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Grilled yellowtail collar at Akira Ramen and Izakaya in Rockville. (Image: Travis Mitchell)

Curious Foods: Akira's Grilled Yellowtail Collar

Noodles are the first thing diners will notice at Akira, a small Japanese izakaya located along an unassuming stretch Rockville Pike. And while the ramen bowls are worthy of the attention, it's the hamachi kamyaki appetizer that will likely appeal most to adventurous eaters.

Known in English as grilled yellowtail collar, the seafood dish is not the easiest on the eyes – or the fork. The collar is unrefined, resembling something like a large chicken wing. But even wings are easier and quicker to eat than this. It takes work to navigate the collarbone and pick off the chunks of tender, tasty meat. It's a flavorful reward for those willing to put in the effort.

"It's the only part of the fish that gets cooked on the bone and it also probably tastes so good, because the muscles used in that part of the fish causes it to be a little sweet, really tender, full of rich flavor and juicy," says Akira chef Tony Lin. "You just have to be a little more careful to avoid the bones, but its definitely a worthwhile investment."

Lin says the dish is a common offering in Japanese cooking, and a go-to choice for diners in the know. It only takes a few bites to understand why. Much like with a steak or pork chop, the proximity to bone produces meat that's delicate, tender and succulent. Its worth working through every little nook, though it's nearly impossible to get it entirely clean.

Akira's hamachi preparation is simple and also on the healthier side. This fish gets just a sprinkle of salt before being cooked in the oven (there's no added fat or oil involved) and served with a soy-based dipping sauce. One thing to keep in mind: an order of hamachi kamyaki ($9) takes an extra 15 minutes or so to get to the table, so plan accordingly. One portion can be easily shared by two, but seasoned fans may want to horde one for themselves. It's a light starter to pair with one of the shop's seven types of ramen, which range from spicy volcano or deep fried karaage chicken ramen.

Lin says the dish has sold well since the restaurant's fall 2017 opening, especially for being an ingredient that would seem like an afterthought.

"Although many fisherman would consider it scrap, since it is the collar of the fish, it has become very popular because of its delicious taste," he says.

Akira Ramen and Izakaya is located at 1800 Rockville Pike H1 in Rockville.