New restaurant spices up The Alameda’s lackluster food scene
The Santa Clara
April 13, 2017
Unlike other universities, where off-campus eateries are lauded and embedded in the student culture, Santa Clara’s off-campus food options are few and far between.
The limited number of restaurants quickly and inevitably grow stale, as our culinary scene lacks any exciting or interesting places. Luckily for us, that has began to change with the recent opening of Ono Poke Bowl—located a block away from campus on The Alameda.
Poke (pronounced “poke – ee”) is a Hawaiian fish salad dish—akin to ceviche. Traditionally, poke is made with either octopus or tuna, though more recent interpretations include salmon, shrimp or even tofu. Similar to artisan cupcakes and frozen yogurt before that, poke is California’s latest culinary craze—with many poke places popping up in the last three or four years. It’s a nice option when sushi’s too expensive, but a gnawing hunger for raw fish demands satisfaction.
Upon entering Ono Poke Bowl, I was struck by the understated decor and seemingly streamlined design of the narrow restaurant. Surf posters adorn the ocean-blue walls, unsubtly suggesting that the fish they’re serving comes fresh from the sea. Like Subway and Chipotle, Ono Poke Bowl uses the “build-it-yourself” model of ordering, where customers can assemble their meals based on selecting ingredients hidden behind plexiglass sneeze-guards.
The bowls are modestly priced—four scoops of protein cost $10.95, while five scoops cost an extra dollar. For the South Bay (and fresh fish), that’s as fairly priced as you’re likely to find.
Each bowl starts with a base—white rice, brown rice or salad. Since I consider fish itself to be a vegetable, I opted for a starchy base of white rice.
For my proteins, I sampled the salmon and ahi tuna, as well as the house salmon and house ahi tuna. The former two were sliced into dice-sized cubes and unmarinated, whereas the latter two were similarly sliced but tossed with what looked like a mix of soy sauce, garlic, green onions and a host of seasonings.
Next came the sauces. Options included the house aioli, sesame, wasabi and spicy soy. None of the sauces were particularly spicy—or even assertive, for that matter—though I’d recommend combing the house aioli and the spicy soy, since they compliment each other very nicely.
Ono is generous with their toppings—both in terms of selection and portion size. The standouts are the seaweed salad (refreshing and acidic), massago (orange fish eggs—delightful color contrast) and kimchee (spicy and salty). They also offer crab and avocado for a dollar extra each, and considering the relatively modest price of the bowl, it’s a worthy splurge.
Overall, the bowls are tasty. Like any good poke bowl, Ono’s delivers the lovable balances of dry and saucy, sweet and spicy and soft and crunchy. My lone critiques lie in the seafood and the rice.
I found the fish to be a bit chewy and would’ve liked the pieces to be a bit bigger to really accentuate the delicate flavor of the fish. As far as the rice goes, it was served warm— which in turn resulted in it heating up the otherwise cold seafood and toppings—bringing everything to a less-than-desirable lukewarm temperature. I would suggest serving room-temperature rice with the bowls in order to keep temperate balance in the dish.
All in all, eating at Ono Poke Bowl was a pleasant experience that has given me hope for Santa Clara’s largely stale off-campus eating scene. We need more establishments like Ono—places that are relevant, take risks and serve unfamiliar food to an adventurous clientele. Ono may not be perfect, but it’s a start.
Contact Jimmy Flynn at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.