Downtown’s Splash Poke is the city’s first to focus on the popular Hawaiian dish. The raw fish salad left the tropical islands years ago but with the concept of poke bowls and a build-your-own counter, this trend has now hit Edmonton’s street fronts with quite a splash.
A Little Introduction to Poke
Poke (pronounced poh-kay) is something quite amazing in the islands of Hawaii. Typically you’ll see ahi tuna (yellowfish variety), cut into cubes (that’s what poke means!), marinated in shoyu (soy sauce), and tossed with toppings like Maui onions (sweeter variety), green onions, and sesame oil. Other varieties could include nuts for crunch, seaweed for umami, and chili peppers for some heat. It’s most popularly served deli style behind a counter and can be purchased by the container or by weight. It’s since spread to mainland U.S, with the trend being a clear bubbled, build your own bowl concept on top of rice or salad.
This is owner Angela Wong’s first restaurant business, a graphic designer by trade. It’s no surprise then that the small space on 109 Street is eye-catching and welcoming. Coral and turquoise hues bring tropical vibes, while feature wood art pieces make you wish you could surf your way in with sand in between your toes. With a bright interior and the help of her family’s restaurant expertise (owned and operated Japanese restaurants, including Shogun), Splash Poke hopes to offer Edmonton a “fun, fresh, fish bowl.”
Menu cards are offered to those in line to get your brain (and tastebuds) going. The large menu on the back counter is also there to keep you in focus, albeit there’s a lot to read. Once you’re confident in your order, get it started at the counter and make your way through the assembly line towards payment.
If you’re overwhelmed by your choices or you’re new to poke, four pre-conceived concept bowls are ready for you to order. The Works offers the whole package, while The Classic (photographed), The Tropical, The Spicy (photographed) offer a slighter simplified bowl. All four bowls have quite a variety of toppings and sauces which I find can easily overpower the fish. I’m a purist at heart. Having said that, my first bowl was The Classic which I found to be quite flavourful. Although Hawaiians have a love for mayonnaise, I’m not so sure that I do. Splash Poke is pretty generous with their aioli sauces.
For future visits, I went with building my own bowl. It’s all a part of the fun. Having made my own bowl numerous times in Los Angeles and New York, I’m familiar with my poke bowl tastebuds. Here’s the LET’S OM NOM Poke Bowl:
Double Splash (Salmon and Tuna) on White Rice.
Shoyu and Sesame (or Shoyu and Spicy Garlic if I’m not going into work!).
Sweet Onion, Green Onion, Seaweed.
Seaweed Salad, Tobiko.
Crispy Onion, Crispy Garlic, Nori, Sesame Seeds.
There’s been a couple of visits where Splash Poke offers feature sauces for the day, such a ponzu or wasabi aioli. I’m always happy to add some acidity to my bowl, so a ponzu works well. I find that mixing too many sauces can muddle the flavours, so I’d advise to stick to two sauces (one being shoyu) for mixing with your proteins and to save the aioli sauces for drizzling after. I also think that too many toppings can overwhelm a bowl but to each their own!
I’ve enjoyed all my bowls at Splash Poke, the sauces are flavourful and the variety of toppings great to experiment with. Splash Poke’s fish distributor is from Vancouver and the cuts are fresh. I would, however, prefer all the fish to be cut into larger pieces or at least in a consistent size across the board for a more cohesive bowl. There have been some complaints about the tall, thick glass that separates you from the counter. Initially designed to be installed at an angle, Angela is aware that it’s become a communication problem and hopes to have it reinstalled or to be modified.
To make the ordering process easier, I also recommended Splash Poke to have a listing of all their sauces and ingredients labeled on the bottom ledge of the glass itself. I found it distracting looking up at the menu, down at the topping, and back up again to communicate what I wanted with my poke bowl builder. Initial lines of over two hours on their opening day seems to be a thing of the past. Last I was there, it would take roughly 15 minutes to move from the front door all the way to payment, which shows improvement behind the counter.
Overall, I’m incredibly happy with the build your own poke bowl concept and it’s appearance in Edmonton. With a couple tweaks here and there, I think Splash Poke can easily become a downtown staple. Toppings are extensive and provide for a different bowl each time you visit. Depending on the number of toppings you add on, the bowl can be quite filling for lunch. It’s also a relatively healthy fast-casual option to have in downtown’s core. Just watch that aioli.
10079 109 St