We're just a week away from the opening of Roka Akor, the new upscale Japanese robata grill and sushi spot in the former Zinnia/Scott Howard space on Jackson and Montgomery. It's a third U.S. location for the brand, which has also opened restaurants in Chicago and Scottsdale, and it's an offshoot of the acclaimed, London-based Roka.
The restaurant opens Thursday, June 27, and just this week SFoodie got a preview of the bar program from bar star Daniel Hyatt, who left The Alembic after six years to spearhead the whiskey-focused program at Roka Akor.
Today, Eater caught up with executive chef Roman Petry, a native of Germany who has over a decade of experience working in Michelin-starred kitchens around Europe and in Asia, to talk about his plans for the menu, and what he most likes to eat in San Francisco.
So how does a German chef end up cooking Japanese food in San Francisco?
Years ago I had been working in Europe and in Asia, and the first time I walked into Roka [in London], it was really new to me, and new for Europe. You know, people kicking back and sharing plates, familiy style. You can really get yourself drunk on all the different flavors. I don't ever want to take myself too seriously, and I just fell in love with this place.
I came from Germany. I had no idea about sushi. I wanted to do something I had no experience with. I've got a really great job to be honest with you. I had only worked in Michelin-starred places in Spain and Austria. And finally I was just like, 'I want to work for you guys. I'll wash dishes, I don't care.'
What sets Roka Akor apart from other Japanese restaurants?
One thing that we do is project a lot more energy into the dining room and the bar. It's a lot less stiff and formal, and more fun, while still executing food at a high level. It's a place where you can lean back and enjoy yourself with friends, or on a date or whatever. A lot less formal than a generic Japanese restaurant.
We season our food, that's another thing. With the robata grill you have all this flavor, and smoke, and I guess the food is more based on Japanese pub food, or izakaya food, but executed on a larger scale. Great steaks, great seafood and shellfish and great cocktails.
And another thing is our dessert program. We got our pastry chef, Alexander Ruiz, from Redd. Dessert is really really important to me and I wanted to make sure we had impressive, beautiful desserts. We've got these phenomenal dessert platters on ice blocks. You have to see them.
What are your favorite dishes on the new menu?
My absolute favorite is this Mendocino uni with chicharrones, and chive blossoms. It shows San Francisco as the melting pot it is. All local product, and the chicharrones are so much fun, right from the Mission. It takes the stuffiness out of the dish, you know.
And we've come up with some great food that pairs well with Daniel Hyatt's cocktails for the bar menu.
How are you liking San Francisco?
I've actually been here four years. I met my wife in Arizona, and she got a job in Silicon Valley, so I've been commuting, actually, between here and Arizona and then Chicago, to open our restaurant there. So kind of a lot of travel, but I have a lot of frequent flyer miles now.
It's such an easy place to be a chef here, I have to say. All the products here are so beautiful. I've never worked with nicer produce in my life. I love it here.
What are your favorite places to eat in San Francisco?
I love Lolinda. Alex [Morgan] is great. His food is really good, fun, and relaxing. I don't like stuffy places too much. But that said, one of the best meals I've had in the U.S. was at Benu. What Corey is doing is incredible. I just went to Atelier Crenn. That place is great. The desserts are all just masterpieces. I love Camino, too ? and we even chose the architect from Camino to do the interior at Roka Akor, to use all those natural materials. It's really hard to find a bad meal in this city, though.
One other place I like, just when I want a taste of home, is Suppenkuche. You know, those guys in that kitchen, I don't think a single one of them has been to Germany, but they do a damn good job.
Any secrets to cooking a perfect steak?
To me the best way of cooking steak is the Argentian way. You have to respect your fire. We use a blend of three kinds of charcoal: binchotan (Japanese charcoal), cherry wood, and mesquite. The binchotan is for the heat, the mesquite for the balance, and the cherry just gives this amazing flavor. My secrets for steak? Don't touch it. Let it get a crust, don't be flipping it around. Nature knows what to do best, and we can only screw it up.
· All Roka Akor Coverage on Eater [~ESF~]