Boise is enjoying a miniature poké explosion. The Hawaiian raw-fish appetizer — pronounced “PO-kay” — is the focus of two new restaurants in the Treasure Valley.
Paddles Up Poké
▪ 237 N. 9th St., Boise, (208) 412-5581, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Saturday, paddlesuppoke.com
This new, quick-service eatery borrows its name from the river-rafting term, “paddles up,” which is used in one form or another in Hawaiian canoe surfing as well.
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Once inside the front door, diners’ eyes are drawn to the restaurant’s motto, “Keepin’ it raw in Boise, Idaho,” emblazoned on the wall in neon script. But attention quickly gets shifted to the take-out counter and the little pans of shimmering, cut fish and other poké accoutrements displayed behind a glass sneeze-guard. Think of it as Chipotle Mexican Grill, only the customizable bowls and burritos here are built with raw fish instead of carnitas and black beans.
Owner Daniel Landucci has come up with a well-conceived, streamlined idea for those looking for healthy dining in the Downtown corridor.
It all starts with fresh-as-can-be fish, which can be a challenge in the mountain states. But Landucci keeps the selection relatively small and select in order to move the fish as quickly as possible. To that end, fresh fish is delivered daily and the eatery even offers a “Catch of the Day” option.
You can build your own bowl, at least in theory, or choose one of the inventive specialty bowls or nori-wrapped burritos. Bowls come with a choice of steamed sushi rice, brown rice, mixed greens or zoodles — curls of raw zucchini that resemble noodles.
Ordering the signature Paddles Up Bowl ($10.99/regular) will get you a recyclable take-out bowl brimming with chewy, nutty-tasting brown rice (in my case) topped with spicy chunks of fresh-tasting hamachi, slices of cucumber, chopped scallion, ginger and a large dab of smashed avocado, flecked with toasted black and white sesame seeds.
The Bogus Basin Bowl ($12.99/large) is another standout pick. It’s a lot busier than the simplicity of the Paddles Up Bowl. A couple of scoops of fluffy white rice get ornately adorned with deep-red chunks of spicy ahi tuna, chopped salmon, shreds of sweet crabmeat (a mix of the real stuff and imitation crab), verdant seaweed salad, orange-colored masago fish roe, fried onion, cucumber, avocado, chopped scallion, slices of sweet onion and sesame seeds — squiggled with peppery aioli, dark eel sauce and piranha sauce, an aromatic house concoction that’s made with soy sauce, sweet shoyu sauce, sesame oil and a dash of teriyaki sauce. See what I mean by busy?
Poké came about when fishermen were looking for a way to use the trimmings from their daily catch, feeding their families a mix of deep-red ahi tuna tossed with soy sauce, sesame oil, sea salt and scallion. Octopus is a popular poké preparation, too.
The burritos at Paddles Up are rolled with crisp sheets of nori (seaweed wrappers used for sushi rolls) and are filled with the same variations of offerings used in the bowls. As the name suggests, the Freak Alley Fire burrito ($10.99) is a fiery number, a big nori bomb packed with ahi tuna, crab, masago, white rice, sliced jalapeno, avocado, cilantro, shredded carrot and some wasabi-infused cream sauce for good measure. Plus, you get a bag of Hawaiian-style kettle chips when you order a burrito.
Based on my positive experience here, it appears that Paddles Up Poké is poised for a long run.
▪ 2970 N. Eagle Road, Meridian, (208) 888-3933, 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday, facebook.com/pokebowlmeridian
Poké Bowl recently opened next to Togo’s Sandwiches near the corner of Eagle and Ustick roads. Like Paddles Up Poké, quick service is the name of the game at this small, strip-mall eatery.
Owner Yuen Tung Lau and his family have been in the restaurant business for nearly 30 years. They formerly owned and operated the Wok King Chinese Restaurant in Boise, before the Broadway Avenue restaurant was gutted by fire in 2014.
Their new concept is a departure from the fried rice and kung pao chicken they dished up in the past. Now it’s all about customizable poké bowls, and the combinations are seemingly endless thanks to a multitude of fresh toppings kept in little pans at the take-out counter. It’s almost overwhelming when it comes to the variety of choices, yet it’s a smooth-running operation for those who can quickly make up their minds.
Here’s how it works: First off, you pick your bowl size (small, regular or large) and starch (steamed white rice or brown rice, or you can get salad as a base to the bowl). Then it’s all about the raw protein, a choice of ahi tuna, yellowtail (hamachi), white tuna or salmon. Diners can also get tofu and cooked seafood items such as poached little shrimpies, boiled and brined octopus or lobster. The two latter proteins cost an additional $2 per scoop. After you have established that, it’s on to the sauce selection, which includes chili shoyu, wasabi shoyu, sesame shoyu, syrupy eel sauce, ponzu and various spice-infused mayonnaise-based sauces. Now it’s time to finish your bowl with a choice of five toppings, chosen from a list that includes cucumber, edamame, green onion, daikon radish, seaweed salad, avocado and much more. As you can see, a little indecision can really bottleneck the ordering system when the place fills up with diners.
One day, I went for a regular-size bowl ($12) filled with steamed white rice, ahi tuna chunks, curls of daikon radish, sliced jalapeno, scallion, bright beads of tobiko (flying fish roe) and chopped avocado (add 75 cents) — finished with a zigzag of fiery wasabi mayonnaise and toasted sesame seeds. I wasn’t impressed with the quality of the tuna, considering it was overly fibrous — hardly that melt-in-your-mouth texture you would expect with fresh tuna — and a little ripe, or on the verge of turning, as folks in the restaurant business like to say.
In the Boise area, poké typically is made with ahi (yellowfin tuna) or hamachi (yellowtail), but some places use shellfish, salmon and other finfish.
My dining partner ordered a regular-size bowl ($12) brimming with chewy brown rice, three scoops of alabaster-hued octopus ribbons, spongy seaweed salad, a few sticks of pollock-based imitation crab, chopped scallion, curls of carrot and sliced oshinko (pickled daikon radish), hit with a liberal dose of fragrant sesame shoyu sauce. It was a good bowl choice, yet the three scoops of octopus pushed it up to $18. Now, that’s an expensive bowl.
We also tagged on a small-size bowl ($10) filled with white rice, cooked shrimp, sliced cucumber, pineapple chunks, plump edamame beans, avocado (add $0.75) and planks of velvety tamago (slices of sweet egg omelet). The sweet-tinged bowl got finished with citrusy ponzu sauce and sesame seeds.
For those who don’t desire poké, the restaurant also serves Asian-inspired appetizers, soups and other cooked items such as Chinese beef stew (with rice or noodles) and teriyaki bowls.
Statesman reviewers pay for their meals and attempt to dine anonymously. Email James Kelly: firstname.lastname@example.org.