Edmonton Restaurant Review: ‘Ono Poke Co.

The traditional ‘Ono Poke bowl.

As a food lover, it has been fantastic to see new restaurants popping up all over Edmonton. Within the last month, there have been about a handful of new establishments gracing our streets, including Ono Poke Co., which celebrates their grand opening today.

Located north of Jasper Avenue on 104 Street, the spacious shop will be open six days a week to serve guests. Although Ono Poke Co. is not the first to introduce the beloved Hawaiian dish of poke (raw fish salad) to Edmontonians, Executive Chef Lawrence Hui has taken a very different approach with his offerings.

Initial plans for Lawrence’s fast-casual restaurant were similar to Splash Poke‘s Build-Your-Own-Bowl concept. Yet, after an eye-opening trip to Maui at the beginning of May, Lawrence decided to focus on a chef-driven menu instead.

Chef Tom Muromoto imparting his wisdom on Chef Lawrence Hui. Photo by Liv Vors.

During Lawrence’s trip to the island, he stayed at the Ka’anapali Beach Hotel where their executive chef, Tom Muromoto, took Lawrence under his wing. In addition to teaching the history of poke and the best techniques to make it, Chef Muramoto also took Lawrence out surfing.

As Lawrence toured Maui, he also met with Chef Charlie Owen of Hula Grill Ka’anapali, Chef Jesse Anacleto of Roy’s Ka’anapali (named after Chef Roy Yamaguchi, the great pioneer and champion of Hawaiian cuisine) and Chef Ikaika Manaku of Mauka Makai at the Westin Nanea. Through and through, the hospitality of the island’s chefs shone. Each one gladly shared their version of “traditional” poke along with some modern takes that used different proteins such as beef, scallops, shrimp and beets.

It was through this educational experience that Lawrence came to fully understand the fusion of flavours in Hawaiian food. A combination of Filipino, Portuguese, Puerto Rican, Chinese, Korean and Japanese tastes and traditions can be deciphered and it’s that willingness to blend them all together that makes their dishes so unique.

As soon as Lawrence returned home, he scrapped his original idea and menu. Starting from scratch, he came up with a succinct list of items: ‘Ono Poke, The G.G., The Twitch in Tuna, Uncle Tom’s Surf Poke (inspired by and named after Chef Tom Muromoto), Prairie Luau and the vegan and gluten free Beet the Poke.

Crafting the samples of poke during our pre-opening event.

I had the opportunity to try a few of their dishes at a pre-opening event earlier this week and I was definitely impressed. What I loved most was how large and fresh the cubes of fish were. They were marinated to enhance the flavour rather than mask the taste of the seafood, which is so important when it comes to poke.

The ‘Ono (‘Ono means “delicious” and ono means “fish) Poke bowl is their most traditional offering. It utilizes Ahi tuna ─ yellowfin tuna that swims in warmer waters and is pinker in colour ─ with shoyu sauce, sesame oil, ginger, seaweed, white onion, macadamia nuts, Hawaiian salt, sea asparagus, green onion and their Asian slaw (red cabbage, daikon carrot and cilantro). Admittedly, I’m not a big fan of cilantro, but I felt that all the flavours and textures were there. As Lawrence said, it was imperative to ensure that there were layers to the bowls; each one needed to finish with some sort of crunch and had to have excellent palate profiles.

Uncle Tom’s Surf Poke

Uncle Tom’s Surf Poke was my personal favourite. This brought a creamier consistency to the tuna with the use of a spicy tobiko aioli instead of the shoyu sauce. White onion, cucumber, edamame beans, green onion, micro greens, sea asparagus and wasabi crab chips gave it several punches of colour and just a slight amount of pungency. It’s also the only selection on the menu that didn’t include cilantro in it. However, on a second visit, it was made with the herb sprinkled on top, so I’d definitely suggest letting the staff know to exclude any cilantro if there’s an aversion to the taste. In any case, the Surf Poke was a less salty offering and it felt pretty refreshing.

Prairie Luau

Of the three that I sampled, I’d say that the Prairie Luau fell in the middle for me. Rather than a protein of fish, it came with gochujang (red chili paste) marinated braised pork, gochujang vinaigrette, Chinese black fungus mushroom, cucumber, white onion, green onion, house-made kimchi (contains shrimp), chili oil and cilantro. It was certainly the spiciest option, but not in a way that scorched your taste buds. On the contrary, the pork was so succulent and the kimchi was fermented to bring out that balance of heat and acidity.

All of the bowls can be customized with a base of either short grain Japanese rice, salad greens or quinoa. Once the bowl is made and collected, I’d also recommend splashing some of their Hawaiian Chili Water into the mix as it adds a whole new dynamic to the dish.

The menu boards at ‘Ono Poke Co.

Even though the prices seem a tad high ($11.95 to $14.95 for a regular size bowl), the quality of the ingredients speak for themselves. Everything is prepared fresh daily and, if it can be made in-house, it is. Apart from the fully prepared bowls, there will even be containers of kimchi, shoyu japchae (sweet potato noodles and veggies) and fresh marinade poke, bags of house-made taro chips, and bottles of Hawaiian Chili Water for sale, so a feast can be laid out at home.

In a way, this spread of one of Hawaii’s most popular foods across the Pacific Ocean shows just how dynamic a place Edmonton is. If we can’t go to Hawaii, why not have the chance to familiarize ourselves with that State’s cuisines and culture right in our own back yard? I’m thankful that Ono Poke Co. is bringing us this authentic poke experience.

For Hawaiian’s, it’s typical to end the work day with some beer, snacks and poke. In fact, there are dozens of varieties of poke available (even in liquor stores). While the menu at Ono Poke Co. is a small one, Chef Lawrence and his team are doing their absolute best to pay tribute to their Hawaiian mentors. By providing the most genuine poke possible, I imagine that they’ve made all those Maui chefs proud.

Sou Chef Matt with Executive Chef Lawrence

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Lighten Your Load: Learning to Travel Compactly Through the Seasons

Heys 21″ Peacock Hardcase Luggage

I’ve once again gotten the travel bug. I used to fly away for leisure a few times annually, but in the last few years I’ve been lucky to have the time to take one trip per year. 2012 seems almost an anomaly having been to both Las Vegas and Toronto. Now, I’m anticipating my next holiday, whenever and wherever that may be. What strikes me everytime I’ve traveled with friends or whenever I visit anyone is that they always seem surprised to see how little I pack. I likewise am surprised when I look at their giant suitcases. Why carry such a large piece of luggage when all the things that are necessary can fit into carry-on sized baggage?

The explanations I’ve been given for packing heavy are 1) sometimes you don’t feel like wearing something you’ve packed and options are good, 2) you can never have enough shoes, and 3) you can never be too prepared. My reply is that if you pack properly and think about how you will pair pieces together, 1) it simplifies your days while you’re away from home, 2) you know you’ll look good if you stick to what you brought, and 3) you can pack a small suitcase for a week and still have room to bring a few things home.

In actuality, my obsession with packing compactly started five years ago after I returned home from a six week European bus tour. Being gone for that amount of time I undoubtly took a large suitcase with me. That was proabably a mistake. There is a reason why people go backpacking. Aside from it being a lot less expensive, it guarantees a lighter load. I learned then and there that I never wanted to drag around something so large again. Therefore, no matter where my trips have taken me, my suitcase is now always 21″ or less in size.

It’s come down to a bit of a science. Only the basics for makeup come with me and all other toiletries are travel size. For the days I’ll be on the plane, I wear leggings and a top or a dress with flat sandals or shoes. I avoid wearing metal entirely to help get me through security faster. I usually have a jacket or a sweater in my bag in case it gets cold on the plane or the weather is a bit chilly when I land.

I have a general plan for my outfits before I pack. The pieces I bring can usually be mixed and matched, so I don’t feel like I’m without any choices. Items that are interchangeable, layerable and able to be accessorized are absolutely necessary. Pick clothing that resists wrinkling and is comfortable. Comfort does not mean dressing like you’re heading to the gym though.

The key is to bring a pair of walking shoes – optimally cute ballet flats or strappy sandals that you know won’t hurt your feet – to wear while you tour around during the day and a second pair of dressier heels for nights out on the town. Both should be in a metallic or neutral shade to make it easy to match all of your looks. The second thing is to pick a neutrally colored jacket or coat. Thirdly, choose clothes that can be dressed up or down depending on how you put things together. A great pair of jeans can be worn out to dinner, dancing, a concert or a show when matched with a sequin top. By the same token, a dress that might typically be meant for more formal occassions can be dressed down by wearing a pair of casual flats and a leather jacket. The fourth thing is to color coordinate everything. Your shoes and clothes should be able to be intermixed as if you were at home with your full closet. Bring seven different outfits to give you at minimum seven days worth of clothes. If you are traveling for longer, those pieces should be able to be switched around to create alternate looks.

You can be comfortable without sacrificing style on holiday. Afterall, every city is a new place to show off your personal fashion sense.

With the help of Polyvore I’ve compiled packing blueprints to help you prepare for your next trip. I’ve created each set of suitcase essentials based on the seasons, so that you have a general idea of what to bring depending on the time of year and where you’ll be going. There’s also a special beach/hot weather blueprint for those who are heading to Las Vegas, Hawaii or any other all-inclusive destinations.

Update: My friend has made it known to me that I did not think (I did, but decided to ignore it initially) about the fact that some people have to bring their hair dryers, diffusers, curling irons and hair products with them when they travel. My first thought is that if you’re staying with a friend or at a hotel, check to see if they have those items and if they’ll let you borrow them while you’re there. Those items take up room and increase the weight of your luggage. If it’s not entirely necessary just think twice about it first. If you absolutely must bring those items along, make sure you take a medium sized overnight bag with you as carry-on. I usually stuff my purse into it and pack slippers and a change of clothes and my jacket or sweater, so that I only have to carry the one piece. By putting those items into an extra bag, that frees up space in your main luggage (check-in or not) for more of your hair and product essentials.

Spring

Summer

Fall

Winter

Beach

Do you have any packing tips? I’d love to hear your ideas. Please share in the comments section below.