Poke is having a moment, popping up on Boston menus and at a forthcoming outpost of the California-based Pokéworks chain. It’s also at the heart of homegrown fast-casual eatery Manoa, which is slated to start serving the Hawaiian seafood specialty this month in Somerville.
“The meaning of the word ‘poke’ is to slice, or cut into cubes,” says Manoa’s co-owner Josiah Bonsey, who grew up in Hawaii. “Ultimately, I think what I take away as the number-one thing about poke is it’s impeccably quality fish done in a really simple way that you can eat with your fingers and just pop into your mouth while you’re chilling at the beach.”
Or on Beacon Street, where customers will be able to choose from five types of poke, ranging from tuna or salmon marinated in sesame and soy sauce with sweet onion to sweet chili shrimp with roasted pineapple. Each bowl will also include a base of rice or greens as well as a choice of side such as papaya salad, kelp salad and pickled edamame. Add-ons such as avocado or pickled veggies will also be offered. Non-poke menu items will include Hawaiian favorites such as a mochiko-fried chicken with papaya salad and a kalua pig with chorizo slaw. Bonsey says sourcing some of the Hawaiian products has been a challenge, but he linked up with Maine farm Ocean Approved to get kelp, and he’s eager to use local fish.
“Boston really is one of the best places for us in the world for seafood. And so when we started kind of conceiving of this whole idea, that was one of the things that really drove our confidence that it could happen here,” Bonsey says. “We’re lucky to be in a region that actually does responsibly manage tuna. One of the few, in fact, which makes us feel like we’re serving a product that we can be proud of.”
Taking over the humble space from Mixtura, Manoa’s interior includes a long counter where customers can order as well as a few scattered tables and benches that will seat 12-15 people near the street-facing window. The real eye-catcher in the space is a mural from Seattle artist Connie Fu that reflects the Hawaiian theme with bright colors, pineapples and a volcano.
For Bonsey, the location is just another part of the project that feels personal for him. After moving to Massachusetts from Hawaii at age 10, he lived a couple of blocks away from where he’s now opening up his own restaurant.
“The thing that my brother and I joke about a lot is… ‘Who in their right mind would move from Hawaii to Boston and stay here?’ But in all seriousness, it really gave us that feeling that these are two places that we know really well,” Bonsey says. “We have this unique opportunity to bring a little taste of Hawaii to this area, which certainly doesn’t exist now.”
Manoa 300 Beacon St., Somerville manoa.fish