Robatayaki Dinner at Roka Akor in Scottsdale: Surf, Turf, and a Charcoal Grill
It's not impossible to find good seafood in the Valley but there are certainly times that we feel the inconvenience of being in the middle of the desert.
Photos by Lauren Saria Clockwise: The robata at Roka Akor in Scottsdale, beef tataki, and diver scallops
The distance from the coast, however, hasn't stopped many an adventurous restaurateur or chef from setting up shop around here. It also hasn't stopped some from turning around and creating some of the best Japanese food in the country. As an example, the Valley's own Roka Akor in Scottsdale was named one of Travel + Leisure magazine's best sushi restaurants in 2009. Its sister location in Chicago also won a Michelin recommendation this year.
At a media dinner last night, Roka Akor Executive Chef Jason Alford showcased the restaurant's robatayaki style of cuisine, which involves cooking in the irori, or the traditional charcoal-fired hearth. The restaurant's robata (translated as "around the fireplace") doubles as the main piece of kitchen equipment as well as the centerpiece for the restaurant's warm but sophisticated atmosphere.
Lauren Saria Top: abalone mushroom, Bottom: salmon tataki
Our four course meal started with an abalone mushroom with ikura (salmon roe) and lemon-ponzu sauce, and salmon tataki with black sesame and pickled shitake.
The restaurant specializes in new takes on classic Japanese dishes and serves both sushi and steaks. It's a concept that came to the Valley by way of the restaurant Roka in London, which is headed up by Chef Ce Bian. Roka Akor Scottsdale opened in 2008, the second is in Chicago, and the company expects to open a third location in San Francisco this summer.
Alford followed up the first course with diver scallops and pork belly topped with house-made kimchee. The classic surf and turf combination transitioned us into the last course of grilled Niman Ranch strip loin, crispy brussles sprouts and a duck confit and foie gras rice hot pot.