A friend’s recent Facebook callout for favorite eateries yielded some surprising choices and the opportunity to realize that our area’s culinary cachet is, indeed, mighty fine.
One challenge around here, though, at least consistently is Hawaiian food. West Lafayette’s Hawaiian Hut held court at the bottom of the State Street hill near Purdue University for a while. But like many good things, the best pineapple I’ve ever eaten just wasn’t meant to last.
Pineapple is, of course, among the plethora of toppings to pick from at Poke Hibachi, a Hawaiian-Japanese fusion spot tucked up the hill and closer to campus. The rare restaurant whose two-word name signifies its primary choices, Poke Hibachi capitalizes on a chic-cuisine trend in the contiguous states while offering a quick, fresh and fully customizable meal. (It’s also got what I call “the chill-out tree room,” with floor seating and cool wire replicas of 1980s cartoon characters.)
That’s “poke” as in “po-kay,” from the Hawaiian for “to slice” or “cut crosswise into pieces,” and it’s diced, raw fish (traditionally tuna or octopus) served on rice and with your choice of vegetables (or fruits), condiments and sauces. Once a seasoned snack for fishermen using castoffs from their catches, poke has become a fast-casual mainstay.
If you’re not into raw fish, there’s always hibachi — a traditional Japanese barbecue that features your choice of meat, fish or tofu served with rice and vegetables. My friend and co-worker Stacey joined me to split the difference, she with the hibachi and me with the poke.
To be clear: This is not dinner-and-a-show hibachi. Nor is it impostor “hibachi” slathered with sauce and salt. “Not too heavy, salty, sweet or greasy,” as Stacey says, “it’s a light, grilled meat with summer vegetables – like a meal you’d make on the grill.” You can also throw in a side of miso soup that stays piping hot well after it’s put in front of you.
The small-size poke bowl is a good sample for the uncertain, with just one choice of fish. But if you want to jump right in, get the meal-sized regular (three choices) or mammoth large (five). On this second visit, I chose baby octopus, poke tuna (with a soy sauce, lime and sesame oil marinade) and spicy salmon that had a terrific kick and unexpected salad-spread consistency.
Most toppings are free, but some are 50 cents. Don’t know where to start? Clerks can pair them well; as a blend of their choices and mine, I went with tomatoes, edamame, carrots, cucumber, corn and a light tempura crunch – topped with sweet wasabi and more poke sauce.
Sorry if you’re drooling on your magazine or your keyboard now. But you should be salivating for an effervescent meal bowl that lets you fill up on fresh food without flatlining your energy for the rest of the day. Give it time, and don’t be surprised if Poke Hibachi rockets up that best-of survey the next time it goes out.
Rob Ford is Tipmont and Wintek's communication director, a role he's held since 2015.
Rob has a bachelor's and a master's in Communication from Purdue University. He lives in West Lafayette with his wife and three children and has a life-sized Yoda statue in his office. Away from the office, you’ll find Rob working on his golf swing, jump shot, or hope for a Purdue basketball national title – all futile endeavors.