Poke Bowls, Gotta Try ‘Em All

Song Pairing: You’re The One by the Vogues

Pokémon are loveable animated creatures that inhabit a fantasy world where friendships, loyalty, and community always win the day.

“Fishmonger” is a 15th-century name for a person who sells fish.

Jon Alexis (photo credit: Kevin Marple)

Jon Alexis could be called a Pokemonger because he’s a loveable, animated guy who sells the area’s best Poke and lives in a town where friendship, loyalty, and community are paramount.

You might recognize his name from TJ’s, the restaurant and fish market that is neighborhood mainstays in Preston Hollow and SoHip.

Jon’s family bought TJ’s 20 years ago from its original owners, Tom Hayden and Jim Kiernan, and has continued to operate the fish market, adding the two TJ’s restaurants to the line-up.

In 2017, Jon paired up with his friend and award-winning chef Matt McAllister to open the first Malibu Poke location in Turtle Creek Village off Oaklawn. Since then. Malibu Poke has opened in Austin and, recently, at 2355 Olive St. in Dallas.

I’ve always been a little suspicious about the proliferation of poke places that have popped up everywhere.

Combined with the large amounts of sushi, Crudo, ceviche, and tartares that are on menus everywhere, the poke craze makes me wonder if there is THAT much high-quality raw fish available to supply these places.

So, I asked Jon.

“There’s enough fresh fish,” he says, “but there aren’t enough operators that know how to handle raw fish.”

The poke trend has been “a race to the bottom,” with restaurants mishandling the product resulting in dubious poke that tastes bad at best and sickens at worst.

At Malibu Poke, I’ve found the one poke bowl I will eat, and here’s why:

Jon Alexis’ employees must study a 17-page booklet on handling seafood, cooked and raw, then pass a written exam before they are even allowed to handle the product. With years of experience handling seafood, Jon requires extreme attention to food safety in every restaurant.

What about delivery? Entrusting delivery companies with raw fish is a risk that Jon mitigates by only using trusted delivery partners he’s fully vetted, conducting thermometer tests of the delivered poke, and by reducing the delivery radius for poke orders.

Once I became 100% clear about the quality and safety of the poke, I could focus on the taste.

With Matt McAllister creating the initial Malibu Poke menu, I knew would be excellent, with the perfect amount of flavor, texture, salt, acid, fat and heat. Indeed, it is.

The menu consists of six proteins, five bases, nine sauces, 15 fresh toppings, nine crunchy toppings, five drizzly oils, and an additional eight premium toppings.

Proteins include raw items, such as salmon, tuna and Hamachi; and cooked items, chicken and shrimp.

curry hamachi

Classic bowls such as the bonito aioli tuna, coconut curry Hamachi, wasabi ponzu salmon and teriyaki chicken are great options for the poke novice. My favorite is the coconut curry Hamachi bowl to which I add avocados, an upcharge since it’s a premium item, and subtract onions.

Poke is a relative newcomer to the Texas food scene, and, with the complexity of the ingredients, innumerable possibilities for ingredient combinations and the significant risk of inaccurate orders and resulting food waste that comes with it, Jon wisely chose to use a technology interface to allow guests to place their own orders, tapping away at the unmanned kiosks at the store’s front counter.

This kind of technology could be considered the antithesis of hospitality, but Malibu Poke’s décor and well-trained employees very much create a hospitable environment, and the technology allows a guest to modify a classic bowl or build their own bowl easily with no mistakes. It’s a win-win.

As passionate as Jon is about seafood and his restaurants, he’s even more passionate about his family and his community.

He, his wife and two young children are proud Preston Hollow residents. His and other younger families moved there when real estate prices took a dip around 2007, and he has since noticed increased energy and connectedness there.

He credits the neighborhood with TJ’s success, noting, “TJ’s would be nothing without Preston Hollow.” The generations of guests come back year-after-year for fresh fish to prepare at home, sumptuous seafood trays that appear every holiday and to enjoy everyday meals in the restaurant.

The mix of Preston Hollow “old timers” and young families simultaneously gives the community context and opportunity, and Jon is grateful that his family and his business are part of it.

Malibu Poke
3888 Oaklawn Ave., Ste. 102 Turtle Creek Village and 2355 Olive St., Ste. 145
IG Malibupoke

TJ’s Seafood
6025 Royal Lane, Ste. 110 Preston Royal
4212 Oaklawn Ave. The Shops of Highland Park
IG Tjsseafood

Kersten Rettig

Kersten Rettig eats, cooks, drinks, listens and loves, and tells all about it as a food writer and Instagrammer. She is president of the Dallas chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier and serves on the board of VNA Texas/Meals on Wheels. She's a mom, wife, friend, sister, daughter. Follow her on Instagram @KickshawPapers.

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