Yesterday, Scottsdale's posh Japanese joint Roka Akor hosted an evening for the media to showcase Chef Jason Alford's signature menu items. About 30 reporters were treated to a multi-course dinner designed to demonstrate the wonders of the restaurant's traditional open fire robata grill and its unique spirit selection.
Before dinner we enjoyed one of Roka Akor's most cherished specialties, peach-infused shochu served on some of the most extravagant rocks in the Valley -- hand-carved ice made of purified water. The restaurant's Shochu Lounge has become renowned not only for serving up the delicious shochu cocktails but also for using the hand-carved cubes. Unlike the widely known sake rice wine, shochu is the Japanese counterpart to vodka (though slightly less strong) and can be distilled from barley or potatoes.
Find out about the food we devoured after the jump.
The first course consisted of a slightly bizarre array of items. While the butterfish tataki with yuzu and white asparagus was an excellent choice for its smooth and buttery flavor with a hint of refreshing citrus, the shishito peppers seemed out of place. They were prepared on the restaurant's traditional robata grill and sprinkled with ponzu and bonito flakes. Imagine eating a milder version of jalapenos as a starter. These peppers were smokey and flavorful and would have made a great garnish or side for a mild dish, but proved far too spicy to consume all by their lonesome. Plus they really irritated the palate, which made it harder to enjoy the mild and subtle taste of the butterfish.
The last of the appetizers was crispy fried squid topped with green chile and lime. Here, the hints of spice worked well to enrich the flavor of the otherwise plain squid, which tasted more of the tempura than of seafood.
The spice did not let up in the next course, which featured two rolls and a selection of sashimi. The yellowtail serrano chili roll was accompanied by a round sliver of jalapeno adding a little kick to every delectable piece. We highly recommend you enjoy this roll on your next evening at Roka Akor, and to add another unusual but delightful spin, ask your server for ponzu sauce instead of the regular Kikkoman.
The spicy avocado maki roll with its tender tempura coating was tasty but less interesting - a solid choice for any moderately adventurous vegetarian visitor. The classic three sashimi selection included yellowtail, tuna, and salmon. Rich buttery taste, but ultimately the sushi chef's skill with the rolls is more worthy of attention.
We were served a pretty little bowl of blood orange sorbet as a palate cleanser and enjoyed the hint of bitterness. This could also be a great dessert alternative for those less drawn to sugary treats. The third course was composed of an array of impressive items that have earned Roka Akor its outstanding reputation. First we were served a beautiful cut of cod, marinated in miso for twenty-four hours and blackened on the robata grill. The fish was served wrapped in a large magnolia leaf which preserves the tenderness while cooking and looks fantastic on the plate. Never have we ever tried cod this tender, juicy and flavorful. Across the table, AZ Weekly's Brian Muir murmured, "It tastes like it was loved all day." We could not think of better words to describe it. No wonder it has become of of the restaurant's most popular signature dishes.
After the cod came prime rib eye steak with wafu dressing. The texture would have you think it was well done but the meat was still pink and juicy, rich with sauce that enhanced but did not overpower the natural taste of the meat. The robata grilled vegetable platter consisted of artfully arranged mini asparagus rafts, corn, and broccoli, all cooked to perfection, boasting classic Asian soy flavors yet also retaining their own unique tastes.
We were very impressed by the kinoko rice hotpot which came as a garnish, richly flavored with miso, wild mushrooms, and herbs: All of the texture of classic risotto with all of the flavors of refined Japanese cuisine.
After two solid hours of consuming a seemingly endless array of exotic Japanese specialties, the dessert platter did not fail to impress us. Aside from four more unique and powerfully flavored fruit sorbets, we had a chance to sample two outstanding cakes: a perfect dark chocolate concoction with salted caramelized nuts and ice cream (not too rich, not too heavy, not too sweet), and a very unusual mango cake. The latter was comprised of several layers of mango flavored goodness, from spongy cake to something jelloesque and topped with mango ice cream. It was also moderately sweet, highly flavorful, and a perfect finish to this extravagant meal.
Were we to return for a casual dinner one night, we would choose the following three items: the butterfish tataki as an appetizer, miso marinated cod entree, and the chocolate cake dessert. Shochu would of course be the aperitif and digestif of choice.
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