Chow Bella

Dining at Roka Akor for AZ Restaurant Week

We'd heard all the hubbub about Scottsdale's Roka Akor, the palindromically-named Japanese Robata Grill (like how Bon Appetit had recently named it one of the ten best new places for sushi) but we weren't true believers until we tasted their Arizona Restaurant Week menu on Saturday night.

We waited till the last minute to try to book reservations, which is how we wound up dining at 5:30 pm. It's an unnaturally early dinner hour, but when we walked in the doors, it didn't feel like we were eating with the blue hairs. We got a primo seat at the bar, which at Roka Akor is less a traditional sushi bar as much as a front row seat to their massive mesquite grill, which was going full blast with sparks jumping several feet in the air.

We started off with the modestly named "burnt tomato salad". Behind the grill, cooks blow-torched whole tomatoes until they were black. Then the tomatoes were thinly sliced and served with a light vinaigrette, alongside tiny sheets of seaweed and a pinch of Shichimi  spices.

The way our waiter Art explained it, you're supposed to pick up a piece seaweed, dredge it in the salad oil and then dip it in the Shichimi. You then eat the flavored seaweed, and quickly chase it with a slice of tomato. Each bite was fresh and salty and the tomatoes were fall-off-your-chopsticks tender.

The beef tataki with chili ponzu was a surprisingly light appetizer. It was good, but not in the same league as the tomato salad.

We languished at the bar for hours, enjoying the three-course menu. The pork striploin was a delight, marinated in sweet miso and served with a heap of kimchi. Each bite was a trifecta of sweet, savory and spicy flavors. The desserts were great, too, especially the green tea custard, a happy blend of caramelized banana and airy custard.

The fact that we were dorkily snapping photos of every dish captured the attention of the waitstaff, and Executive Chef Roman Petry came out to say hi and asked us point blank whether we were food bloggers. We equivocated, not wanting to divulge our affiliation to Phoenix New Times, but Petry was friendly anyway and told us how he'd opened this Scottsdale restaurant after helping Roka Akor with their spot in Hong Kong.

We left Roka Akor blissed out and thinking that good Japanese restaurants like that make Valley sushi "favorites" like Ra seem like McDonald's.

Here are some more photos to share with you from the evening.

Since publication, this post has been updated to correct the location of Roka Akor to Scottsdale.

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Rene Gutel
Contact: Rene Gutel