Hawaiian poké eatery washes up in ABQ

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Aya's New Asian restaurant opened recently in the Northeast Heights. Server Natalia Diakon delivers an order of curry rice to a customer. (Jessica Dyer/Albuquerque Journal)

Not heading to Hawaii this summer?

Robert Punya will bring a little slice of the islands to you instead.

Punya has put the poké bowl – a raw fish-based dish

commonly associated with Hawaii – at the center of his new Albuquerque restaurant, Poki Poki Cevicheria. In some ways, it resembles the poké eateries sprouting up around the country in that patrons pick and choose the ingredients they want in their bowls. The five-step customization process allows them to select a base (rice, salad or chips), fish, sauce, toppings and dressing.

Hawaiian transplants seeking a taste of home have flocked to the eatery since it opened last month near the University of New Mexico, Punya says, but his place has its own twist: an “Asian-Latin fusion” theme.

Punya says he noticed poké riding a wave of popularity while living in Southern California with a sea of related restaurants, but “they’re pretty much all Japanese-infused,” he says. He decided his Albuquerque version should have a Latin element and has consulted with Elvis Bencomo of Albuquerque’s Pasion Latin Fusion restaurant, who continues to make a few of the sauces.

“We try to as much as possible infuse Latin, Hawaiian, Japanese (flavors),” Punya says.

Fish options include ceviche, raw salmon and tuna, cooked octopus and steamed shrimp. The seven-sauce lineup includes roasted jalapeño, red pepper and passion fruit versions. The toppings, meanwhile, run the gamut from plantain chips and pineapple mango salsa to seaweed and edamame.

Bowls range in price based on size. A regular with 3 ounces of fish costs $8.95, while the “ultimate” with a 7-ounce fish portion costs $14.95.

Most people who walk into the 1,500-square-foot restaurant have never tried poké before, Punya says, so the crew does a lot of explaining and hands out samples of the sauces.

“I would say one in 10 people knows what the concept is but, for the most part, a lot of people come in and say, ‘I’ve never been here and don’t know what it is,'” Punya says.

For the newbies reluctant to freewheel their way through the ordering process, Poki Poki also offers a small selection of tried-and-true bowl combinations.

“A lot of first-timers will go (with those) and build up their confidence,” general manager Jonathan Vallez says.

Poki Poki Cevicheria also sells bubble teas (starting at $3), and stocks a handful of Japanese and Mexican snacks and candies.

Punya says he plans to add beer and wine in the future.

Poki Poki is located at 2300 Central SE, at Harvard. It is open 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m. daily. The phone number is 503-1077.

New sushi source

A year ago, Ayako Morooka moved from Japan to the United States.

A month ago, she moved from aspiring restaurateur to actual restaurateur.

Morooka opened Aya’s New Asian restaurant last month in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights, realizing a dream she says she had to set aside for decades as she raised her children and ran her own home health care agency in her native Japan.

But, after a recent relocation to Albuquerque, the Osaka native decided to give it a go, redesigning the former Tokyo Kitchen in spring-worthy colors and rolling out a menu of what she calls “homestyle” Japanese food. Aya’s offers curry rice plates, noodle dishes, sushi, tempura and even Japanese sandwiches (whether filled with chicken or whipped cream and fruit).

Sushi rolls start at $3.50, while a beef teriyaki platter (with fried rice, salad, soup and another side) runs $13.95.

The career transition suits Morooka, who beams while noting that her weeks-old restaurant already has established a small cast of regulars.

“I’m so happy,” she says.

Aya’s is open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The address is 8019 Menaul NE, west of Wyoming. The phone number is 323-5441.

Nexus branches out

Nexus Brewery is entering new territory – literally and figuratively.

The 5-year-old Albuquerque craft brewery will finally open its first off-site taproom this week, joining a list of fellow local beer producers with multiple locations. And owner Ken Carson picked what he considered an under-served area for the expansion, a strip center on Coors, just north of Interstate 40.

Carson says he looked for a location outside the city’s primary beer centers – like Downtown and the industry-leaning “Brewery District” – where he could establish more of a neighborhood hangout vibe.

“I’m looking forward to it,” he says. “It should be a lot of fun.”

Nexus Silver, a onetime pizzeria remodeled by AIC General Contractor, can seat about 100 people, including the patio. It will have 18 taps, including about 10 devoted to Nexus’ own brews and the rest to some other local choices.

Nexus Silver will not, however, serve the New Mexican-inspired soul food that has become equally popular at its mothership site. Instead, Carson says customers can order from Pizza 9 or visit the nearby Wingstop.

He is contemplating another restaurant, but probably not until late 2017 and probably not until he’s opened at least one other taproom that further solidifies Nexus’ foundation.

“I know when you come back with the second restaurant, it puts a lot of stress on the organization,” he says. “I want to be as strong as I can so we can provide the best service and food that we can.”

Nexus Silver is located at 2641 Coors NW. It is scheduled to open to the public on Thursday. Its hours will be 4-10 p.m. weeknights and 11 a.m.-10 p.m. weekends.

From Special Forces to Fiesta Flea

Albuquerque’s flea market scene is getting some new blood.

Jimmy Aloisi – a combat veteran from the U.S. Army Special Forces – is making a move into what he calls “the civilian world” by launching a new indoor flea market near Central and San Pedro. After retiring from the Army, he spent some time as a military contractor, but says he sought a wholesale career change. When some friends he made in Albuquerque approached him with the idea to start Fiesta Flea, he seized it.

“As I got older, I wanted to segue into the civilian world and this was an opportunity presented to me and I jumped on it,” he says.

Aloisi expects to begin welcoming shoppers next month at Fiesta Flea, but says his doors are open Tuesdays through Sundays during June to vendors who want to visit and sign up for booths.

The recently renovated property at 5915 Central NE can accommodate as many as 65 vendors at full capacity. He says he’d like to focus on collectibles, but will strive for overall variety.

“I’m trying to make it so I’m not going to have redundant booths,” he says.

Aloisi, who did combat tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan, says he wants to make Fiesta Flea stand out from the crowd with secured parking, video surveillance and weekly advertising pushes.

He expects to hold a grand opening on July 2.

Kudos …

Insert hand-clap emoji here: Two metro-area restaurants have earned a place on OpenTable’s list of the “100 Best Al Fresco Dining Restaurants in America for 2016.” The wow-worthy patios can be found at Farm & Table (8917 Fourth NW) and Indigo Crow (4515 Corrales in Corrales). OpenTable.com says it analyzed 5 million diner reviews of 20,000-plus restaurants to create the list of eateries “that offer stunning views, regional cuisines and, above all, fabulous outdoor dining experiences.”

If you have retail news to share, contact me at jdyer@abqjournal.com or 823-3864. For more regular updates on Albuquerque shopping and restaurant news, visit my blog at ABQjournal.com or follow @abqdyer on Twitter.

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Poki Poki Cevicheria opened last month at the corner of Central SE and Harvard. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

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Poki Poki Cevicheria's Wyatt Granger and Brittany Chacon craft poké bowls at the new Albuquerque eatery. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

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A worker polishes a table on the patio at the Nexus Silver Taproom. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

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