Night at the Robata

You Had Me at Meat Omakase at Roka Akor

A new tasting menu lets you savor wagyu and much more.

By Timothy Malcolm September 5, 2019

Wagyu (Japanese and domestic) and asparagus skewers in the fourth course at Roka Akor's Roka Reserve tasting.

Roka Akor is dancing a delicate dance in Houston. On one hand, it's a sushi restaurant stocked with uni, delicate toro and maguro. On the other hand, it's a steakhouse that can play with the big boys thanks to its top-flight wagyu from Hyogo Prefecture in Japan, plus a serious selection of Snake River cuts—filet, sirloin, flat iron. It's hard to pin Roka down, making it liable to being lost in the shuffle.

But in July, Roka introduced Roka Reserve, a new concept that attempts to bridge the experience of a sushi omakase and the decadence of some of the restaurant's steak offerings. This eight-seat kushiyaki (skewer) experience elevates the Japanese street food to a fine-dining level while remaining casual and fun. From Sunday to Wednesday you get four courses for $75 (or a la carte skewers to build a more progressive experience), and it may just be the way forward for one of River Oaks's most interesting restaurants. 

To be sure, you're looking for the wagyu here—a buttery Japanese cut by itself, plus a domestic cut from Snake River Farms skewered with shishito peppers. You have to wait for the fourth course for it, though, along with an asparagus skewer topped with a sauce made from apple, onion, carrot, and sesame. So be sure to pace yourself—let the night go on for a bit and chat with the chef, possibly executive chef Jason Phan.

A meatball to rule them all.

The previous three courses will make it hard to save some room, though. Highlights include a chicken wing skewer that imparts the flavor of charred skin, a fantastic shiitake skewer with bright garlic ponzu butter, and a big ol' chicken meatball that's cooked in miso, and served with ginger, shallots, and an egg yolk soy sauce. Phan has a tremendous grip on the charcoal-powered robata—the juicy proteins stood up to their marinades and accompanying sauces. Plus, watching him plot out his moves and put the finishing touches on the plates is fun to watch.

Not everything was at the same high level (an eggplant skewer with grapefruit and yuzu was a bit boring, and hefty bites of pork belly in the same course were tough to eat), but you don't have to order the $75 four-course meal. I'd be happy returning to a seat for an a la carte experience. That way I can get the wagyu up front and let my appetite take over from there. 

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