- Jessica Elizarraras
- Ingredients available at Po-Ke Planet include (left to right and top to bottom) edamame, shredded carrots, cabbage slaw, sliced jalapeno, miso garlic sauce, ramen noodles, seaweed salad, raw tuna, raw salmon, chicharrones, soy reduction, spicy Kraken sauce, creamy cilantro sauce, cucumbers, wasabi peas.
Poke — it rhymes with “okay” — started out as a way for Hawaiian fishermen to snack on the day’s catch. Since jumping to the U.S. mainland a few years ago, it’s become a sushi bar staple and popped up everywhere from the San Antonio’s Shuck Shack to the grab-and-go coolers at H-E-B.
And since July 2017, three poke-focused restaurants are giving the dish a build-your-own approach, much like a sandwich or burrito place. Customers pick their proteins — tuna and salmon and their spiced-up versions are common choices — and servers behind the counter add rice, fresh vegetables, sauces and toppings.
But with prices around $10 for a poke bowl, it helps to make smart choices as you go down the line. Too heavy on the sauce and you end up with something gloppy and overdressed. Take a pass on unfamiliar ingredients and you may miss tastes and textures that are part of the fun.
“With good food, you’re looking for flavor, freshness and texture — that’s what they say constitutes the perfect bite,” said Angie Bridges, owner of Po-Ke Planet, 7302 Louis Pasteur Drive, Suite 103, the newest such place to open in the Alamo City. “And poke really is about all three of those things.”
We asked Bridges and her husband Jeff, who also run Copa Wine Bar, to guide us through putting together the ideal poke bowl:
Remember it’s not just raw fish
If the prospect of raw tuna is daunting, remember most poke places also offer cooked seafood options such as shrimp. And if seafood’s still not doing it for you, the eateries also have options to please vegetarians (tofu) and carnivores alike. In Po-Ke Planet’s case, one of the meat options is a puro San Anto al pastor-style pork.
Keep it colorful
Just like your doc tells you that a variety of colors on your plate indicates a nutritionally balanced meal, a rainbow in your poke bowl is the best way to guarantee a medley of flavors and textures. Poke is all about fresh, simple flavors, so make sure to let those vegetables shine. “Color and texture are vital,” Angie said.
Don’t slop on the sauce
A drizzle of dressing is one of poke’s key components — a mix of soy sauce and sesame oil is traditional — but remember a little goes a long way. Since freshness is poke’s big appeal, trust your server to add just the right amount and don’t muddle it under layers of goop. If you’re worried a super spicy sauce may incinerate your taste buds or a creamy one may be too rich, ask for a sample. “People think more is more, but some editing can be a good idea, especially with the sauce,” Jeff says.
Crown it with crunch
Texture peps up your poke, so don’t neglect the final construction phase: adding the crunchy bits. Fried onions, sesame seeds and dried seaweed are all safe bets, but if you’re the adventurous type, why not go for the Flamin’ Hot Cheetos or chicharrones (the latter’s a Po-Ke Planet option). Just remember, some toppings are on the salty side, so don’t overdo them and throw off the balance of your bowl.
Ask your server
As with many Hawaiian dishes, poke draws heavily on Asian flavors. If those ingredients are new to you, ask the server to clue you in. Who knows, those slices of pickled daikon may be that craving you haven’t yet discovered. “We want to be here to hold your hand if you’re a first-timer,” Angie said. “We also want you to know this is super customizable.”
Mix it up
While poke places tend to put a big emphasis on presentation, don’t be shy about undoing their hard work by mixing your bowl up once you sit down. That’s the best way to make ensure you get variety in each bite. But if you’re one of those anal types who doesn’t want to ruin something pretty, feel free to pick at it piece by piece. It’s all about what makes you happy.
Start with a signature
If you’re still not feeling ready to be the Poke Boss, order one of a restaurant’s signature bowls — typically, they run the gamut from the traditional to the way out (remember that al pastor-style pork?). Slaked with the new experience, you’ll find your favorites and be ready to build on them next time.