The promise of bygone days was a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage. In the early 21st century, it may be a poke shop in every town — and Commack is the latest recipient.
This winter, Maui Poke has joined the dozens of poke spots that have opened across Long Island in the last four years, but owner Ting Chen is confident the category is not yet at a saturation point.
"I have a few other friends who own poke restaurants," said Chen, explaining that their experiences convinced her to venture into poke-shop proprietorship after a decade of working in restaurants. "This is my first restaurant, and I like it so much."
Poke, or seasoned raw fish over rice, is a centuries-old dish in Hawaii, where it originated. As poke marched its way across the continental U.S. from west to east, the model became Chipotle-ized: Choose a base, choose toppings, choose a dressing. Maui Poke also runs on this assembly-line model, with customers directing the construction of bowls, burritos or salads (starting at $11.95) from a rainbow of bases, proteins and toppings. Chen has upped the ante on the usual suspects of tuna, salmon and tofu by also offering grilled eel or blue crab (both incur upcharges) as proteins. Toppings — diced mango, scallions, edamame, avocado and the like — are joined by kimchi and pickled carrots, while the field of textural crunches runs from crispy garlic or crispy onions to furikake and rice pearls. The house poke sauce is one of 10 (customer chose two) that includes yuzu dressing, honey-wasabi, sweet chili aioli and a mirin-laced "sweet unagi," akin to the eel sauce sushi eaters are familiar with.
The indecisive among us can throw in for one of the $14.95 signature bowls; Chen is surprised that the fiery volcano bowl is the leader of that field, with spicy tuna, spicy salmon, cucumbers, jalapeños, red onions, kimchi, sriracha and crispy garlic in the house poke sauce.
Chen deliberately boosted Maui Poke's beverages beyond the norm, and pours a lengthy roster of milk and bubble teas ($5.25 to $6), such as melon bubble tea, plus fruity iced jasmine teas ($5.50) in flavors such as lime-kumquat. A few of those, in turn, can be made into slushes ($5.75 to $6.25), some with the addition of avocados or bananas for creaminess.
While takeout is the norm here, Maui Poke has a spacious, casual dining room with a few metal tables and AstroTurf along one wall.
Maui Poke opens at 11:30 a.m. daily at 6162 Jericho Tpke., Commack. 631-486-9633. mauipokeusa.com