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Meredith Goad

Meredith Goad has harvested oysters on the Chesapeake Bay, eaten reindeer in Finland and sipped hot chai in the Himalayas. She writes the weekly Soup to Nuts column and enjoys a good cocktail.

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Posted: January 23, 2017

Run, don’t walk, to get some poke, mon

Written by: Meredith Goad
Tuna Poke Photo by Meredith Goad/Staff Writer

Tuna Poke
Photos by Meredith Goad/Staff Writer

The Maine winter – such as it is – has settled in, and the gray days and chilly temperatures can leave one longing for a tropical vacation.

Imagine how much better you’d feel if you swapped all that high-fat, high-calorie winter comfort food for something much healthier, yet also still substantial?

You’ll find just that at Big Fin Poké, a new fast casual restaurant in Westbrook that specializes in poke, a raw fish salad that has its origins in Hawaiian culture and has become a big trend in other parts of the country. Poke (pronounced po-kay) has been called “deconstructed sushi,” and that is a good description, except the raw, seasoned fish (usually tuna) is typically cubed and served in a bowl with lots of other healthy ingredients, from edamame to seaweed and shredded ginger.

Poke bowl joints have also been compared to Chipotle restaurants because the ordering process is similar. You choose the ingredients, and an employee behind the counter assembles your meal for you.

At Big Fin Poké, customers can choose from seven “ready-made” options, or you can go through several steps to make your own bowl. A regular-sized bowl costs $10.95, which is definitely reasonable considering the serving size. The regular includes two scoops of white sushi rice or brown rice and one protein, plus all of your mix-ins and toppings, while a large gives you three scoops and two proteins. You can also choose Romaine lettuce instead of sushi rice if you want more of a salad than a sushi feel.

If you’re making your own meal, the first thing you do is choose what style you want – a poke bowl with rice, a salad bowl with lettuce or a pokiritto, which is kind of like a giant sushi roll made with a seaweed wrap.

Next, choose your proteins: tuna, salmon, yellowtail, albacore, shrimp, chicken or organic tofu. Top it with a sauce; the list includes spicy aioli, creamy wasabi, honey miso and Korean spicy gochu. Next comes the mix-ins, which include cilantro, seaweed and red pepper flakes. In Step 5, you choose your toppings – crab salad, cucumber, edamame, shiitake mushrooms, kimchi, pineapple, avocado and more. Finally, pick something crunchy to go on top. The list includes wasabi peas, wonton crisps, crushed macadamia nuts and crispy garlic. Eat with a fork or chopsticks.

Interior of Big Fin Poke in Westbrook

Interior of Big Fin Poke in Westbrook

Since this was my first visit, all the choices seemed overwhelming. So I ordered one of the “favorite” bowls, the Hawaiian Original. It comes with tuna, sweet onion, green onion, chili flakes, sesame oil, seaweed and Hawaiian sea salt. Unexpectedly, the woman behind the counter also asked me if I wanted any toppings or crunchy bits, which it turns out are included. I chose crab salad and avocado. The crab salad was free, but I discovered after she’d added it that the avocado was $1 extra (shiitake mushrooms are also $1 extra.) I also chose crispy garlic.

My poke bowl was delicious, so much so that I am already planning my next trip to Westbrook to try another. Everything, including the fish, was incredibly fresh – and refreshing on a cold winter day. The crab salad actually tasted like crab. My only complaint was the dish was a little too salty – maybe the server was a little heavy-handed with that Hawaiian sea salt?

Other bowls called “favorites” include Gyudon Beef – thinly sliced beef cooked with onions in a sake shoyu sauce over rice – and Wasabi Salmon, made with salmon, green onion, sweet onion, furikake, sesame oil and creamy wasabi sauce.

Big Fin Poké is located in the old Dancing Elephant space. It’s large, but most of the tables are two-tops. There are also about a dozen counter-height seats in front of the large windows at the front of the restaurant. The restaurant serves beer as well as a large selection of non-alcoholic drinks, ranging from soda to coconut water.

If this restaurant were in Portland, it would be swamped. The food is well worth the short drive to Westbrook though, and I hope people will support it. We need more fast casual choices like this that go beyond the typical fast food burger joint. I’m already fantasizing about my next poke bowl – chicken, shrimp, honey miso sauce, crab salad, crispy onion and …

BIG FIN POKE

WHERE: 855 Main St., Westbrook; 591-0171; bigfinpoke.com
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, noon to 8 p.m. Saturday, noon to 6 p.m. Sunday
WAIT: Less than 5 minutes
PARKING: Lots of street parking in front
HANDICAPPED ACCESSIBLE: Yes

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