Though tuna poke can be found on many restaurant menus across Broward and Palm Beach Counties, most of us haven't really had a true version of the raw fish salad, one often served as an appetizer in Hawaiian cuisine. But with a few places in Miami-Dade making a debut in the past few years, it's just one more foodie trend slowly making its way north, giving more of South Florida a taste of what states like California and New York have been raving about for what seems like forever.
Could it be we'll soon have our own locally based chains like New York City Pokéworks and Wisefish Poké, or Santa Monica-style Sweetfin Poke? With yet another poke-centric concept headed to Fort Lauderdale, dubbed PokeHouse, one can only dream.
Poke, which comes from the Hawaiian word "to slice or cut raw fish," is much more than a simple starter. The dish began as a way for fishermen to serve the cut-off parts of their daily catch as a snack. Seasoned with Asian flavors like soy sauce, green onion, and sesame oil, the excess fish could be transformed into a simple, flavorful, fresh meal.
Traditionally, poke was made using fish, salt, local seaweeds, and chopped Hawaiian kukui nuts. Today, Hawaiian and mainland restaurants serve poke in a number of ways, from shoyu poke (ahi, soy sauce, sesame oil, green and white onions, and chili) to spicy ahi poke (ahi and a creamy, spicy mayo sauce with tobiko), while more modern iterations can be made with octopus, mussels, or crab — many often served over rice.
In Fort Lauderdale, the fast-casual concept by chef-owner Michael Ritzer specializes in several such poke bowls — and for the sushi lovers, made-to-order burritos too — using ingredients inspired by the Hawaiian islands' most famous dish, priced from $11.95 to $15.95.
The menu offers several signature recipes, ingredients combined to deliver a well-paired flavor profile that you can buy by the bowl or burrito. There's the Kona, consisting of fat cubes of spicy tuna matched up with edamame, turnip, green onion, carrot, banana peppers, sesame seeds, and finished with a spicy mayo. The Maui lets you sample raw salmon in place of tuna, a bowl prepared with avocado, mango, cucumber, masago, soy ginger, and red cabbage.
If you like it hot, the Lu'Au adds a touch of heat to the mix, offering tuna with seaweed salad, jalapeño, edamame, sesame seeds, crispy onion shoots, and carrot finished with a sriracha chile sauce. Don't eat fish? The Vegimite subs teriyaki baked tofu in place of raw fish, along with cucumber, sesame seeds, white onion, seaweed salad, corn, carrots, and a wasabi aioli.
Or go the do-it-yourself route and create your own bowl or burrito. It starts with a choice of white rice, brown rice, or a spring salad mix. From there, pick your protein: tuna, mashed tuna, salmon, imitation crab meat, or tofu. Next, add a sauce like spicy mayo, honey soy, sriracha, eel, shoyu, or lime juice.
You can trick out your bowl or burrito with a selection of more than 20 additional offerings, from traditional poke accoutrement like green onion and cucumber to more Floridian-inspired ingredients like mango and orange. If you're in the mood for a little added texture, the menu also offers a few items filed under "crunch factor" at no extra charge, from sliced almonds, roasted seaweed, and Terra sweet potato chips to toasted sesame seeds, chow mein noodles, and crispy onions.
For Ritzer, the fast-casual poke restaurant is more than just a popular emerging food trend; it's easy fare for guests to customize while offering a healthy meal option.
Raw Poke Bar. 1304 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale; 954-903-7752,; rawpokebar.com.
Nicole Danna is a food writer covering Broward and Palm Beach counties. To get the latest in food and drink news in South Florida, follow her @SoFloNicole or find her latest food pics on the BPB New Times Food & Drink Instagram.