Aloha to Something Different
By Erin Zeltner
Since moving from Southern California to St. George, I’ve really only missed three things: the ocean, the miles of coastal bike trails, and the ethnically-diverse cuisine. So when I saw online reviews touting a poke spot, I knew it was a must-visit. I met up with a friend for lunch at the little hole-in-the-wall restaurant near Croshaw’s Pies and Tom’s Deli called Hawaiian Poke Bowl.
Upon entering, we noticed a deli case with multiple trays of marinating poke. I began to worry that I might not choose the best flavors, but that fear was quickly dispelled by a happy, friendly woman named Roberta (who we later found out is the owner and from the island of Oahu). She cheerfully toured us through the many flavors of ahi tuna, shrimp, crab and octopus offered in the case, and gave samples as needed. My companion declined sampling—she dislikes fish and had never eaten raw sushi in her life. That all changed after Roberta told her that the Shoyu Ahi was recommended for a poke virgin to try. My friend tentatively placed it in her mouth, chewed it, swallowed it, and admitted with a chuckle that it “wasn’t bad.”
The place is fairly informal: The seating is burger-joint style but very clean, and meals are counter-served in plasticware. Customers have a choice of one or two flavors of fish atop a bowl of brown or white rice. (For those who do not like fish, traditional pork kālua is available as well.) Seaweed salad and tofu poke are other offerings I spied in the case.
In search for the perfect combo bowl, I sampled several options and was impressed with each. Every cubed piece had the perfect texture I had become accustomed to in larger cities—a clear result of high-quality, sushi-grade fish.
The Sweet and Spicy was delicious! The perfect choice for someone seeking mild heat and slight, balanced sweetness. I also thoroughly enjoyed Roberta’s take on Kimchi flavor, although a traditional Kimchi lover might be surprised, as hers is more Americanized—less tangy and low on fermentation. The Kimchi Shrimp, a cooked dish, had perfect texture and full flavor. (I plan on ordering this one on my next visit.) The Samoan Oka, ahi marinated in a coconut cream lime sauce, was intriguing for its mildly sweet and creamy texture.
For my bowl, I landed on the Kimchi Ahi, which had bits of fresh cabbage and quite a bit of spice, and the Furikake Ahi, infused with delicious nori (seaweed) flavor. After ordering, I was happy to find that we didn’t have to wait for our food. Roberta handed us our orders upon paying—perfect for a busy, health-conscious people on the run.
Our meals did not disappoint, and even though we got small bowls, it was plenty of food, and much heavier in the main dish portion than I would have expected. My friend’s pork dish was delicious—savory and traditional Hawaiian kālua.
By noon, customers were lining up for lunch. Roberta seemed to know them each by name, asking things like, “The usual, Jack?” and “You in the mood for something different, Robin?”
It got exponentially busier by the minute, and tables were nearly filled by 12:10. I’d recommend getting there well before noon or after 1:30 if you want some time to hem and haw over your choices, but even during the rush I watched as Roberta helped newcomers with their decision.
With spectacularly courteous and fast service, and a wide variety of delightfully-prepared seafood, my friend and I were thoroughly impressed with Hawaiian Poke Bowl. The next time you’re in the mood for sushi at lunchtime, I recommend you try something a little different and off the beaten path. You won’t be disappointed.
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