The appeal of Ono Poke: fresh, flavourful, healthy fare

With Edmonton’s seafood supply companies bringing in fresh fish from Iceland, New Zealand, and Canada’s West Coast, it is no surprise to see poke restaurants popping up.

Pronounced 'POH-kay,' poke is marinated raw fish loved by Hawaiians

These seafood-filled creations are a big hit with Edmonton AM food critic Twyla Campbell. (Twyla Campbell)

With Edmonton's seafood supply companies bringing in fresh fish from Iceland, New Zealand, and Canada's West Coast, it is no surprise to see poke restaurants popping up.

Poke, pronounced 'POH-kay,' is marinated raw fish that Hawaiians have been eating since before Captain Cook landed on their shores.

The word, in Hawaiian, roughly translates to "cut crosswise into pieces." Once sectioned, the fish is marinated in soy and sesame, tossed with seaweed and a host of other ingredients, and typically placed on rice or salad greens.

Edmonton chef Lawrence Hui jumped at the chance to combine his love of seafood with the opportunity to fill a food void in the opening of Ono Poke Co. at 10142 104th St.

But before he opened the doors, he headed to Ka'anapali Beach on Maui and spent time touring, tasting, working and even surfing alongside some of Hawaii's most respected chefs.

Bowl checks all the boxes

Though many poke joints offer a build-your-own bar with various proteins and toppings to choose from, Hui's menu is chef-driven, meaning you leave the creations to him.

With six mainstays and two daily features, the selection is small but well thought out, and what Hui offers should appeal to almost every palate.

The base for all bowls is a choice of rice, quinoa or salad greens.

The Ono Poke, considered the original poke combination, is a mix of marinated ahi tuna, ginger, seaweed, sea asparagus, green onion, macadamia nut and an Asian slaw of red cabbage, daikon carrot, and cilantro.

At first bite, the soy sauce and sesame dominates, and then the umami-packed sea asparagus and seaweed kick in, heightening the nuances of various herbs and vegetables.

The Macadamia nuts offer a crunchy, buttery surprise. This bowl checks all the boxes. 

Uncle Tom's Surf Poke is named after Tom Muromoto, executive chef of the Ka'anapali Beach Hotel. Hui surfed alongside Muromoto during his Hawaiian reconnaissance mission.

This bowl once again showcases ahi tuna, but has tobiko, onions, cucumber, edamame beans, micro greens, sea asparagus and a smattering of puffy, crunchy wasabi crab chips.

The tiny orange beads of tobiko not only look pretty, they add an element of amusement, popping and clicking against teeth and tongue. If I had to choose one bowl to end all bowls, Uncle Tom's would be the one.

Those who shun seafood will be pleased with the Prairie Luau bowl, the spiciest of all the pokes. It's packed with gochujang marinated braised pork, Chinese black mushroom, cucumber, onion, house-made kimchi and a sprinkling of cilantro to bring alive (even more) the flavour of this meaty mix.

Each table hosts a bottle of Hawaiian chili water, a vinegar-based condiment spiked with Thai chili, garlic and sweetened with sugar.

Do not forgo this fire water; a few splashes added to the poke brings all the flavours to the yard — and beyond.

Vegans and those with gluten issues are not forgotten.

The Beet Poke features yellow and red beets with quinoa, and a generous portion of sweet peppers, edamame beans, macadamia nuts, chili oil, seaweed salad, cucumber, green onion, cilantro and rosemary.

Ono means delicious

Depending on the day, the special feature protein might be surf clam, sea bream or both. I'd be tempted to stand in line daily for sea bream poke.

Its subtle flavour and appealing texture is the reason you're seeing it on an increasing number of menus around the city.

Grab a bag of baked, crispy taro chips for later, or use them to scoop up the ingredients if chopsticks cause you grief.

Once Ono Poke is licensed to sell beer, sharing a bag of taro chips and a brew on the sidewalk patio will be a popular pastime.

Don't be surprised if I pull up with my own chair and join you; I expect Ono Poke's patio to be a hot ticket.

By the way — "ono" in Hawaiian means "delicious"— and it is.

You can hear Campbell's reviews on Edmonton AM every second Friday. You can also see more of her reviews on her blog, Weird Wild and Wonderful, and can follow her on Twitter at @wanderwoman10.