The Hawaii Style (front) is true to poke’s roots; the coco curry is vegan.
Opening a raw-fish-focused, Hawaiian-themed, counter-service restaurant on the cusp of autumn in Wisconsin might be seen as a questionable decision. Yet here we are with Miko Poké — Food Fight’s newest spot, in a slice of the former Bluephies — doing quite a solid trade.
It’s easy to see how poke would easily become sushi-loving Madison’s jam. Poke and sushi are often lumped together, particularly as the mainland version of poke becomes more associated with its rice base. But with poke, unlike sushi, the rice is neither vinegared nor sticky. Miko Poké offers both white and brown rice, as well as baby salad greens as base options, but original-recipe poke refers to just the fish salad atop the base.
A comment here on the word “poke.” Defenders of the Hawaiian language rush to note that there is no accent mark on the original Hawaiian word that means “to cut crosswise into pieces,” as the dish does with raw fish. But Miko Poké is by no means alone in the restaurant world in trying to help the Anglo diner differentiate the word from the verb meaning “to jab.”
First on the menu is Hawaii Style, a dish most true to poke’s roots. This ahi tuna-centric bowl was my favorite of Miko Poké’s six house combinations. The ahi had a clean, fresh taste and was diced to a consistent and pleasant size. There’s a lot of soy in the accompanying Poké Sauce, providing a savory base for the more delicate fresh flavors of cucumber and edamame.
The spicy albacore bowl wasn’t particularly spicy, even with an additional squirt of Volcano Sauce (red chile paste, peppers, rice wine vinegar, honey) at the table. The fish was more dense and chewy than the ahi, but diced melon and crispy shaved garlic played well off each other.
The Cali Salmon traded in the die-sized cubes of fish for a more imprecise chop, but I would have preferred smaller pieces. Yuzu tartness dominated the other ingredients, giving the dish an insubstantial feel. Great if you’re looking for a light meal, less so if you’re in search of bold flavors. Over brown rice it has a little more heft.
There are three sizes of poke bowl available, but I can’t imagine needing more than a small. Bear in mind that if you order your poke to go, you may want to ask for a larger container in which to transport it. The staff really cram those things full of ingredients; you practically have to open them pointing away from your face for your own safety.
If you don’t do raw fish, Miko Poké offers two cooked proteins and a mix of fresh vegetables. The latter of these, served as a vegan bowl called the Coco Curry, was an unexpected success. It’s a trainwreck, to be sure; basically every ingredient that isn’t an animal product goes into this one. Disparate geographies are represented by tahini, coconut curry, edamame, avocado — yet it all kind of works. There wasn’t as much yellow squash as I expected, given its top billing in that ensemble cast, but it’s a great meal all the same.
I’m a sucker for rock shrimp any time I see it on a menu, and the Banzai Shrimp bowl featured quite a few of the tenderly cooked little guys. That Volcano Sauce, again, proved non-volcanic. I didn’t pick up much teriyaki in the teriyaki chicken bowl, which seems to serve as the bowl for diners who really don’t want to experiment. It’s fine.
Experiment away, though. Build your own bowl with the whole ingredient list at your disposal. Sides include salty, thin-sliced, crisply fried purple sweet potato chips in handy little bags at the checkout, and a pleasantly complex Honolulu iced tea. Shave ice is served in a handful of flavors. I mixed caramelized pineapple and passionfruit, to neither’s benefit. Keep it simple on that front.
Eventually, Miko Poké promises alcohol service, but it doesn’t need it to reel in the customers. On dreary October evenings, a betting man wouldn’t put a dime on a Wisconsin poke shop having a line almost out the door. But behold the power of poke.
2701 Monroe St., 608-416-5241; mikopoke.com, $2-$15
11 am-9 pm Sun.-Thurs., 11 am-10 pm Fri.-Sat.