There was a time when the only place in Central Florida you could find sushi was in a Japanese restaurant. Then – I don’t know, maybe 15 years ago – it started to show up on the menus of Thai, Chinese and even American restaurants. Sushi was suddenly hot.
At first I took a purist view. Sushi, I argued, was an art that should only be performed by those who had painstakingly studied the craft. Then, a well-known restaurant consultant whose opinion I respected told me to get over myself. Sushi, he argued, was a good way to introduce fresh fish to a menu and in doing offer a healthful dining option.
That’s how I feel about today’s growing poke market. There are some people who still would not deign to try sushi, but put many of the same ingredients into a bowl and they’ll gladly partake.
One of the area’s newest poke purveyors is Island Fin Poké Company in Windermere. It’s a small storefront in the Grove shopping complex, and at first glance you might think the menu is rather small. But with three bases, eight protein options, and over 30 mix-ins, toppings and sauces, the variations are infinite. (Well, technically they’re finite but I can’t do the math.)
I was so overwhelmed by the choices that I just turned to owner Tommy Ramjattan and asked him to be creative. He prepared two bowls that seemed to have a little of everything, and all of it fresh and delicious.
The first bowl had a mix of white rice and spring greens with cubes of salmon, ahi tuna and spicy tuna, which is the ahi marinated in a jazzed up mayo that gives the fish a pleasant zing. There were also sweet onions and jalapeños marinated in soy sauce and olive and sesame oils, chewy edamame and toppings of cucumbers, mango, pineapple, pickled ginger, seaweed salad, creamy slices of avocado and crispy onions and wontons for a nice crunch. It was drizzled with togarashi sauce, which added a note of spiciness.
The other bowl had a brown rice base with slices of octopus and ceviche shrimp plus cubes of chicken, with corn, pickled veggies, including jalapeños, topped with shreds of surimi and a dollop of bright orange masago. It was finished with a sweet chili sauce called ono ono (say oh yes to ono ono) and crispy garlic and little puffs of toasted coconut. There were a few macadamia nuts thrown in, too.
On the beverage menu, Island Fin features a pineapple and orange swirle Dole whip and a line of Stubborn sodas (that’s the brand name, not a reference to the dispenser) that have no artificial colors or flavoring and are made with only natural cane sugar.
That fits in nicely with the rest of the menu. Because at the heart of it, poke is a healthful way to introduce fresh fish into your diet.
There are a couple of well-spaced picnic tables inside as well as outside. And the poke bowls travel very well for takeout.