The selection of kushiyaki (grilled fare) offered at Roka Akor's Roka Reserve experience includes vegetables, chicken and beef.
Roka Akor chef Jason Phan prepares kushiyaki for dinner guests who sign on for the new Roka Reserve dining experience.
Live coals provide Roka Akor dishes with a unique grilled flavor. Notice the fan in chef Jason Phan's hand.
Roka Reserve guests are seated at a special table with a front row view of the grilling in the Roka Akor kitchen.
The final course of the Roka Reserve features the Domestic Wagyu Filet Skewer, from left, the tantalizing Japanese Waguy Skewer, and the Asparagus Skewer.
Sweet corn fritters are tastiest enough for dessert and a crunchy foil to the chicken meatball served in the same course.
Roka Reserve's second course features Pork Belly Skewer, from left, Shitake Mushroom Skewer, and Eggplant Skewer.
Roka Reserve's Tsukune (chicken meatball) Skewer is dipped in the egg sauce after swirling to break the yoke into the liquid.
The overhead panel above the grill changes colors throughout the night running through a palette of rainbow pastels.
The Zaru Soba (cold noodles) in the third course were accompanied by quail eggs, thin slivers of nori, ginger, wasabi and a special sauce..
A selection of Roka Reserve pre-cooked kushiyaki that goes on the grill at Roka Akor Sunday through Wednesday nights.
Roka Akor offers a variety of fresh sashimi.
Roka Akor servers at the ready for the 300 guests.
Having enjoyed Roka Akor’s varied menu from time to time since its opening two years ago, we had never ventured any further into the Japanese steakhouse than the bar or the center of the main dining room. That was until recently when we were invited to sample the restaurant’s new Roka Reserve experience, a truly delicious dining adventure that features four courses, each prepared over the grill which is fired by simmering coals.
On this night, we were escorted to two of the eight reserved seats at a gently curved table with a direct view to the three-tiered robata grill, which played center stage to our dining experience. Here, the steaks and seafood and other menu items are grilled for much of the restaurant, creating quite a show of its own. But for those booking the Roka Reserve, the personalized grilling experience, kushiyaki, is full on sublime.
“When Roka Akor first opened in Houston, we were different as a Japanese steakhouse, using the finest ingredients from Japan to provide an experience previously unavailable,” executive chef Jason Phan says in a statement. “With our new menu, we look forward to doubling down on our roots to present Houstonians with something new and innovative.”
Indeed. Each of the four courses that are part of the $75 menu, served Sundays through Wednesdays, consists of three skewered samplings grilled directly in front of diners with commentary from the preparing chef. (Each offering is also available a la carte.) The Roa Reserve presents a lively way to sample 12 dishes unique to this setting. The chef’s selection known as omakase.
Perusing the menu, we could see that pacing was imperative. Though the samplings were not gargantuan, there was more than enough food offered to fully satisfy the appetite of the average diner. Houston Texans offensive linemen not so much.
First course: Bacon Wrapped Enoki Mushroom Skewer, Chicken Wing Skewer and Chicken Breast Skewer — the chicken tender, moist and wonderfully flavored.
Second course: Pork Belly Skewer, Eggplant Skewer, Shitake Mushroom Skewer — chef Phan’s intricate seasonings bringing extra flavors to all three.
Third course: Zaru Soba (a chilled noodle dish with sauce, our least favorite), Tsukune Skewer (a divine chicken meatball with a side sauce centered with egg yolk) and to-die-for Corn Fritters with a dipping sauce somewhat reminiscent of tartar sauce.
Fourth course: (We recommend saving room) Japanese Wagyu Skewer (the piece-de-resistance), Domestic Wagyu Filet Skewer (a tasty, tender treat) and Asparagus Skewer with sesame dressing.
The view into the grill kitchen was worth the price of admission for foodies and serious home cooks. We watched as one chef occasionally fanned the charcoal flames with a Japanese hand-held fan and were mesmerized as another seared the heirloom tomatoes with a blowtorch for flavor enhancement and as another moved the Alaskan King crab from one level of the grill to another, carefully watching for the perfect doneness.
In addition, the decorative panel above the grills changed colors throughout the meal, running a rainbow palette above our heads. A whimsical touch. All of which we washed down with Japanese beer.