This time last summer, poké – Hawaii's latest contribution to the culinary-industrial complex – took the U.S. mainland by storm (except Cali, where it was already well-established). Folks everywhere were suddenly hooked on the bracing bricolage of fish and rice and assorted pickles and toppings. Even suburban Winter Springs embraced the swell when Big Kahuna's Island Style Bowls wriggled its way into a Tuskawilla strip mall, offering Chipotle-fied versions of the seafood salad.
Ahi tuna, always the fish of choice for poké bowls, is offered here along with yellowtail, salmon, shrimp and octopus in three-scoop ($10) or five-scoop ($14) options, but wait: We're getting ahead of ourselves. First, just like at the virus-prone fast-casual Mexican grill, you need to select your base – here it's white rice, brown rice or a spring mix of greens. Then proceed with seafood selections, which aren't pre-marinated but, rather, marinated "on the fly" in your choice of shoyu, ponzu or "OG" sauce (a blend of gluten-free soy sauce, sesame oil, olive oil, jalapeños, Maui onion and some herbs). I know, pretty gangsta, right?
My first order was notoriously B.I.G. with a mix of tuna and yellowtail on warmish white rice seasoned with furikake (sesame seeds, seaweed flakes, salt and sugar), a Jamaican jerk cream sauce, and toppers galore (deep breath): cucumber, corn, edamame, crispy onions, scallions, jalapeños, mango, pineapple, pickled daikon, pickled ginger, wasabi peas and avocado ($1 extra). Yeah, that's a boatload of ingredients, but I figured at Big Kahuna's I best go big or go home.
In fact, the hospitable folks who run the joint discourage patrons from ordering any of the five set poké bowls they list on the menu in favor of full-blown customization. The seafood is all very fresh, so go ahead and have some fun experimenting. With the tako poké, we toned it down a bit by going with citrusy ponzu so as not to lose the flavor of the octopus, then we followed the only rule in fashioning a proper-good poké: Add texture. Pickled daikon, pickled vegetables, cucumber, edamame and masago ($1 extra) did just that.
Salmon wasn't the most flavorful, so we added cubes of tuna to another bowl creamed up with a brazen togarashi mayo. The only thing hotter than the togarashi was the brown rice, which needed to be tossed from one metal bowl to another in order to cool it down. In addition to the togarashi mayo and aforementioned Jamaican jerk cream sauce, there are also wasabi cream and avocado cream options.
This being a Hawaiian-themed eatery, and a laid-back one at that (no surprise), the decor is stereotypically beachy (also no surprise). There are surfboards and flat-screens airing surfing competitions, and there's even an "ocean" floor. Hey, it's not like we were expecting a recherché design aesthetic. We also didn't expect to see an ice cream machine churning out Dole Whip. We quite enjoyed the soft-serve confection as a pineapple float ($6), and it saved us a trip to Disney to boot.
There really isn't much, if anything, to pooh-pooh about Big Kahuna's Island Style Bowls. Sure, if I had my druthers, I'd have black rice as a base option, but that's a personal preference. Fact is, the place is popular and gaining legions of loyal followers with every passing day and, really, what's not to like? There's no doubt that, as far as poké is concerned, we're all riding a big wave.