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Food Shots and Menus for Roka Akor, Opening Thursday

A preview of Jackson Square’s new Japanese restaurant and bar.

Mendocino uni with lime and chicharrones.
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Butterfish tatatki with white asparagus and yuzu, a signature dish at all Roka Akor locations.
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Crispy squid with chili and lime.
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Tuna tataki with chili ponzu and red onion.
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Nigiri of sea bream with cherry blossom (bottom) and scallop with black truffle (top).
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Deluxe sashimi platter.
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Yuzu marinated black cod wrapped in a magnolia leaf, served with pickled onions "as a palate cleanser."
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Hotpot sticky rice, heady with mushroom chunks and truffle oil.
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One of the most flavorful bites of they day: Wagyu flat iron, cooked to a perfect medium rare with maitakes and soy egg yolk for dipping.
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Sweet charcoal grilled corn draped in flavor-rich soy garlic butter.
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Desserts, front to back: Marshmallow-topped chocolate dessert filled with raspberries and Pop Rocks, black sesame ice cream, Yuzu snow ball.
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When you walk into Roka Akor, the newest Jackson Square restaurant at 801 Montgomery, you enter an open, breezy room almost entirely made of blond colored wood: from the gorgeous floors to the live edge tables to the “scissor wall” adding texture to a private dining area that is separated from the main dining area by glass walls. A huge open kitchen takes up the majority of the street-facing wall. “We call it a naked kitchen, not an open kitchen,” explained chef Roman Petry in his bubbly German accent. “You can sit back and watch every single cook and chef work in our kitchen. To me Roka Akor is about having fun, and there’s nothing more relaxing than watching other people work, right?”

That's a sense of humor on Petry, who maintained a sense of calm despite the undeniably stressful fact that Roka Akor will open to the public on Thursday of this week. A communal table’s worth of hungry, snap-happy food journalists gathered to taste through much of the menu yesterday. The kitchen centers on several large Japanese robata grills, but there’s also an extensive sushi program, fried and sautéed menu items and and a barrage of inventive desserts. In step with most new menus these days, dishes are designed for sharing.

Roka Akor has outposts in Scottsdale, AZ and Chicago, but the brand has made a big effort to endear itself to the local community. Barman Daniel Hyatt—whose name has been synonymous with The Alembic for years—is running the bar program, where HQ is a gorgeous square-shaped subterranean bar. See his cocktail list here.

Executive sushi chef Mike Lim comes from Morimoto Napa, and his sushi program is serious business. Fish is shipped in four times a week from Japan. (Petry noted that when he was a chef at Zuma in Hong Kong, they only got shipments twice a week from Japan.) When Lim placed nigiri on the table—red sea bream with cherry blossom and scallop with black truffle—he asked that we not dip the sushi in soy sauce. One server shaved Himalayan sea salt at the table, which was there for dipping—a more delicate seasoning that wouldn’t interfere with the natural flavor of the fish. San Francisco lacks inventive, Japanese-style sushi programs in design-forward atmoshperes like this. I imagine Roka Akor will be filling a new niche in the area. 

Pastry chef Alexander Ruiz last worked at Richard Reddington’s Redd and Redd Wood in Yountville, CA. He’s contributed many original items to the menu: from a beautifully melty yuzu snoball made from a two-layers of semi freddo to a light green tea custard served in a jar with caramelized bananas on top.

Take a look through some key menu items and descriptions above and have a peek here at the lunch, dinner and dessert menus. Note that Roka Akor will serve food and drinks until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. Add it to the short list of places for late night eats in San Francisco.

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