[UPDATE With Video!] Poke, Poke and More Poke at the I Love Poke Festival & Competition in Huntington Beach

Categories: Food Festivals
Christopher Victorio/OC Weekly
Poke from Stadium Brewing Co. in Aliso Viejo.
UPDATE, APRIL 14, 2011, 2:40 P.M.: We've got a neat video covering the I Love Poke Fest! Check it out after the jump.

ORIGINAL POST, APRIL 14, 2011, 11:30 A.M.: Tuesday night, we checked out the I Love Poke Festival & Competition, the first event of its kind in OC, and suddenly entered a Hawaiian food paradise. Overtaking Don the Beachcomber in Huntington Beach, a festive tiki restaurant where manmade waterfalls and mai tais flow, the event swarmed with about 450 hungry guests--many dressed to the part in Hawaiian duds--all downing cupfuls of fresh poke, an island staple traditionally made with raw ahi tuna diced into small cubes and marinated in soy sauce, inamona (roasted crushed candlenut), sesame oil, onions, seaweed and sea salt. 

The poke was served by 16 SoCal restaurants as part of a competition to see whose rendition reigns.

Poke--we had lots of it. Poke with soy truffle vinaigrette, poke topped with wasabi avocado mousse, smoked swordfish and scallop poke, poke marinated in sugar cane and pineapple juice, poke with mango sorbet, poke served on fried lotus chips, salmon poke, spam poke, tofu poke. Some paid homage to the classic recipe; others went wild. (There were two competition categories: traditional and "any kine" poke.)    

My favorites of the night: 

  • The Nairagi & Tako Poke from Tommy Bahama's Island Grille in Newport Beach (which was competing its OC sister restaurant, Tommy Bahama Laguna Beach Bar & Grill). The uni cream and ogo seaweed perfectly complemented the bits of nairagi (stripped marlin) and tako (octopus).   
  • A salmon poke by Chef Harris of Royal Hawaiian in Laguna Beach--an inventive mix of sake (salmon), fennel, red onion, macadamia nuts, yuzu and soy truffle vinaigrette. Decadent, yet refreshing.
  • A super-spicy poke by Chef Renato Sampaga of Stadium Brewing Co. in Aliso Viejo, made with ahi tuna in a sake reduction, balsamic reduction and a homemade habanero sauce. For an extra kick, jalapeño sauce was on hand.  
First place in the "any kine" poke category went to Roy's Anaheim. For second place, there was a tie between Tommy Bahama's Island Grille Newport Beach and Taps Fish House & Brewery in Brea, but based on a cheer-o-meter, Taps had the edge. In the traditional poke category, first place went to Stadium Brewing Co., second place went to Royal Hawaiian and third went to L&L Hawaiian BBQ in Irvine. All the winners took home a Hawaiian wood-carved trophy and pair of Maui Jam polarized sunglasses.  

There was also a maze of other Asian fare and Hawaiian pupus--tropical-flavored butters from Liko Lehua (delish on King's Hawaiian bread!), fresh fruit sprinkled with tart Li Hing powder, coconut pudding, spam musubi and chicken katsu musubi from Ishiki Plate Lunch, and Hula Girls shaved ice. We washed it all down with cold Primo, Hawaii's original beer.  

The event's organizer Nino Camilo, founder of I Love Musubi and Musubi Map, says he hopes to "do this for the next 50 years." 
"There are many different ways you can share the aloha--and food is probably the biggest," he says.  

Here are some photos by Christopher Victorio. Check out our complete slideshow here

Great presentation from Tsunami Sushi_IMG_0138.JPG
Christopher Victorio/OC Weekly
Tsunami Sushi in Huntington Beach brought poke made with big eye tuna that's been marinated in sugar cane and pineapple juice.
Christopher Victorio/OC Weekly
Chefs of Tommy Bahama's Island Grille Newport Beach assembling their samples.
Royal Hawaiian_IMG_0198.JPG
Christopher Victorio/OC Weekly
Poke from Royal Hawaiian in Laguna Beach.
Da Kine Hawaiian Grinds.jpg
Christopher Victorio/OC Weekly
A bowl of poke from Da Kine Hawaiian Grindz in Diamond Bar.
Taps Spam and ahi _IMG_0166.JPG
Christopher Victorio/OC Weekly
Spam poke from Taps Fish House & Brewery.
Waterman's traditional poke_IMG_0148.JPG
Christopher Victorio/OC Weekly
The entry from Watermans Hermosa Beach.

Christopher Victorio/OC Weekly
A chef from Stadium Brewing Co. adds finishing touches to his poke.
Island style BBQ Meatballs from K'ya_IMG_0049.JPG
Christopher Victorio/OC Weekly
Island-style BBQ meatballs from K'ya Bistro Bar in Laguna Beach.

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