Chow Town

Poke, mon! 5 Hawaiian raw fish dishes to try in KC, plus a recipe for home

Update: Bistro 913 has closed.


Surf’s up Kansas City.

The Hawaiian poke craze is making big waves. Nation’s Restaurant News declares “Poke Sweeps the Nation.” USA Today calls poke bowls “the new sushi.” Business Insider predicts poke is “the next big thing in fast food.”

So stop being a poke paddlepuss: To loosely borrow a bit of surfer lingo, you don’t want be that dude who misses out on the tastiest trends because you wimped out.

What to know about poke

Poke (prounounced POH-kay, rhymes with OK) is typically served raw. The fish is cubed, usually tuna, sometimes salmon, and even shrimp, scallops or octopus. The chopped seafood is mixed with seaweed, dressed with a soy-based sauce and sprinkled with sesame seeds and seasonings.

Poke is most often served as a salad or an appetizer. Bowls are so common in Hawaii that you can buy poke in gas stations.

When it comes to “authentic” poke …

Steve Nguyen opened Bistro 913 in Overland Park in 2016, as the trend was just starting to take fin. He wasn’t sure Midwestern landlubbers were ready to go Hawaiian, so he also offered a separate menu of Vietnamese dishes.

Nguyen grew up in Hawaii, where his Vietnamese mother owns Ono Seafood, a humble poke shop near Diamond Head that mixes raw fish dishes to-go. The shop was featured in The Wall Street Journal last summer, and Nguyen proudly displays a newspaper clipping on the wall at his restaurant.

Bistro 913’s poke dishes start with a choice of tuna, salmon, shrimp, octopus or scallops. Sauces to choose from include shoyu, miso, Hawaiian (seasoned rock salt, chili pepper flakes, sesame oil), spicy (a mayo-based sauce) and Korean (a sesame oil and shoyu-based sauce).

There’s a ton of creativity going on with this dish, but Nguyen has two hard-and-fast rules: The seafood has to be fresh, and the accompaniments should be Asian. The dish may include Hawaiian kukui nuts, bits of ripe avocado (if affordable, thanks all you avocado toast fans for driving the prices up) and pieces of bright pink pickled ginger.

Nguyen draws the line at tropical fruits such as pineapple and mango. He’s also not a fan of less expensive, non-seaweed fillers, such as bean sprouts or leaf lettuce. He pays the higher price for Hawaiian seaweed that “has an ocean smell” whenever possible.

What are poke bowls?

“Poke is fresh, clean and simple to make,” says Jacquie Brockhoff, a sales manager at Seattle Fish Co. (To read more about how fresh seafood arrives in the Midwest, click here.)

Protein-packed poke bowls are especially popular with health-conscious consumers. The bowls also appeal to younger consumers who want to personalize their meals.

Many of the stores Seattle Fish Co. supplies are adding poke bars, similar to a do-it-yourself salad bar, or a Chipotle-style assembly line system.

On a recent July afternoon, as Brockhoff helped store personnel set up the elaborate seafood-on-ice display at Cosentino’s Market at 160th Street in Overland Park for the store’s grand opening, three consumers stopped by to ask how to make their own poke bowls.

To try this at home, here’s what you need to know

Either fresh or frozen fish works, Brockhoff says, but when you are eating raw seafood it’s important to ask for No. 1 sashimi-grade fish, sometimes referred to as “sushi grade.”

The James Beard Foundation showcases a recipe from “Top Chef” finalist and island native Sheldon Simeon. Simeon’s version of poke places an emphasis on sustainable fish (he uses Pacific blue marlin). He adds cucumber and avocado to the mix.

Even Microplane knows when surf’s up.

The maker of surgical steel hand-held paddle graters designed for the home cook has begun promoting its new Gourmet Large Shaver ($16.95) as the perfect tool to create ribbons of radish, carrot and cucumber for poke. In a press release, Microplance calls the dish the “perfect no-cook dish for steamy summer days.”

5 poke dishes to try

1. Bistro 913 (7702 Shawnee Mission Parkway, Overland Park)

What to try: There are many variations on the poke theme here, but no bowls. Try the salmon (for a change of pace) with Hawaiian seasonings: rock salt, chili pepper flakes, sesame oil, Hawaiian seaweed, cabbage and white and green onions.

Jill’s tasting notes: I loved the texture of the seaweed on this dish and the Hawaiian salt gives it added salinity and crunch. An appetizer salad is $9.95. Poke is also available as an entree with steamed rice, steamed vegetables and a choice of salads for $14.95.

What to try: The Big Eye Tuna Poke starter comes with sea kelp, pea shoots, macadamia nuts, candied ginger, with a drizzle of yuzu-avocado-mayo and microgreens with 7-spice wonton chips for $14.

Jill’s tasting notes: This is a fairly small portion of bright red, very fresh tuna. I was really captivated by the luxurious buttery crunch of the Hawaiian macadamia nut and the sweet-spicy zing of candied ginger. I’m not so much a fan of the crispy wonton, which I think detracts from the fish, although it’s a common preparation, showing up on some menus as poke nachos and poke tacos.

3. Bob Wasabi Kitchen (1726 W. 39th St.)

What to try: This hearty bowl features ahi tuna sashimi poke with cucumber, avocado and radish sprouts and a soy vinaigrette for $20. There’s also a spicy fish bowl with mixed sashimi and veggies and a spicy Korean sauce for $23.

Jill’s tasting notes: This fish was so, so fresh, but I wished the poke bowl had a bit more seasoning. I preferred the spicy version (technically a Korean heh-duhp bap). Stir it all the way through, my server advised, adding the chef could tone it down if necessary. It comes with the extra fish-egg pop on top. I’m no heat seeker but I dream about that dish and can’t wait to eat it again.

4. Cosentino’s Market (8051 W. 160th St., Overland Park)

What to try: The Classic Hawaiian poke bowl in refrigerator cases by the seafood counter includes chopped tuna, white rice, leaf lettuce, edamame, carrot shreds and sesame seeds for $8.99.

Jill’s tasting notes: The fish was fresh, but overall the dish was a bit dry for my taste. Was my bowl missing the dressing? I kept looking for soy sauce in the condiment bank of the food court, but alas there was none. And I was not down with lettuce in my bowl, but I’d try the version with cubed mango next time.

5. Unbakery & Juicery (634 E. 63rd St.)

What to try: Poke gets a healthy — and incredibly beautiful — spin. Instead of white rice the bowl subs in brown quinoa and ups the freshness quotient with a colorful medley of diced mango, peas and pickled ginger. Planks of seared tuna and a drizzle (be careful not to drench it or you will overpower the fish) of tamari dressing make up this $9 dish.

Jill’s tasting notes: The vibrant colors nestled in this bowl made me want to shout “Cowabunga!” Purists may bristle that the poke is sliced rather than chopped and seared rather than raw, but it also might be the best way for those squeamish about raw fish to give it a try.

For the same price as a supermarket version, the freshness, taste and texture of the accompaniments make this an example of what fast-casual should aspire to achieve. I walked away with a serving of grains (well, technically seeds) and I found the quinoa more satisfying than white rice. Another plus: I ordered ahead and picked up the bowl in the drive-thru.

To reach The Star’s James Beard award-winning food editor Jill Wendholt Silva: 816-234-4395, @kcstarfood

Sheldon Simeon of Tin Roof in Maui, “an avid promoter of sustainable seafood, emphasizes the importance of sourcing the right kind of fish. Here he calls for Pacific blue marlin, which Monterey Bay’s Seafood Watch rates as a ‘good alternative,’ ” the James Beard Foundation’s Maggie Borden writes. By slightly searing the fish, the Top Chef finalist adds another layer of texture and flavor to his spin on the Hawaiian hit, she says.

Wok-Fried Poke

Makes 4 servings

1 pound sashimi-grade Pacific blue marlin cut into 3/4-inch cubes

1 tablespoon premium oyster sauce

1 tablespoon Yamasa soy sauce

1 tablespoon sesame oil

2 teaspoons sambal oelek

1/2 teaspoon Hawaiian sea salt

1 teaspoon minced ginger (or grated on a microplane)

1 tablespoon peanut oil

1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds

1/4 of a small sweet onion, julienned

1/4 cup finely chopped green onions

1 avocado, thinly sliced

1/2 English cucumber, thinly sliced

1/2 tomato, thinly sliced

In a medium bowl, place the marlin with the oyster sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, sambal, Hawaiian sea salt and ginger. Mix gently and thoroughly.

Place a wok over high heat and add the peanut oil. Once the oil starts to smoke slightly, add the seasoned marlin and cook for 10 seconds, tossing gently but frequently. Transfer the marlin to a serving bowl and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Top with the sweet and green onions, avocado, cucumber and tomato.

Per serving: 312 calories (59 percent from fat), 21 grams total fat (4 grams saturated), 45 milligrams cholesterol, 8 grams carbohydrates, 25 grams protein, 703 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.

Recipe source: James Beard Foundation