Dining Divas Explore Poke Hibachi

poke-hibachiInside4West Lafayette has joined the national trend in offering the wildly popular Hawaiian dish, Poke (pronounced POH-kay). Poke is from the Hawaiian word meaning to section or to slice or cut and is a raw fish salad served as an appetizer in Hawaiian cuisine, and sometimes as a main course.  Think of it as sushi deconstructed in a laid back Hawaiian way!

poke-hibachiwhatPokeisAt Poke Hibachi in West Lafayette, you can now get poke bowls as well as grilled meats and fish (the hibachi part).  The Dining Divas, accompanied by poke expert Julia Zuchov (Julia went to college in a town with multiple poke options and is thrilled that it’s finally come here), tried it out on a beautiful day.  The decor is clean, modern, and whimsical. While there is some seating and a large stand-up table, poke bowls are perfect take-out food, and that’s what we did with ours.

Bar of food choices

Bar of food choices

Poke is often customizable and the West Lafayette version is no different. It’s like building a burrito in many restaurants where you order cafeteria style. Go through the line and select a base, toppings, sauce, and garnishes. The base can be organic rice, brown rice, or mixed greens. The raw fish choices are fresh salmon, ahi tuna, white tuna, baby octopus, kani (a food product made from fish) salad, spicy salmon, shrimp, lobster salad, and spicy tuna. Tofu is also available. Toppings include edamame, cucumber, carrot, corn, celery, pickled cucumber, pickled jalapeños, lettuce, peanut, white radish, and pineapple. For 50 cents more you can add either avocado, masago (fish roe), asparagus, cherry tomato, mango, seaweed salad, tamago (Japanese omelet), sunflower salad, or dry banana. The delicious sauce options are: ginger, yami, sweet wasabi, eel, spicy mayo, ponzu (like a citrusy vinaigrette), sesame, or fruit. Finally, the garnishes: sesame seeds, scallion, seaweed, tempura crunch, or ginger. If this seems daunting, seeing the bins of super fresh toppings and sauces makes it easy to design your own unique poke bowl. Regular bowls are $8.99 and large bowls are $11.99. We all ordered regular size and felt we could have handled the large!

The hibachi menu is smaller. Each grilled platter includes mixed vegetables, brown rice, and teriyaki sauce. Grilled meats are chicken ($8.99), shrimp ($9.99), steak ($9.99), chicken & steak ($11.99), chicken & shrimp ($11.99), steak & shrimp ($12.99), salmon ($10.99), and eel ($10.99).

Tofu

Tofu meal

Margy went simple with brown rice, tofu, and ginger sauce. She was impressed with the generous portion of tofu, and said, “The ginger sauce is hard to beat—it has plenty of spicy flavor.”

Julia was bolder and ordered fresh salmon with jalapeños, seaweed salad, and spicy mayo on rice. “The flavors come from the surrounding ingredients and add to the fresh salmon taste,” she said. “I think it’s my new favorite! There’s nothing else like it in the area.”

Bev’s bowl was lobster salad on greens with spicy mayo and seaweed and declared it delicious. “The Dining Divas actually have some complicated dietary restrictions,” she said, “and just about anyone can eat here. It’s so customizable!”

Poke Hibachi Food

Poke Hibachi Food

Kay, normally our only enthusiastic fish eater, was skeptical of a raw fish salad in Indiana, but she was pleasantly surprised by the fresh spicy salmon on greens with avocado, edamame, white radish, spicy mayo, and seaweed– a delicious combination.

Jo was our only hibachi eater. She enjoyed the spicy salmon with greens and mixed vegetables. “The cauliflower and broccoli are extremely fresh and crunchy and add a wonderful texture to the spicy grilled salmon,” she said. “And it was made to order which is awesome!”

Jo also added, and we all agree, “It made for a great lunch, which was so enjoyable to eat outside on a nice day in the Village.”

Raw Spicey Salmon

Raw Spicey Salmon

One recommendation is that if you are with a group and some are having poke and others hibachi, let those getting the grilled food go first. It takes a bit longer than the poke bowls since it is cooked to order.

It’s going to take many return trips in order to try all those delicious sauces. Find Poke Hibachi at 112  Andrew Place, tucked behind Mad Mushroom. See you there!

The Dining Divas Visit Town & Gown Bistro

Corn Beef Hash

Corn Beef Hash

The Dining Divas specialize in the road less traveled—meaning we write about the ethnic food opportunities in town. But in this instance, Bev asked (a couple of times) if we might cover The Town & Gown Bistro. “She’s pushy,” said Jo. “She’s quietly and efficiently effective,” countered the others who were also glad to have this chance! Jo let us run with it so put aside your dreams of cuisine from around the world and enjoy some tastes that are closer to home.

Here’s the short version. Homemade corned beef hash. Who does that? Does anyone else in town make their own corned beef? It’s so tender— it practically falls apart under your fork– and the hash is made with a slightly crispy bed of mashed potatoes! You simply must try it. Need we say more? End of article!

But since the Divas include some vegetarians and since there are other delicious menu items, here’s the long version.

Chef Matt with Dining Divas

Chef Matt with Dining Divas

Chef Matt O’Neill was born in Dublin. His international cooking experience took him to Montreal, Chicago, Cincinnati and eventually led him to Indianapolis at La Tour with Wolfgang Puck. Then he moved on to Greencastle where he opened the Walden Inn on the campus of DePauw and got a taste of working for a college crowd and an addiction to flower boxes. He had 88 there! Wanting to continue that experience and finding himself unable to handle retirement, he opened The Runcible Spoon in Bloomington, a funky, eclectic, sunflower-surrounded collapsing bungalow with a menu similar to the one you’ll find at Town & Gown. He’s cooked for Pavarotti, Paul Newman, Gerald Ford, prime ministers from Canada, Israel and England and now, little old us!

1flowers in backHe’s been eyeing the West Lafayette market since 2007 and finally found a place to land at 119 N. River Road. During construction, there was a fire. Televisions melted to the walls but Matt is grateful to the West Lafayette fire fighters who used compressed air foam to subdue the flames leaving less mess than water would have. Eventually, he opened the doors where you’ll find several eating areas including a patio. Town & Gown Bistro recently won the West Lafayette beautification award. Pull around the building and you’ll find yourself surrounded by hundreds of flowers tumbling out of boxes, sunflowers reaching for the sky and herbs used in the cuisine.

Omelet!

Omelet!

That’s just icing on the cake. The reason we go to restaurants is to eat so let’s get back to the food! The chai latte, cappuccino and latte are a great way to start the day for $3.25- $3.50. Great coffee, good foam and a skinny option that tastes fat. We were there for breakfast so Jo ordered the Tex-Mex ranchero omelet, a large fluffy omelet with salsa, sour cream, avocado, cheese, spinach and tomatoes for $7.95. “I kept eating and thinking I should stop but it was so good, I just kept eating,” she said with a satisfied smile.

Margy had the veggie bennie with two eggs, spinach, tomato and an excellent hollandaise sauce on an English muffin. Generous portions are served on beautiful plates. She’s now a regular Town & Gown customer!

5serverKay’s smoked salmon & croissant bennie starts with a tender croissant, split and toasted, then covered with smoked salmon and topped with eggs and a velvety hollandaise. She declared it fabulous. The presentation was beautiful with a twist of orange on top along with paprika and a bit of parsley. The salmon is mild, hollandaise is perfect and it was enough for two. “Being on a croissant instead of an English muffin makes it better than the traditional benedict,” she said. “The croissant was crispy, flaky, yum…” and then she drifted off into a meditative moment.

But the piece de resistance is the corned beef hash. Chef Matt says the corned beef cooks oh so slowly. It’s space intensive and labor intensive which is why most people purchase already prepared corned beef. Bev has had it a dozen times and it’s consistently amazing. The basic hash is $5.60. Add two eggs on top for $2.50 and you have a sensational breakfast that will hold you over until dinner time. Jo’s husband has been on a lifetime quest for the best corned beef hash and he declares he’s found it here.

Biscuits & gravy and bacon!

Biscuits & gravy and bacon!

Don’t miss the bacon! It’s the good, thick stuff. And the pancake covers a plate with its light fluffiness.

We focused on breakfast but Town & Gown Bistro is open for lunch and dinner as well. They do a great job with chicken and pastas. There’s a shrimp linguini in a cream sauce but you can sub marinara if you’d like. The fresh salmon is popular and most dinners include a side of roasted vegetables. “You have to pay attention to the vegetables,” Chef Matt said. “Each one is treated equally like children in a large family. You take care of them all.” That attitude shows since each veggie is done to perfection, then tossed together before landing on your plate. There’s a full bar with really reasonable prices so it’s a fun place to stop by for a drink, too! One great moment this summer for this blogger? A massage in the Village, a walk in the rain to Town & Gown, and a Cosmopolitan at the bar.

Several people have asked about the name which comes from a phrase used in university towns. Town refers to the city and gown (think graduation gown) refers to the university so this is a place where the whole community comes together.

Chai and Cappuccino

Chai and Cappuccino

So, Chef, what’s your favorite menu item? “Smoked salmon on a croissant with a glass of champagne for breakfast.” That’s living!

“I love this lifestyle,” Matt said. “Putting the flowers out here is like putting flowers out at home. This is my home.” We’re glad he’s found a home in West Lafayette!

Next, we head to Fresh City Market to sample their wide array of takeout goodies, especially sushi!

Kay Conner, photographer, seafood superstar
Margy Deverall, author of Lafayette articles, dedicated vegetarian
Beverly Shaw, author of West Lafayette articles, bring on the beef (or chicken or pork)
Jo Wade, founder of this food blog, very veggie