In almost every cuisine, there’s a dish that’s served raw –– like Italian carpaccio, French steak tartare, Japanese sashimi, and Korean hoedeopbap (usually some kind of white fish). To the list of cuisine for culinary risk-takers, add the Hawaiian poke, available locally at Arlington’s Ahi Poke Bowl.
Poke (pronounced poh-kay) is a snack made by fileting and chopping the catch of the day. Unlike thinly sliced sashimi, poke is cut into bite-sized chunks, sometimes salted or mixed with sauce. In Hawaii, poke is likely to be served in a plastic cup. At Ahi Poke Bowl, the fish and toppings are served with either rice or salad, making the bowl more meal than appetizer.
Ahi Poke Bowl
[box_info]3701 Cooper St, Ste 139, Arlington. 817-200-6418. 12-8pm Sun, 11am-9pm Mon-Sat. All major credit cards accepted.[/box_info]
The ordering process is spelled out on the chalkboard menu, but when my guest and I stopped by for lunch the other day the nice guys behind the counter were happy to walk us through the options. The place is like an extremely fancy Subway, albeit with more interesting food choices. A small bowl included two scoops of poke, and a large bowl came with three scoops. Choose a base: white or brown rice, salad, or a combination of rice and salad. Pick your poke, which included Hamachi (yellowfin tuna), raw or cooked salmon, cooked popcorn shrimp, tofu, and a choice of spicy, soy, or plain ahi tuna. Select up to five toppings from the list of salad fixins, masago (roe), and “crabmeat” (the faux crab you see most often in sushi restaurants as part of a California Roll or included in a seafood tower). Finally, add several optional condiments, including wasabi or soy sauce, a special Ahi sauce, which turned out to have a soy/gingery flavor, or the Sriracha-tinged spicy mayo.
My dining companion was a little leery of raw fish served in a strip mall restaurant in Arlington, so she chose two scoops of fried salmon on a brown rice base and topped that with the crab, masago, and seaweed salad. The end result was like a deconstructed sushi roll, minus the nori wrapper. Served cold, the fried fish wasn’t bad, but the cooking robbed the dainty cubes of their flavor. Fortunately, the delicious, spicy pink mayo tasted good on pretty much everything. The salty masago gave every bite a nice soft crunch. The only thing that was even the least bit mediocre was the seaweed salad, and that was just because of its slimy texture.
Everything looked fresh, and there was no old seafood smell haunting the restaurant, so it seemed reasonable to triple down with raw salmon, the house Hawaii ahi tuna, and Hamachi in a bowl of mixed white rice and salad. The bright pink salmon was the most recognizable of the options and was served with no spices or dressing, as was the pale white Hamachi. Both were flawlessly fresh. The Hawaii ahi tuna was a mixture of raw fish, onions, and a soy-based sauce, which may have pickled the meat a little. The sweet, fresh salmon combined well with the Ahi sauce, although the fish didn’t need augmentation. Ditto the Hamachi with the Sriracha mayo. The Hawaii tuna’s oniony goodness was fine all by itself. I picked a mixed salad and rice base and wished I hadn’t: There wasn’t enough sauce to both dress the salad and cover the sticky white rice.
For dessert, Ahi Poke Bowl offers real fruit popsicles, tiramisu in little take-out containers, and several flavors of macaroons that ranged from common (strawberry, vanilla) to the unusual (Taro, durian). The durian macaroon called to me like a double-dog dare. The sweet, soft, slightly crumbly pink outer crust gave way to a filling that was reminiscent of a strong Brie cheese –– ultimately not unpleasant, and it definitely did not smell like its namesake fruit.
Last year, Bon Appétit magazine declared that poke was en vogue, not just on the West Coast but in places like New York and Chicago. It figures that it’d take the cuisine a minute to get to Tarrant County. At Ahi Poke Bowl, you’ll get immaculately fresh, gorgeously presented seafood served by friendly people who plainly love sharing the cuisine.
[box_info]Ahi Poke Bowl
Small bowl (2 options) $8.50
Large bowl (3 options) $10.95