Monday, January 23, 2012

Gotta Catch 'Em All, Pokemon!

About four months ago, I took an amazing trip to the island of Oahu. And as I was food-planning weeks before my date of arrival, I knew that I wanted to set aside an entire day for one of my favorite Hawaiian dishes: poke. I present to you, Poke Day.

I can't say I came up with this genius idea on my own. In fact, this was pretty much an exact reiteration of eat drink + be merry's poke party, down to many of the sources and selections. If you haven't subscribed to his beautiful blog, or his wife's incredible blog, Oishii Eats, then you haven't properly utilized the Internet.

View Poke Day in a larger map

The goal? To eat as much poke from as many well-respected locations as possible. And to emulate the poke party post as much as possible. And to do this all in time to catch the sunset on the west side of the island. My friends and I were looking to start this thing bright and early, but as far as being on vacation in Hawaii goes, I'd say 11 o' clock was pretty bright and early.

In the interest of not boring you to death, I'll keep my thoughts and descriptions short.

First up, Tamura's. An awesome beer, wine, liquor, and naturally, poke purveyor.

Fresh Ahi Wasabi. If you like wasabi, get this in your mouth. The consistency was a little bit slimy from whatever pickled vegetable they used and actually had a little bit of a shiitake mushroom aftertaste. Probably my least favorite of the Tamura clan.

Fresh Ahi Limu. Ahi is the tuna we all know and love. Limu is the Hawaiian word for a crunchy, briny algae. This cup had a great balance of scallions, garlic, and soy. The limu was the perfect textual contrast to the fresh, melt-in-your-mouth ahi. Easily my favorite Tamura offspring.

Tako Limu. The octopus was perfect. Not too chewy, but still toothsome. The limu added that same textural contrast that the Ahi Limu had, and the bright, crisp onions brought some punch to the overall oceanic flavors of the cup.

Round two: Ono Seafood. Difficult to find if you don't know to look for this bright blue building attached to an apartment complex.

Service here is exceptionally great, and the wide range of selections is admirable.

At the owner's suggestion, we got three quarter-pounds of delicious poke.

Miso Ahi. The miso dressing was exactly what I wanted it to be: sweet, salty, and a little bit spicy. I could have used a little bit more miso in this one. The limu and onions were starting to become an all-too-familiar commonality to the poke we at that day.

Shoyu Tako. This one was a bit too salty at parts, but the umami flavor that the octopus took on was pretty amazing. Limu and onion making their usual crunchy appearances.

Spicy Ahi. This was definitely the best of the trio. Nice and creamy like a dynamite sauce interlaced with masago and great kick from the onions and green onions. The actual ahi was particularly fresh and flavorful.

Everything had a bit more salt and a bit more spice than what we had at Tamura's, in a very good way. Everything was a bit more flavorful as well. But we couldn't leave without getting some of their interesting takes on jerky.

So I went back in, browsed the well-stocked fridge, and picked out a few to snack on for the road.

Smoked Marlin. Tasted surprisingly fatty and the smokiness really came through. The inner-texture wasn't very different from a grilled marlin, while the exterior took on a toothsome, familiar, jerky-like texture.

Smoked Tako. These little disks of smoked octopus were outrageously addictive. Each piece had the perfect amount of chew, and the actual flavor was similar to the flavor you get from a piece of dried octopus or squid when you grill them over a fire. Amazing stuff and a perfect snack to accompany some beer.

Tuna Jerky. The tuna jerky was a little bit too stiff for my liking. The actual flavor, though, was pretty good. Imagine the flavor you get with a seared tuna, intensified by a multiple of 100. The intensity and jawful texture made the jerky difficult to enjoy.

Shoyu Ahi. As I brought my bags of jerky and smoked goods to the counter to pay, the owner insisted that I have a cup of shoyu ahi, on the house. I mean, really? Who could say no to that? And I'm glad she shared this precious little quarter-pound of deliciousness with me. A little bit spicier and saltier than the Miso Ahi, but not by much. The rich shoyu they use for this preparation is incredibly flavorful and rich--a perfect balance with the clean, fresh cuts of ahi. Next to the Spicy Ahi, this was definitely my favorite from Ono Seafood.

Next up, Ono Hawaiian Food, another small hole-in-the wall joint serving a wide range of Hawaiian food, along with some basic, clean poke.

The interior is extremely friendly and filled with regulars, which made me feel out-of-place, but entirely welcome at the same time.

Lomi Fish with Onions. That day, they featured ahi tuna, which, believe it or not, still sounded amazing.

This was the single preparation that day that was unadulterated by a salty or sweet sauce. Just the fish, lumi, and a side of onions and hot chili sauce. This was the only place where we were able to fully appreciate the fresh catch of ahi tuna, and goodness, this was some darn good ahi. The cuts of ahi were extremely generous and the fish were just barely touched with a restrained pinch of salt. A good cleanser to round out our third stop.

After a serious dose of mercury, we had to balance things out in our systems with some malasadas from Leonard's.

And some shaved ice from Waiola. No questions asked. It made perfect sense at the time. And now.

Round four was Tamashiro Market. I was really exited for this one because it's particularly famous for their seafood and poke. Unfortunately, maybe because it was nearing the end of the day, or maybe because it was just an off day, most of the poke we had from Tamashiro was overly oily and slimy.

Aku Green Onion Poke. The aku, or skipjack tuna, was bright, tender, and flavorful. The seasoning was light on this preparation, and the flavor was there, but the fish itself took on a slimy texture that, to me, signals old fish or a lazy preparation of raw fish. I'm not talking about the sliminess you get from the fish being so fatty. I'm talking about that sticky, slimy texture you get when you break down a fish too hastily, allowing too much of the oil to sink into the meat and fester until eaten.

Kajiki Onion Poke. The kajiki, or blue marlin, was firm and noticeably fattier than some of the other poke we had that day. Unfortunately, this was also the slimiest, and not in the good way either. The actual marlin was fantastic, but again, the slimy and oily texture made the raw fish's flavor less prominent. I like slimy things, but this was a little much. Like I said, the fish and hints of toasted sesame were great though.

Smoked Salmon. The smoked salmon packed a punch of flavor and melted in my mouth. The green onion and crispy white onion added a little bit of texture, but the cup, overall, was still over-seasoned and too oily.

Our final poke stop of the day was Alicia's Market. We wanted to fit in Foodland that day as well, but in the interest of making a drive out to the west coast of Oahu before the sunset, we sacrificed going to Foodland.

After mourning our sacrifice for a few minutes, we entered one of Hawaii's friendliest markets. In the back of the market was a huge display of meats and seafood prepared in countless ways. Though the person behind the counter couldn't stop from recommending almost every single form of poke available, we took a few samples and settled with two. We wanted to try more, but our stomachs were brimming with raw seafood.

Ahi Lomi. Solid. And after an entire day of eating poke, this one still held its own. Some bites were a bit too salty for me, but overall, the fish was surprisingly still fresh for how late it was in the day, and the salty and slightly spicy lomi did what every other lomi did that day.

Wasabi Masago. This is the one the person behind the counter wholeheartedly recommended, and his recommendation was spot on. The cup was flooded with masago, clinging to each beautiful gem of tuna. The masago was laced with the perfect dash of wasabi, enough to reach the back of your nose, but not enough to prevent you from taking another bite.

With just enough time to grab a six-pack of Kona Longboards, we headed to Maili on the west coast to catch one of the most stunning sunsets I've ever seen. As I watched the sun set into the ocean from which most of what we ate that day came, I couldn't help but appreciate how perfect everything was. A full belly, great company, and warm weather to help bring an end to another perfect day in Hawaii.

But wait! Just because we didn't go to Foodland on Poke Day doesn't mean we couldn't enjoy their poke selection another day. And that's exactly what we did on the way to the airport.

Foodland's poke selection was everything I dreamed of, and more. So many varieties to choose from, and all of them looked and sounded amazing. Maybe it's because I had had a two-day withdrawal from poke after Poke Day, but come one, those look fan-freaking-tastic, even from this distance.

Garlic Black Pepper Edamame. I got these on a friend's recommendation, and lordie, these were amazing. Garlic, black pepper, some salt, and a good chunk of red pepper made each bite of this edamame simply addictive. And licking all that off of my fingers wasn't so bad either.

Ahi Poke Secret Spicy. If advertisers know anything, it's that the word "secret" will make me buy almost anything. And with this bowl of poke, I'm guessing the secret was either sriracha or tabasco. Beyond the mystery was a beautiful mixture of spice and fresh ahi. The spice wasn't too overwhelming, and the green onions and garlic brought a lot to the experience. Great stuff, but you probably won't find James Bond going after this stuff.

Ahi Poke. So, so classic. Nothing new to report on this standard, other than the fact that this rendition was particularly flavorful, featuring a restrained and skillful use of shoyu. This isn't as salty as some of the other shoyu ahi pokes I had had the other day, but I think I like it better this way.

California Roll Poke. This was probably my favorite of the bunch that day. I know, I know. Poke fun at me for liking the most mainland, overused excuse for sushi, or Japanese food in general, but this was damn good. The masago and classically familiar sauce was fantastic. Add in some delicious ahi tuna and you've got yourself a serious flavor bomb. This is what I think California rolls aspire to be, but unfortunately, you can't quite get to this level of awesomeness with artificial crab meat or mutilated spicy tuna (hey, I love spicy tuna as much as the next person).

Spicy Ahi Poke. We had this last one with some Ahi Poke and California Roll Poke over a bowl of rice. Heaven. I still prefer to have poke without rice, but this combination was undeniably delicious. Despite being previously frozen, the Spicy Ahi Poke was creamy and fresh with just the right kick of spice to break through the heaviness of the cream.

The clear winners of Poke Day were Ono Seafood and Foodland, followed closely by Alicia's. I would definitely go to Tamura's at some point, at least to check out the beer selection (their Morimoto Soba Signature Ale by Rogue Brewery is fantastic). If you have time, hit up Ono Hawaiian Foods for something clean and refreshing. And finally, I would save Tamashiro for last. If you do go, try going earlier in the day for fresher fare and let me know if you have a better experience.

With probably more than 151 pieces of poke in my belly, I left the island of Oahu, already aching for more poke. This must be what Ash feels like every time he catches a new pokemon--aching for more pokemon.

Expect to hear more from this trip. I've got a handful of other places I want to share, along with another Napa post, so keep an eye out for those in the near future.

But because I can hardly contain myself, for my next post, I'm going to jump ahead in time to a much more recent meal. A meal that blew my mind this past Friday. A meal that will haunt me for months to come. A meal that will require, unfortunately, another long post. But you'll appreciate it. I promise.

I'll leave you with one hint.


Tamura's Fine Wine & Liquors
3496 Waialae Ave.
Honolulu, HI 96816
(808) 735-7100
GET: Fresh Ahi Limu; Tako Limu.

Ono Seafood
747 Kapahulu Ave., Apt. 4
Honolulu, HI 96816
(808) 732-4806
GET: Spicy Ahi; Shoyu Ahi; Shoyu Tako; Smoked Tako.

Ono Hawaiian Foods
726 Kapahulu Ave.
Honolulu, HI 96816
(808) 737-2275
GET: Lomi Fish with Onions.

Tamashiro Market
802 N King St.
Honolulu, HI 96817
(808) 841-8047
GET: Kajiki Onion Poke.

Alicia's Market
267 Mokauea St.
Honolulu, HI 96819
(808) 841-1921
GET: Wasabi Masago.

2939 Harding Ave.
Honolulu, HI 96816
(808) 734-6303
GET: Garlic Black Pepper Edamame; Spicy Ahi Poke; Ahi Poke; California Roll Poke.

1 comment:

  1. Want them. Bookmarking for Hawaii in May! Also, ALINEA???? You lucky beast.


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