One of the most unique and best dining experiences I've had is at Roka Akor in the heart of Scottsdale, AZ. Roka is derived from two Japanese words. Ro means a place where everybody gathers to enjoy a meal with wine and sake in a sociable atmosphere. Ka stands for a burning fire, heat and warmth, projecting energy and creating a welcoming buzz. Roka Akor offers both with perfection.

Robata Grill at Roka Akor

Robata Grill at Roka Akor. Photo courtesy Roka Akor

The restaurant serves robatayaki cuisine. Robatayaki food is grilled on a robata, an open charcoal grill that is the restaurant's center stage. Robata means “cooking with open flames” in Japanese and the grill uses a special charcoal, bincho tan, from the seaside village of Wakayama. You can watch the chefs create exquisite dishes of fish, poultry, meat and vegetables as you relax in the restaurant's comfortable simplicity.

One of my favorite things was, in fact, the simplicity. It wasn't exactly minimalist, but the restaurant used natural materials to create a comfortable, earthy feel. I could definitely feel the Ka in Roka. I loved the platters of red peppers and deep purple eggplants that flanked both ends of the seating area surrounding the robata grill.

The restaurant itself, however, can't compare to the food. Whether it's the robata grill, that special charcoal, an impressive chef, or the combination of all of those, the food is simply magnificent. We started with a shrimp appetizer. The bite size pieces of tender shrimp were in a light tempura batter and flash fried, then served with a chili aioli. The butterfish with white asparagus was melt-in-your-mouth fresh and the scallops seared to perfection.

After some of the best sushi I've ever had, we finally arrived at the main course–lamb chops with Korean spices, cooked on the robata grill. I was fascinated watching the chef raise and lower the racks on the grill to serve up lamb that was prepared flawlessly.

If you can't decide what you'd like to try, opt for one of the tasting menus. You can sample the 9-course tasting menu for $56.60 per person or try the 12-course premium tasting menu for $89.60 per person. Check out Roka Akor online at www.rokaakor.com. It's located on Scottsdale Road, just a couple of miles north of Old Town.

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