When acclaimed London restaurant Roka considered what city it would choose for its first U.S. location, the decision was a no-brainer.
“We didn’t want to launch in New York or Los Angeles,” says Nic Watt, the New Zealand-born chef who’s overseeing Roka’s plans to offer its contemporary Japanese cuisine worldwide.
“Scottsdale is a very developed market for Japanese food,” Watt says. “Which is good, because we’re not coming in here to show people how to do sushi and sashimi.”
Not that Roka doesn’t do sushi. It does, and it has won awards for it.
Just don’t look for a sushi bar when the first Roka Akor — the reflective name for its U.S. restaurants — opens Monday on the northeast corner of Scottsdale and Indian Bend roads. Sushi and kitchen dishes are prepared back of house.
Instead, the centerpiece of Roka Akor is its huge robata grill, where skewers of the highest-quality meat, fish and vegetables are brushed with light sauces and cooked over oak charcoal.
The robata tradition has been handed down for centuries by Japanese fishermen who cook their daily catch over a charcoal fire and use oars as serving platters.
Roka Akor’s robata grill is fronted by a 25-seat bar where diners can get a front-row view as food is prepared and cooked in a high-energy environment.
“There’ll be a lot of hustle and bustle in the restaurant,” Watt says. “We want a little bit of noise.”
For those who don’t want to be quite so close to the action, an open dining room seats 72 people, with room for another 25 on a wraparound patio.
Roka Akor’s stylish, modern decor features natural materials, such as stone tile floors, a rammed-earth wall, bar tops made from rough-hewn slabs of wood and earthenware dishes handmade in Japan.
The restaurant dedicates 3,000 of its 7,500 square feet to a bar and lounge area with room for 55 people at high tables or on couches and ottomans. A DJ booth will provide late-night music Fridays and Saturdays.
Dozens of colorful bottles of shochu, a traditional Japanese distilled spirit flavored with apples, pears and raspberries, hang over the bar. Two climate-controlled wine cases hold 600 bottles apiece behind 14-foot-high glass.
A second Roka Akor is planned for next year in Miami, Fla.
“People like the dining experience of grazing, and today they’re more health-conscious,”
Watt says. “Japanese food is the global food of the future.”
WHAT’S ON THE MENU?
A sample of Roka Akor dishes:
• Pork and golden scallop dumplings, $6.50
• Tuna tataki salad with apple mustard dressing, $14
• Foie gras with umeshu plum and nama nori, $16
• Chicken skewers with young leek, $5.50
• Lamb cutlets with Korean spices, $26
• Wild Madagascan prawn with yuzu koshyu chili paste, $32.50
Where: 7299 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale
Open: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily for lunch and 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. daily for dinner
Information: (480) 306-8800 or www.rokarestaurant.com