As the new foodie craze in Seattle, poke is not a hard find for SCC students looking for a fix of some raw, sea-drenched goodness. A wave of poke restaurants has swept across the Pacific Northwest, leaving behind delicious, chunky gems of salmon and tuna atop white rice and leafy greens. For those who’ve had it, you know what the hype is about. And for those who haven’t … Well, “Ono Poke” is a good place to initiate yourself into the trendiest of trends.
I first learned about “Ono” in my weekly Yelp trawl — every week I devote at least an hour of my time tirelessly going through Yelp, looking for my next restaurant venture because, obviously, food takes priority over everything. Studying? Homework? Class? Don’t make me laugh; catch me eating poke instead.
“Ono” has only been open for a couple of weeks, but those two weeks have been meteoric. Lines have already been stretching through the restaurant and out the door, and on some days, they close shop per the last clause of their closing policy, which says that they close “when get waves, holidays or no more poke.”
Walking in, I was greeted with mellow Hawaiian music playing in the background and an enthusiastic “Howzit!” to which I stammered a small “H-hi!” in response. I’ve been to Hawaii approximately half a time (it was a layover and all I remember is the distinct smell of rotten eggs) so my knowledge of Hawaiian vernacular is limited to “Aloha” and “Spam Musubi.”
It was fairly empty when I entered, understandably so since it was 3 p.m. on a Thursday, but it wasn’t long before several people followed me in.
A glass display case was the single barrier between me and the fishy chunks that would soon grace my mouth, and while I was excited, I couldn’t help but feel a prickling sense of anxiety.
Raw fish is notoriously finicky, and regardless of the number of spices and sauces covering up the fish, it all ultimately comes down to freshness. Only in dark, desperate times will you catch me eating supermarket nigiri. And even the thought of putting partially thawed poke in my mouth hurts my heart.
This is why I always find it in my best interest to approach poke like I do dark alleys, chihuahuas and white men — with a healthy dose of caution.
So that’s how I found myself staring down the tray of “Spicy Ahi Tuna” with laser-like precision, using all my mental energy to try and figure out whether I would end up eating fresh, high-quality, sashimi-grade tuna or some sort of prehistoric fish that got sidetracked on its way to the Museum of Natural History. In that moment, my mind started doing mental acrobatics, conjuring up a future in which I meet my demise via seafood.
I imagined myself in a white, sterile hospital room, comatose and bedridden as my family, friends and admirers sobbed over my frail form. I imagined my brother visiting my tombstone every year on the anniversary of my death, collapsing onto the ground and admitting over and over that I was the smarter sibling and that he shouldn’t have closed the sliding car door on my head that one time.
I imagined my friends decades later, reminiscing on the little time we had together, and confiding in each other: “Areeya was probably the coolest fucking person we’re ever gonna get to meet.”
I imagined my legacy being secured in the future, as my Ebbtide Eats articles get discovered centuries later and start being exhibited in museums across the world as prime examples of the struggles and hardships of 21st century life.
And then I remembered that I survived eating questionable Thai street food in fly-infested open air markets and licking an elementary school’s gym floor (it tasted sort of minty). So I ¯\_(ツ)_/¯-ed and ordered a “regular bowl” with half-salad, half-rice, “Spicy Ahi Tuna” and “Spicy Salmon.”
It was a revelation.
I didn’t have any tears left after getting my latest test grades back, but if I did, I’m sure they would have started streaming down right then and there.
I felt like I had gotten away with paying a little over 10 bucks for what was the poke equivalent to the filet mignon at “El Gaucho.” The ahi was like butter, tender and packed with the most umami I have ever tasted in tuna outside o-toro (the highly prized, most marbled part of the tuna’s belly).
It was mild in flavor, per the norm, but the texture was unsurpassable. I barely even noticed the spicy marinade dotted with tiny bits of tobiko (flying fish roe) — it fit into the background perfectly, a slight kick of heat complemented by the sprinkle of coarse Hawaiian sea salt.
The salmon was fairly similar. Chopped green onions in the marinade added a delightful variance in texture, and the salmon itself was smooth, almost creamy, with absolutely no fishiness or sliminess at all.
The bowl was so fantastic that when I finally demolished it, I walked back to the glass case in a daze and proceeded to shell out more of my dwindling college student funds for more poke to take home. Unfortunately, during the 10 minute drive home, over half of the poke would disappear mysteriously into my mouth.
The island vibes and friendly atmosphere of “Ono” amplify what would have already been a deeply enjoyable gustatory experience. Fresh fish is served up unencumbered by heavy seasoning, along with organic greens and white rice, in a variety of ways. Eating here will leave you wondering why they decided to name the place “Ono” when it clearly should be an “Ohhh-yes.”
What we ordered:
Spicy ahi tuna*
Spicy kimchi tako*