Poke Stop menu worth ride to Mililani


POSTED: Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Last time I checked up on Elmer Guzman at his Poke Stop shop in Waipahu was shortly after its opening, and back then, it was all about the poke and other seafood selections.

But, like any creative person, he won't limit himself to a handful of raw ingredients, so it comes as no surprise that these days, his menu comprises 50 percent of turf-based selections that bear no relation to poke. In other words, you won't find carpaccio here—for now anyway. The opening of a second Poke Stop in Mililani Mauka's small strip complex, Mililani Gateway, provided ample reason for a second look.




The Poke Stop


        Mililani Gateway, 95-1840 Meheula Parkway » 626-3400

Food: ;*;*;*


Service: ;*;*;*1/2


Ambience: ;*;*1/2


Value: ;*;*;*1/2


Hours: 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays, and 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays Cost: About $15 to $20 for two


Note: For Waipahu location, call 676-8100


Ratings compare similar restaurants:
        ;*;*;*;* - excellent
        ;*;*;* - very good; exceeds expectations
        ;*;* - average
        ;* - below average.


If you don't live in Mililani or Wahiawa, you might just want to head to Waipahu, where it's a straight shot down Farrington Highway to the take-out spot. I admit to Mililani phobia, where streets look alike. Maybe some rely on street signs, and some rely on GPS, but I always look for visual cues when I drive, and there are few here. It didn't help that my instruction to get to the restaurant was, “;It's behind the McDonald's.”; For some reason, I thought there was only one in town, on Kamehameha Highway. I ended up looking for the McDonald's at three strip malls before finding the right one.

The pain of getting there dissipated at the sight of tray after tray of poke, because the mind can process only so much stimuli. Weighing the merits of hamachi poke versus creamy ahi or wasabi tako leaves little room for other thoughts.

Given the relative simplicity of poke (market prices), the raw fish generally flavored with a bit of soy sauce, onions and limu, Guzman gets a lot of mileage with his many experiments. The majority of creamy selections suggests that this is what diners crave most. Most novel to me were the creamy scallops tossed with chopped spinach and black sesame seeds, which seems to have been inspired by the spinach dip served at many restaurants. If you really can't decide, just ask for a sample or two to help you make up your mind.

IN A PERFECT world, the Poke Stop would also have a branch in town. One of my readers keeps regaling me with a lengthy roster of restaurants he has no inclination to return to, but I think even this picky individual would find much to like with Poke Stop's vast mix of diner-friendly, plate-lunch priced entrees. Restaurant fidelity is not easy for me either, but I think I'd be tempted to stop by frequently for the blackened ahi salad ($6.95). I consider it a smart, light choice for summer, with about 4 ounces of thin-sliced ahi seared with Cajun spices, layered on romaine, dotted with firm, but sweet, grape tomatoes and sprinkled with Parmesan. It was served with a honey-mustard dressing. You can get the salad freshly made, or if you're in a rush, the salad is one of the restaurant's many “;Stop & Go Bento”; selections.

A month ago, Guzman was experimenting with Hawaiian Red Veal from the Big Island. I had an opportunity to try it, and found he's already made changes, adding fennel and herbs to give it the flavor of sausage. Paired with soft-shell crab, at $11.95, it's a luxe burger combo but there's no delicate way to eat this. You will make a mess trying to hold the burger together, but staffers can provide you with plenty of wipes in the aftermath. It's served with eggplant fries.

Other entrees geared toward meat eaters are boneless kalbi ($9.95) marinated in more soy than sesame, and rib-eye steak ($13.95) served prime rib-style, sprinkled with chopped garlic and Hawaiian salt, cooked to desired doneness and served with a horseradish sauce tempered with the sweetness of minced pineapple.

STANDARD offerings include an Executive Chef bento that includes boneless kalbi, jumbo garlic shrimp, garlic fish and a choice of poke ($12.95); a deconstructed sushi bowl ($9.95) of ahi sashimi, creamy ahi, sesame tako, tobiko and shrimp over rice; and ahi poke bowls ($8.95) with a choice of furikake rice, or kim chee, pipikaula or smoked meat fried rice.

Daily specials also help keep life interesting for both chef and followers. These might include whole deep-fried moi or a loco moco with veal patty in place of hamburger steak.

I glanced at the tempura oyster and poached shrimp ($8.95 each) po' boys on the menu, but the oyster sandwich didn't leave a strong impression last time I tried it so I didn't order it again. But that was a while ago, so I'm thinking I'd like to go back and try it again. I'm still trying to find a version that can top an extraordinary po' boy I had in a downtown Portland, Ore., bar that had closed by the time I made a return trip. At least Poke Stop is closer than Portland.

Nadine Kam's restaurant review appears every Wednesday in the Star-Bulletin. Restaurants are reviewed anonymously. Meals are paid by the Star-Bulletin.