Song of Ice and Fire

Stick to the raw and the grilled at this Japanese restaurant

Roka Akor entertains in grand style: Big room. Big "small" plates.

It's easy to get overwhelmed by the big menu, becoming mesmerized instead by the people-watching or the spectacle of the three-tiered robata grill in the open kitchen. Break through the haze by focusing on these three rules:

Start with shishitos. You think you've eaten your fair share of these thin-skinned, mild peppers in local bistros? Try them grilled ($8) here, spackled in char, doused with a tart, ponzu-like sauce, and finished with shaved bonito flakes.

Think raw. Roka Akor's sushi rolls, for all their creativity? You've had better. Instead, order a satiny butterfish tataki ($14) draped over lengths of white asparagus, the mellow flavor of the fish sharpened with a slap of yuzu juice. The arrival of translucent panes of sashimi ($34 for five varieties), arranged on a mammoth bowl of crushed ice, makes heads turn, and not just yours.

Where there's smoke, there's... The grill really is the heart of the kitchen; from it emerge tender chunks of aged rib eye ($38 for 12 ounces), seasoned with enough white-oak smoke to rival Santa Maria barbecue, and a succulent fillet of miso-marinated black cod ($32) encased in a magnolia leaf.