Support Local Journalism!        

Link to Owner Dr. Robert B. Pamplin Jr.



Hawthorne eatery takes fresh approach to Hawaiian staple

COURTESY: JANNIE HUANG - There's something on the Poke Mon menu for all fish lovers: Hawaiian ahi, garlic salmon, spicy yuzu albacore, kimchi tako, tofu and kale, and spicy ahi. Bowls can also be customizable.A lot of things have come together to make poke one of the hottest trends in Portland this week.

We’re not talking about the Nintendo game, Pokemon Go, the mania that’s sweeping the city and country faster than you can say Lillipup or Zigazoon.

We’re talking about the Southeast Portland Hawaiian-style poke restaurant — named Poke Mon — by sheer coincidence.

“We had no idea,” says Portland Chef Colin Yoshimoto, who was approached by the restaurant's three co-owners. “We found out about it on one of our first days.”

So what is poke (pronounced POH-kay)?

It’s the Hawaii-born, blue-collar fish-counter staple of fresh, cubed ahi, usually marinated in soy sauce and sesame oil with onion, green onion, ogo (seaweed) and chili pepper flakes.

It’s simple enough — and nostalgic, usually eaten cold with wooden chopsticks and reminiscent of island life at the beach — and Yoshimoto wants to keep it that way.

He created a menu of six types of poke bowls (poke on a bed of rice) that people can customize if they want brown rice or different sauces or toppings like fried garlic or bubu arare (toasted Japanese rice cracker balls).But basically, it’s fish and rice.

“I like everything to be thought out — cooking with intention,” says Hawaii-born Yoshimoto, soft-spoken, tattooed and a Portland resident since 2008. “Everything is there for a specific reason, to achieve a certain balance.”

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JENNIFER ANDERSON - Colin Yoshimoto, chef/co-owner of Poke Mon (middle, with his kitchen team around him), brings serious chops to the kitchen in his new Hawaiian-style venture. So far, Poke Mon has been going through about 30 pounds of fresh (not frozen) ahi each day, solely big-eye tuna from Hawaii that’s overnighted to Portland and sold within a day or two.

“It’s been selling out everyday; there’s no leftovers,” Yoshimoto says.

He serves another 15 pounds or so of albacore tuna from Hawaii and Oregon each day, and another 12 to 15 pounds of salmon per day — currently coho, but he’ll play with whatever’s seasonally available year-round.

This is Yoshimoto’s first restaurant, but he brings serious chops to the kitchen, with experience at top Asian spots Nodoguro, Nong’s Khao Man Gai, Departure, Mirakutei and the former Hiroshi’s.

Yoshimoto admits he was skeptical of the concept at first, when the partners — skateboarders Brent Atchley, Nicholas Hyde, Mike Chin — approached him.

Basing it all on such premium ingredients “is a difficult concept to do right,” he says.

So the team took a scouting trip to Los Angeles, where poke has been a hot trend for the past few years, and tasted their way through the scene.

Even though the places they visited used fish that had been frozen to keep their costs under $10 per bowl, “every place had a line out the door,” Yoshimoto says.

He sought to bring a more chef-driven approach with Poke Mon, and worked with local purveyors to negotiate pricing.

“It would be much easier to do that (use frozen fish), and lower the price point. But if I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it as right as I can,” he says.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JENNIFER ANDERSON - Poke Mon, at Southeast 14th and Hawthorne Boulevard, is the city's first stand-alone poke restaurant, although the craze has sprouted in other cities. Prices at Poke Mon range from $8.75 for a local tofu and organic kale bowl to $11.75 for the Hawaiian ahi, with a secret ingredient called inamona — toasted kukui nut oil — shipped directly from Yoshimoto’s dad in Hawaii.

A short list of sides such as mac salad, spicy cucumber salad and miso soup, $3 apiece, round out the menu.

So far the kimchi tako (steamed octopus), using Portland’s Choi’s Kimchi, is a standout, the sweet onion a perfect balance to the slight heat of the kimchee and chewiness yet silkiness of the fish.

The kimchi sauce soaks nicely into the rice, a premium Japanese brand called Koshikari, which is sweeter, softer and nuttier. Yoshimoto guesses he makes about 50 pounds of dry rice each day.

With its soft opening on July 7, the casual counter-service spot is now lunch only, with plans to expand to 11 a.m.-9 p.m. seven days a week on July 21.

Poke Mon is at 1485 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd.

For more:


Go to top