Recently, a member of our staff, Jessica Pieta, had the opportunity to visit Maui, located in the chain of Hawaiian Islands. Inspired by the sights and cuisine, she prepared a reflection on the standout of her trip.

Everyone has been asking me since my recent trip to Maui, “So when are you moving?” Hawaii is paradise. In a lot of ways it is very similar to San Diego, but maybe with the contrast turned up. San Diego has beautiful beaches, but Hawaii has warm clear water that sparkles like a London Blue Topaz. Come to La Jolla and you’ll see the seals–I think they’re adorable, but not everyone is a fan of their sounds and smells. Their Hawaiian parallel would have to be the majestic underwater Galleon, also known as the sea turtle. Unlike our goofy water-dogs, I think anyone who witnesses a sea turtle in the wild feels truly honored to be graced with its presence. However, when it comes to food I have always thought that San Diego would be hard to beat. We are superiorly geographically positioned to take advantage of so many cuisines, sometimes even cross-culturally. And our “mainland” connection makes our options more affordable, and in this case, accessible. San Diego’s weather and climate is perfect for growing just about anything, and the ocean is there for our taking. But I will say that there is something from my trip that I just can’t shake. When you think of restaurants that serve Hawaiian food, you think of the usual suspects–ingredients like pineapple and spam, or creations involving Hawaiian barbecue. Loco Mocos are top sellers, and I do love me some Spam Musubi, but none of these ever really shook up my life. I was never crazy about what I perceived to be Hawaiian food. So while in Maui, I didn’t really indulge in any of these foods.

While in Maui, I had the opportunity to get acquainted with one traditional Hawaiian dish. The one thing that I are more than anything–the one thing that I have been crying about missing every day–was pokē! All kinds of pokē, and for so many reasons. So, what exactly is pokē? The easiest way to describe it is that it resembles a flavored sashimi salad. Defined as the Hawaiian verb for “section” or “to slice or cut”, it is essentially a mixture of raw fish evenly cut into decadently large cubes with added fruit or vegetables, and mixed with seasonings and sauces. Ahi Tuna tends to be the most poplar variation of pokē, although octopus comes at a close second. The formula is easy: start with the freshest fish available, and toss in complimenting ingredients. The real fun comes with mixing a few textures and flavors. Here, let me make one up right now. Imagine a silky smooth raw salmon, brightened up with a citrus soy sauce. Let’s contrast the buttery texture and add some crunch. I would take some locally sourced vegetables, like sea asparagus, and then add some sesame seeds for a nutty finish and some more complex flavors. Simple. You can switch up the sauce, making spicy or sweet based on your preferences. Add some mango or papaya with a sweet ginger soy for a refreshing and fruity twist. If you want something light and refreshing, you can throw in some mint, cucumber, or masago. The possibilities are endless. I have seen Ahi Pokē with a Californian twist, with some fresh avocado, jalapeño , and then seasoned with creamy sriracha mayo, and topped with cilantro.

I have seen Asian takes on pokē, where it has been complimented with seaweed, thai chilies, and finished with a crunchy and briny Kim Chi. And although it is traditionally served as a raw fish dish, I have seen twists on it with scallops, calamari, crab, and even mussels. After encountering it in Hawaii, I returned home inspired, and played around with it. I managed to create a delicious and vegetarian-friendly option out of tofu! I wonder if that still counts? So it’s fresh, and the ingredients are locally available. It’s fun and creative, and totally customizable. And, believe it or not, it is incredibly healthy! Raw fish is high in protein, and usually pretty lean depending on the cut and fish. This means your body will stay full for a long time after eating it. And since there are no starch fillers, you aren’t getting any of those extra calories. This makes it a great option for slimming down for that summer body–and it is so delicious, you might even feel like you’re cheating. In general, fish has a lot of vitamins and nutrients that are very beneficial to us. It is famously known for being a great source of Omega-3 fatty acids. Furthermore, eating it can improve your heart and brain health, and to top it off, makes your hair shinier in the process. So, Hawaii has the sights, the nature, and my new favorite food. By now, you must be thinking, I must have my belongings packed, and a one way ticket booked. To be honest, Hawaii may be paradise, but it is a little too disconnected for me. As long as I can have some pokē in San Diego, I think I’ll be fine basking in our slightly less bright sunshine. I hope that I have at least convinced you to unleash some creativity in the kitchen and to have taken some inspiration from paradise.
– Jessica Pieta

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Where are you from?
I grew up in Connecticut and moved to San Diego two years ago. I was born in America but I grew up very Polish; my parents are from Wrocław and Polish was my first language.

How did you find out about Bistro du Marché and what has your experience here been like?
I was working at Nobu in downtown San Diego, and in many ways I really loved it. However, as a world renowned restaurant with locations in all of the most exciting cities in the world, they had many rules in place that were necessary for consistency in service. There’s nothing wrong with that–they run a very tight ship because of it. I just really missed the community feel of family owned restaurants. So, I started to look for another job and found a job listing for Tapenade. During my interview, Ludo (the Maitre D’) told me that the restaurant clientele was 80% “regulars”. I thought that was amazing, especially since La Jolla is such an incredible community with people who have accomplished so much in their lives. I was excited to build relationships and hear all the stories and life advice that anyone was willing to share with me. Since I started at Tapenade, everything has been amazing. The Diot family has been very kind to me. Our small staff forces us to rely on each other like no other place I’ve worked. I always brag about my amazing support staff that anticipates what I need before I have to ask. There is a lot of trust between us and in many ways we are a family. And that includes our incredible kitchen who constantly produces high quality, creative, and delicious food that I feel proud to recommend to everyone I possibly can.

What’s your favorite dish here and why?
The mushroom ravioli! They remind me of the pierogi my mom used to make when I was little. She always had a jar of weird looking dried wild mushrooms that my grandma would send from Poland about twice a year, I always thought they were stinky and strange as a kid. But when she would cook with them the end result was amazing! I never knew their name in English until recently–asking the chef which one he thought I was picking up on. Anyway, the raviolis are amazing; we use a mixture of about 21 different wild mushrooms.