Searching For Aloha Spirit, Plate Lunch and Poke in Seattle

Leslie Kelly

Even with the glorious weather in the Puget Sound this past week, I’ve been suffering from a severe case of Maui withdraw since returning from a blissful trip. Among the many highlights of this hosted visit to the Ka’anapali Fresh Culinary Experience were a facsinating tour of a coffee plantation--the only place on the planet that grows the ancient Mokka beans--a DIY cocktail competition (my attempt to create a bourbon-based tropical drink constituted a noble failure) and being a judge at the grand Hawai'i 5-0 culinary competition that paired farmers with the island’s top chefs. The winner was Greg Grohowski, the executive chef at the Hyatt Regency, who made a Vietnamese-seared Maui Cattle beef salad featuring the most incredibly tender greens and herbs from Evonuk Farms.

My down time was dedicated to eating as much poke (pronounced po-kay) as possible. That chopped, raw seafood salad comes in a colorful rainbow of flavors with the straight-up shoyu and the spicy ahi from the Foodland Supermarket deli ending up on the top of the heap for me. Especially when scooped up with an island-made taro chip while sitting on the beach, watching a bunch of turtles swimming just off shore. Yup, guess that’s why they call it paradise!

To cope with a massive case of missing Maui blues, I’ve gone on the hunt for island-style grinds and here’s what helps transport my tastebuds to a happy place:

The loco moco on Ma’Ono’s brunch menu is da freaking kine. Not only is the locally sourced hamburger patty seasoned and cooked just right, and the gravy that tops it a vast improvement over the typical plate lunch place, the kitchen also throws in some spicy Portuguese sausage in the bowl. The bottomless mimosas are brilliant, too.

Craving some mighty fine swine? Try the smoky good Kaula pig at Kauai Family Restaurant in Georgetown, where sitting in the busy dining room can feel like a family reunion. On Saturdays, they fry up Malasadas, the dangerously addictive Portuguese doughnut.

North Shore Barbecue’s mac salad is one of the best versions I’ve had of that carbtastic side anchoring a plate lunch. Save room for the haupia, the firm, flavorful coconut pudding.

By the time I made it to Sam Choy’s Poke to the Max truck--on Tuesdays, at Second Avenue and Pike Street--the mobile kitchen was sold out of poke. Dang it! Next time!

Finally hit poke pay dirt at the Uptown Met Market, where it recently installed a help-yourself poke bar. The ahi tuna poke was a big hit, spicy with a hint of sesame. Took a bowl of it down to the beach at Myrtle Edwards, and, while I didn’t spot any turtles, the view of the Olympics was pretty darned breathtaking. Ahhh, Aloha spirit restored.