Poke popularity proceeds apace.
Poke, pronounced poh-kay but not spelled with an accent mark, because Hawaiian, is the meal in a bowl option that usually features fresh raw fish as its prominent protein.
Poke Hana is one of the more recent entries among the the local poke providers. It occupies a rather spartan but colorful spot in a storefront on East Colonial Drive in the Mills 50 district. One supposes the decor is meant to approximate a beachside shack somewhere in Hawaii. There are long narrow tables (too narrow, really, for two people to sit across from one another) with yellow and white metal chairs that no one would ever look at and think, “Boy, those sure look comfortable.” Touches of neon, ceiling fans with a rattan look, and a projector splashing a video of surfers on one of the walls completes the Maui-like mien.
Like most poke places, Hana is an assemblage concept. That means you must place your order at the counter and choose all of the components that will go into your bowl: The base (white rice, brown rice or greens); the protein (fresh ahi, fresh salmon, hamachi, tako (octopus), fried tofu); and the sauce (Maui, shoyu, spicy, kimchee). I guess you’re supposed to know the differences among the sauces because no explanation is written anywhere.
I went white, half ahi/half hamachi, and kimchee. The bowls also include thinly sliced pickled cucumbers, seaweed salad and big green edamame beans, all served with a sprinkling of sesame seeds.
It was a prettily assembled bowl and an ample amount of food. I had intended to eat just a few bites then take the rest home for later, but I enjoyed the freshness of the fish and the just spicy enough kimchee sauce that I pretty much finished the whole thing off right there.
And I even had room to nibble on a Spam Musubi, a compact presentation of a slice of Spam, the meat that has somehow managed to live on in a world that hates its email namesake, compressed sushi rice, within a wrapper of crisp nori. A pleasant nibble.
There were a few young people staffing the restaurant on the evening I visited but apparently only one had been designated to be the friendly one to greet customers. But even that young man seemed lost in how to communicate with strangers. The others largely ignored the fact that people had come into their establishment to give them money.
I’m fine with the continuance of the poke fad. I hope it becomes more than that. It reminds me a little of the period when non-Japanese Asian — Thai, Chinese, Korean — restaurants started offering sushi because sushi was suddenly very popular. At first I was annoyed, thinking that sushi should be left to well-trained masters. But then I realized that introducing fresh fish to a menu — any menu — was a good thing.
Poke restaurants are a good thing, too.
Poke Hana is at 1225 E. Colonial Drive, Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. The phone number is 407-601-0283.