Poke Burrito Serves a Winning Salad

A salad I want to eat

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By David Hammond

Poke Burrito opened in mid-June at 1025 Lake Street, and they serve a type of sushi salad that's as visually attractive as it is a pleasure to eat.

As the name of the place implies, you can have your poke (poe-kay) in a burrito of seaweed or soy paper, but I much prefer it in a bowl, like a salad, even though salad is my least favorite food. Drab leaves coated in oil fail to move me, and I usually eat my salad the same way as I take my medicine: as quickly as possible. I know it's good for me; it's just usually no fun. Poke Burrito, however, serves a salad I want to eat.

On a recent visit, I had a small bowl of my own design (there are several pre-set recipes with names like Jimmy's Creation and Hawaiian Classic). I "designed" a salad of pineapple, sweet onion, Japanese pickle, tuna (raw and marinated), salmon (raw) and fish roe, with a small amount of mixed greens, topped with two sauces.

It was the best lunch I'd had in a long time: tasty, low-fat, full of good lean protein. This small bowl was a little over $7 (with tax), and it wasn't a huge amount of food, which is good because at lunchtime it's best not to eat too much. And the visual appeal of this salad satisfies in ways that go beyond a full belly.

Poke is having a moment in the Chicago area, with poke places popping up all over, including ASAP Poke, which we covered last year and which now delivers to homes in Oak Park.

The word "poke" is Hawaiian for "cut into pieces," and it's believed that the dish began as a way to use fish scraps, mixed with seaweed and salt and whatever vegetables might be available.

Earlier this year, I took a poke-making class with Conrad Aquino, chef at the Alohilani Resort in Waikiki Beach, and a lifelong resident of Oahu. "To make a proper poke," Aquino said, "you must have kukui nuts."  Hawaii's indigenous kukui nuts are poisonous unless roasted, and when roasted they add a rich crunch to the mix. Alas, it's not easy to find ground kukui nuts in any poke served in the Chicago area, and you won't find it at Poke Burrito. Still, the poke at this new Oak Park restaurant is very good: fresh tasting, with a lot going on in each bowl or burrito, and although the pre-set preparation contains over ten ingredients, the flavors of individual ingredients remain distinct and un-muddled.

Though I liked the taste of the burrito with soy paper (a kind of tofu skin), it didn't have the tensile strength to old together, so it fell apart and I ended up eating most of it with chop sticks. Still, tasty.

At noon on a Wednesday, Poke Burrito was full of families and young people. Sushi remains a powerful trend, especially among the youngs, and it seems Poke Burrito – a variation on the theme of fish served raw – will prove an Oak Park favorite.

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