Forget artwork. The focal point of Roka Akor’s dining room is the robata grill, a multi-tiered, oak charcoal–fueled contraption that leaves prime ribeye, glazed pork ribs, and Madagascar prawns precisely blistered on the outside and moist and tender within. This approach lets the inherent flavors of the top-quality ingredients take center stage, and accordingly, executive chef Ce Bian takes a considered, minimalistic approach to many dishes, plating even hot entrees with the elegance one generally expects of sushi.
Of course, there is sushi, too—Bon Appetit voted Roka Akor one of the top 10 sushi spots in the U.S. in 2009. Fresh fish is flown in daily for nigiri, sashimi, and a concise selection of maki, most filled simply with seafood (or wagyu beef, in one case) and perhaps some avocado and an element of spice.
In striking counterpoint to the fire of the robata grill and the oceanic flavors of the sushi, the bar gets attention with ice. Specifically, glass-sized icebergs, carved by hand from enormous, crystal-clear blocks frozen, like popsicles for the children of billionaires, from purified water in an airtight environment over days. These maintain the purity of Roka Akor's signature shochu tonics, a mellower take on the vodka cocktail. Harking back to the semi-medicinal tradition of ancient Japanese shochu-making, mixolgists start with a base of house-infused shochu (perhaps flavored with blood orange or mango and chili) and add macerated fruits and spices such as plum, ginseng, and pine needle.
Sushi Roku’s menu is loaded with delicious cuisine and numerous sushi options. Light your appetite’s fuse with a selection of hot and cold appetizers, such as edamame hummus with wonton chips ($8) or the sauteed Chinese green bean dish known as ingen itame ($7). After miso soup with tofu ($4), taste-test the restaurant’s voluminous collection of sushi ($4¬–$10 for two pieces) and sashimi ($8–$20 for four pieces) options, which include freshwater eel, squid, smelt egg, yellowtail, and luck dragon. Hunger assassins artfully disguise themselves as plates of grilled filet mignon served with mashed potatoes and homemade teriyaki sauce ($31), or panko-crusted salmon accompanied by wasabi cream and tonkatsu sauce ($21).
It's not unusual to find Tammy, owner of Pearl Sushi Lounge & Bomber Bar, standing behind the bar at one of her two restaurant locations, chatting with customers while they sip her signature cocktails and sake bombs. Her crew of bartenders takes their tasks seriously, mixing up martinis infused with soju, sake, fresh fruit juices, and muddled blackberries, or pouring red and white wines straight from the special tap designed to prevent oxidation. Inside the kitchens, the chefs work with equal dedication, whether crafting classic california sushi rolls or the more inventive White Snake roll stuffed with sweet-potato tempura, tamago, asparagus, and cream cheese, and topped with escolar and a spicy peach sauce. Small plates sport crispy calamari sautéed with fresh ginger and garlic while Big Plate meals feature wok-charred beef and teriyaki salmon flanked with miso soup, salad, and steamed edamame.
Dai Hayashi traveled the world for nearly 20 years before learning that his favorite home wasn't somewhere on a map, but in the kitchen. After leaving Tokyo in 1977 and exploring Russia and Europe, he found himself in Los Angeles, in the kitchen of Hana Sushi, where he became an astute apprentice in the Japanese culinary art of careful slicing and assembly. Dai stayed put in Southern California for 24 years, during which time he worked as a chef and eventually opened his first restaurant.
In 1993, Dai packed up his spatulas, kids, and other inanimate objects and moved to Scottsdale, where he harnessed his years of expertise to open Sushi Ko. Today, he works alongside his children—Ika and Hikaru—behind the sushi bar, slicing fresh fillets and dutifully participating in wasabi-eating contests.
Born in Seoul, South Korea, chef Yohan Yun first began working in sushi restaurants when he was 16. However, he credits his father with teaching him many of the skills that he still uses at Big Eye Sushi Bar to craft miso, soy sauce, and nato, a type of fermented soybean. The menu spotlights never-frozen fish; even the maki use rice sparingly. The rolls instead accessorize the tightly bundled fish and vegetables with such adventurous ingredients as chipotle cream sauce and thin slices of lemon. Orders of sashimi arrive with fragrant ginger sauce or jalapeños, keeping diners from tossing chopsticks to rakish musketeers having sword duels.
Armed with 60 items, the menu at Yume Sushi Grill portends a wide selection for sushi disciples. Kick back in the cushy dining room chairs and cast out nets for the deep-fried calamari ($6). Lunching office warriors can treat recently unmuzzled bosses to a quintet of sashimi ($10) or a savory lunch special such as the cali roll and five pieces of sushi, varieties include red-snapper tai, tuna maguro, and salmon sake ($8.95). Like ducks flying south to play frisbee golf, the flavorful chicken bulgogi ($10) can naturally find its way to any table. Vegetarians, meanwhile, can join in the palate parade by ushering in a band of stewed vegetables and thick noodles doused in yellow curry sauce ($12).