of Hawaii, Makai Poke is the place to go.
The writer would strongly recommend reading about the history of Poke and some of the culture behind it. While it’s great on its own, the massive explosion of the Poke trend has resulted in some miscommunication, most obviously in the adding of an accent over the e of Poke. The greatest condiment to a dish is knowledge!