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Poké Hana: Filling and affordable menu with some thoughtful flourishes

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The “Pacific poké bowl” piles scallops, shrimp and octopus on brown rice with avocado at Poké Hana in Medford. Photos by Sarah Lemon
Gyoza number among nine appetizers at Poké Hana in Medford. Photos by Sarah Lemon
Scallops and shrimp are among the cooked proteins at Poké Hana in Medford. Photos by Sarah Lemon
Spring rolls are served with sweet chile dipping sauce at Poké Hana in Medford. Photos by Sarah Lemon
The “volcanic poké bowl” features jalapeño with spicy tuna and salmon at Poké Hana in Medford. Photos by Sarah Lemon

The poké trend has found firm footing in Southern Oregon.

A new quick-service restaurant in the former Medford home of R&D’s Sandwich Factory does more than dabble in the Hawaiian specialty that’s been characterized as next-generation sushi. Loosed from nori wrappers, typical sushi ingredients gain freeform presentations as poké, which is more filling and affordable.

While poké can be had at a few Island and Asian eateries locally, Poké Hana emulates nationally franchised operations, including Pokeworks and Poki Bowl, founded on mix-and-match, have-it-your-way menus. Think of it as Pacific Island fusion cuisine’s answer to Subway or Chipotle.

Poké Hana kept customers waiting for more than a month since the former sandwich shop’s curved exterior was freshened up with a coat of turquoise paint. I drove by the North Riverside Avenue parking lot the restaurant shares with OK Market three times before the “coming soon” sign was replaced last week with “NOW OPEN.”

A poké devotee, my sister was almost more excited than I was to conclude a morning of playing pickleball with a gluten-free meal that piles low-fat seafood onto rice and veggies, leaving her energized, rather than weighed down. I also appreciate the core menu, along with Poké Hana’s few thoughtful flourishes: spring rolls, gyoza, miso soup, edamame and Hawaii’s beloved Spam musubi.

Keeping the operation streamlined, Poké Hana’s proprietors aren’t trying to be all things to all people. There’s no bento, no ramen, no udon, no tempura, no teriyaki. Although it’s “coming soon” banner cited chicken and beef, I didn’t see any evidence of either. All for the best, I concluded. Too many restaurants try to do too much — and never do any one thing really well.

Besides, a bid to offer wide variety would put Poké Hana in competition with its sister restaurant Sakura, which started just a few doors down at Rumors Lounge but relocated seven years ago to Crater Lake Avenue. Poké Hana’s origins can be seen in several of Sakura’s “salad bowls” and its chef’s special “Hawaiian poki bowl.”

Poké prices are lower, as to be expected, at Poké Hana. A menu board of “special poké bowls” lists six dishes from $13 to $15. There also are “build-your own” bowls, starting at $13 for two proteins, $15 for three. Choose rice or greens as a base for tuna, salmon, shellfish or tofu. Add veggies, ranging from carrot, cabbage and cucumber to avocado, jalapeño and edamame, and top with several sauces, from sweet chile to spicy ponzu.

Typically inclined toward spice, I zeroed in on the “volcanic” poké bowl ($15), touting spicy tuna, spicy salmon, jalapeño and wasabi, alongside “crab mix,” seaweed salad, cilantro, scallions and ginger over white rice. Tuna and salmon also share billing in the “Hawaiian poké bowl” ($15) while the “Hana poké bowl” ($15) is tantamount to a captain’s platter of the two fishes, plus shrimp, octopus and roe.

Scallops featured in the “Pacific poké bowl” did cause me a few minutes’ deliberation, in part over the dish’s brown rice. But I wasn’t particularly in the mood for its avocado or sweet chile sauce. I was pleased my sister settled on the Pacific — without the sweet chile, but an added scoop of seaweed salad.

Because this lunch was a treat, we didn’t hesitate to tack on an order of gyoza ($4.50) and — mostly out of morbid curiosity — the Spam musubi ($6). The latter is surprisingly elusive locally, despite a strong Hawaiian contingent in Southern Oregon, so I shouldn’t have been all that surprised when, after we paid, staff returned from the kitchen with news they were out of musubi. He’d compensate us with another item of equal value, the chef said.

And he more than exceeded our expectations by bringing not only two crunchy, crispy spring rolls to the table but two cups of steaming miso soup. All the hot items’ temperatures were spot-on, contrasting deliciously with the poké bowls’ chilled toppings. Seasonings were intensely savory without being salty.

Heat, however, wasn’t a defining feature of my “volcanic” bowl. Nibbling a jalapeño slice on its own, I noted these were very mild specimens. But jalapeños are like Forrest Gump’s proverbial box of chocolates. If these had contained more capsaicin, the overall effect likely would have been plenty spicy.

The salmon revealed a pleasantly fresh, mild flavor and texture. The tuna, rather than diced, was finely minced, mimicking the texture of the “crab mix,” which indeed is the imitator ubiquitous to California rolls everywhere. In addition to that filling, cooked proteins are represented in Poké Hana’s scallops, shrimp and octopus, the last in that list perhaps a textural challenge for some diners that both my sister and I relish.

Small lapses in our bowls’ preparation were evident in my sister’s edamame ending up in my bowl and a lack of wasabi on mine, which I had assumed would be a large enough quantity to share with her. The ginger advertised with my bowl wasn’t detectable, although sprinkles of furikake rice seasoning and squiggles of sauces were generous. Customers who cringe over sandwich shops’ heavy hand with mayonnaise — or consider themselves calorie-conscious — may want to ask for light sauce, or condiments on the side at Poké Hana.

Both bowls were large enough that we departed with leftovers, my sister vowing to call in a takeout order within a few days. Located at 1132 N. Riverside Ave., Poké Hana is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Call 541-499-0222.

Tempo Tidbits

New chocolate treats highlight Ashland’s Oregon Chocolate Festival, March 4-6.

Vida Baking Co. plans the debut of its “mocha doce de leite” muffin, inspired by flavors of owner Carla Guimaraes’ native Brazil. Other house favorites — all gluten-free — are double chocolate ginger cookies, pistachio brownies and banana chocolate chip muffins.

Celebrating its first anniversary this month, Vida distinguishes itself from other gluten-free enterprises with “pão de queijo,” a specialty of the Brazilian state Minas Gerais, from which Guimaraes hails. Made from cassava root starch, this recipe has been prepared for more than 200 years, according to Vida’s website.

Located at 149 N. Pioneer St., Vida has outdoor seating and a walk-up window for takeout. Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.

See more happenings during Oregon Chocolate Festival weekend at oregonchocolatefestival.com/weekend-happenings/

Pickles, Brussels sprouts and Korean gochujang sauce top new pizzas at Medford’s Kaleidoscope Pizzeria & Pub.

Created by three members of Kaleidoscope’s kitchen staff, the three new pies commemorate the eatery’s 18th anniversary this month. The perennially popular restaurant hadn’t added any new menu items since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, said co-owner Kristi Haavig, citing “good old fashioned creativity” behind the new recipes.

Sauced with chimichurri and topped with creme fraiche and dill, the “pickle Rick” is priced from $12.75 to $28.25. Bacon and Alfredo sauce enrich the Brussels sprout pizza, priced from $15 to $38. Recalling the pizzeria’s celebrated Thai chicken pizza, the “spicy stir-fry” pie combines roasted red and yellow peppers, scallions and bean sprouts with gochujang and kalua chicken, priced from $15.75 to $40.50.

See Kaleidoscope’s website for more “off the menu” items at kaleidoscopepizza.com/eat/

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Oysters lovers can eat to their hearts’ content — for discounted prices — Sunday afternoons at Ashland’s NAMA.

Subtitled “a raw bar,” NAMA is a seafood-centric establishment open from noon to 4 p.m. Sundays for $2.50 oysters as long as they last. The special price cuts the cost of oysters by $5 per half dozen.

A selection of “Sunday sippers” include cava for $8, yuzu sake for $12, yuzu mimosa for $14 and miso Mary for $15. New small plates are priced from $16 for shrimp rolls to $25 for yuzu salmon roe.

Located at 140 Lithia Way, NAMA is open 4-10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, noon to 10 p.m. Sunday, with “happy hours” 4-5 p.m. and 9-10 p.m. Reserve at namaashland.com

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Have a Tempo tidbit to share? Email news about the local dining, food and beverage scene to: thewholedish@gmail.com

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Sarah Lemon has relished the Rogue Valley’s dining scene for nearly two decades as one of the original contributors to Tempo’s dining column. Her palate has helped to judge some of the region’s culinary competitions and festivals. The former editor of A la Carte, the Mail Tribune’s weekly food section, she writes a biweekly column, The Whole Dish, and blogs and podcasts under the same name. Listen at mailtribune.com/podcasts and read more at mailtribune.com/lifestyle/the-whole-dish. Follow @the.whole.dish on Instagram, @thewholedish on Twitter or see facebook.com/thewholedish.