The owners of The Poke Sushi Bowl had a hunch that the popular Hawaiian dish—poke—might go over well in Missoula. They just didn't know how well.
"We planned for 150 people, and we got 300 people," says Annie Kirk, co-owner of the new restaurant, which opened April 19 in the Hammond Building a few doors down from the Wilma.
Poke bowls have been a staple for years in Hawaii, where they're often consumed out of plastic cups at gas stations or beachside shacks. Poke bowls usually feature a base of rice topped with bright veggies and bite-sized chunks of fresh, sushi-grade raw fish ("poke"—pronounced poh-kay—means "to slice or cut" in Hawaiian), all doused in ponzu sauce (a blend of citrus juice, soy sauce and sesame oil). Kirk first tried the dish while honeymooning in Hawaii a few years ago.
"We thought, this would be great in Missoula," she says.
Poke is similar to ceviche, but where ceviche is a tart, spicy, chopped-fish salsa suited to scooping with tortilla chips, poke features a richer, more balanced flavor profile and makes for a great light lunch.
It's also trendy. Bon Appetit devoted a sizeable portion of its January issue to poke recipes.
- photo by Charlie Wybierala
In Missoula, Kirk opted for three protein options: ahi tuna, shrimp and tofu. The fish bowls will set you back $10 without add-ins, and the tofu bowls are $8. From there, decide if you want brown rice, white rice or salad greens as a base. Sides and toppings include crab, avocado, cucumber, dried seaweed, ginger and masago roe. Ask for a drizzle of one of the housemade aiolis or a ponzu-like "sweet Hawaiian" dressing over the top.
Kirk, who has more than 15 years of experience as a restaurant server, says she's still learning the ropes of operating a fast-casual joint. And there's an inherent challenge to selling fresh fish several hundred miles from the nearest tuna fishery: Her supplier flies in ahi once a day, and once she's out, she's out.
"So that was our biggest hurdle so far," Kirk says. "But now I have an idea of what I need to stock for: Order triple the food."
The Poke Sushi Bowl is openly daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Starters is a periodic column profiling new food businesses, trends and restaurants in and around Missoula. Send tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.