First look: Roka Akor

June 23, 2017 | Houston Chronicle

By Greg Morago

Houston isn’t at a loss for fine, contemporary steakhouses. Nor for upscale sushi dens. But both those concepts under one gleaming roof? Now that’s unique. That’s Roka Akor.

The Japanese sushi and steakhouse concept opens June 26 at snazzy new digs on the ground floor of the 2929 Wesleyan Apartments tower. Flooded with natural light and warm woods, Sushi Akor looks the money, and is sure to draw the same clientele that has made Steak 48 at River Oaks District such a hit.

Roka Akor is an upscale brand within the portfolio of JNK Concepts based in Scottsdale, Ariz. Houston’s branch is the fifth store behind rockin’ Rokas in Scottsdale, Chicago, Skokie, Ill., and San Francisco.

The 200-seat restaurant boasts several distinct areas including the Roka Bar, a sushi bar, robata grill, and a private dining room decorated with giant jars of flavor-infused shochu, a Japanese distilled spirit.

Houston’s Roka Akor has the largest steak program of any of its sister restaurants – appropriate for a meat-eating metropolis, said corporate executive chef Ce Bian. Three types of Japanese wagyu (from the Kumamoto, Miyazaki and Shiga prefectures), as well as Japanese kobe, and wagyu steaks from the esteemed Snake River Farm in Idaho. The steaks are grilled over several types of charcoal, which Bian said adds to the flavor. Some of the steaks sport flavor-packed Asian glazes.

The entrées also include seafood (salmon teriyaki, jumbo tiger prawns with yuzu chili, miso-marinated black cod, and grilled Alaskan king crab with chili lime butter), and other proteins such as Korean-spiced lamb chops, teriyaki chicken, and glazed pork ribs.

Sashimi and nigiri sushi are represented in full seafood splendor: fatty tuna, blue fin tuna, big eye tuna, sea urchin, red snapper, striped jack, amberjack, fluke, yellowtail, scallop, salmon and freshwater eel.

The appetizers – divided into cold plates and hot dishes – are so arresting, they’re like putting the fireworks first. Bien said Roka Akor lavishes attention to the plating of its high-end morsels: “Our dishes are very special and there’s a lot of labor involved.” You can see that immediately in the composition of toro tartare, a disk of cubed fatty tuna festooned with flowers, crispy leaves of fried taro, and a dollop of ossetra caviar sitting atop a gold moon of quail egg. Pink folds of tuna tataki wear an Easter bonnet of flower petals and lotus root chips. Delicate rolls of thin, seared beef tataki are glossed with truffle jus and capped with black truffle shavings. From the hot side: crispy squid with serrano peppers; robata grilled diver sea scallops with yuzu pucker; robata grilled pork belly cut with picked radish and tarragon miso; and lobster and shrimp dumplings.

The cocktail menu features Roka signature drinks such as Gosotochiri (vodka, sake, elderflower liqueur, serrano chile and ccucumber); Roka Fashion (blended Japanese whiksy, biters, orange and lemon oils, and Okinawa black sugar); and Saketini (gin, sake, cucumber, and honey syrup). But there’s also special Houston cocktails such as Dreams in Green (vodka, sake, lemon juice, Thai asil and lemongrass-infused safflower oil and foamy aquafaba); the Backroom Deal (anejo tequila, Italian sweet vermouth, brandy liqueur, toasted tobacco leaf and vanilla bitters); and Paper Tiger (gin, yuzu, lemon, and matcha syrup). And don’t forget the shochu program, a wealth of Japanese whisky, and an ample wine list.

Roka Akor, 2929 Wesleyan, 713-622-1777; rokaakor.com/houston. Open for lunch Monday through Friday 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and dinner daily from 5 to 11 p.m. Roka Bar offers happy hour daily from 4:30 to 6 p.m.