When in Hawaii eat what the Hawaiians eat.
I did a little research on Hawaiian fare while stuck at LAX waiting for my flight. Turns out, aside from the roasted whole pig so often featured in Hawaiian tourist rags, the other dish that seemed fairly popular was poke. Poke is a raw fish dish, usually tuna, cubed and tossed in some sauce.
Fortunately for me, in Kona, there were two restaurants focusing on poke.
Da Poke Shack is very small and somewhat difficult to find since its on the main drag but the sign is small enough that once you see it, you’ve gone too far. Mostly outdoor seating, as is the norm for Hawaii, but even that is limited to several picnic tables – good luck trying to nab one of those. Better to order takeaway and plant yourself along the beach. Da Poke Shack is wildly popular with the surf set, so expect an intimidating line but keep in mind it moves quickly and you can entertain yourself with an abundance of eye candy.
There were 8 different sauce-based combinations of cubed fish, while they all sounded good I went with the lighter flavoured sesame sauce mixed with tuna since I wasn’t sure the spicy pepper or wasabi sauces with tuna would allow for much tuna flavour. I thought that would be all the decisions I’d need to make but no. You need to decide which kind of rice and which side dish. Almost all of the side dishes were mussels or octopus, so I went with the creamy ginger mussels.
The poke itself was squeaky fresh and every bite of the tuna was buttery in consistency; the sesame sauce was light enough to let the tuna shine and added a little dimension – outstanding! I learned from one of the surfers in line that if you get there early enough you can actually see the fisherman delivering what will be on today’s menu – yes, that fresh. The mussels were steamed then coated in the ginger sauce – balanced with a dominant fresh ginger flavour but I also picked up a little garlic, green onion and sesame. It definitely paired well with the sesame tuna.
Da Poke Shack carries a variety of Aloha drinks with interesting tropical fruit flavours. While I’m not a fan of sugar based drinks, I couldn’t resist trying the Passion Fruit Orange soda. Definitely Passion Fruit dominant, which was good, but ultimately it was too sweet for me.
Its a counter order and pickup configuration. The line was long, like out the door long, but we only waited 20 minutes from line entry through the order and pickup. Everyone was very helpful, friendly and relaxed, which is the norm in Hawaii.
I had nearly a 1/2 pound of fresh, high-quality tuna and steamed mussels. The bill was a whopping $9. I was sure there was a mistake but this is the supply/demand principle in play. Tuna is abundant in Hawaii, therefore it costs less than expected. I confirmed this in a grocery store where I noticed fresh tuna was less expensive than chicken.
Lunch: December 2014
Da Poke Shack | 76-6246 Ali’i Dr | Kona HI 96740