Orion’s Roof

Transcendent dining in Virginia Beach.

(photo by Keith Lanpher)

SUSPENDED BETWEEN THE SEA AND stars, my husband and I drink in the view from one of Coastal Virginia’s newest restaurants, Orion’s Roof, perched on the 23rd floor of the Marriott Virginia Beach Oceanfront. Part of the Cavalier Resort campus, this fine dining restaurant opened last August to a steady stream of reservations from both locals and tourists attracted to its stellar view and Japanese-Peruvian Nikkei cuisine.

From our vantage point beside a huge window looking east, we have the sensation of being on a cruise ship far from shore. The Atlantic stretches before us as darkness descends, and the lights of myriad ships blink on the horizon’s edge. It’s a view matched only by Orion’s extraordinary cuisine.

(photo by Keith Lanpher)

Chuck Sass, executive vice president of food and beverage at GoldKey/PHR, the company behind Orion’s Roof and numerous properties in the region, agrees the restaurant’s 180-degree view of the resort area is breathtaking. “But we want our guests to come here for the food,” he adds. Sass helped develop the concept of Orion’s Roof from “ground zero” and admits that open- ing the restaurant in the midst of a pandemic has been a somewhat harrowing experience.

“It’s a tough business to begin with,” he says, noting the many challenges the restaurant has faced, such as having fewer available tables and making sure safety steps are met. “We have a strict process in place,” he says. “Our staff members get their temperature taken and logged every day at the start of their shift.”

Management has also had to cross-train staff and hire rotating chefs to work throughout GoldKey’s various restaurants in Virginia Beach and Norfolk. Other challenges include managing staff when an employee has to quarantine. “Having a general manager with a strong culinary background has been a big plus,” says Sass, referring to GM Tiffany Sawyer. “We’ve both had to roll up our sleeves and get in the kitchen when duty calls.”

(courtesy of Davis Ad Agency)


The combination of new ingredients and traditional Japanese techniques gave birth to a bold style of cuisine, which took the name Nikkei as well.


In spite of the roadblocks, Orion’s Roof has achieved a remarkable legacy in the short time it’s been open—thanks to the talents of its culinary team, including Chef Hisashi Araki, who guided the restaurant’s first few months, and the recent addition of Sous Chef Christian Valencia, who arrived in January after his long-delayed work visa was finally granted.

(courtesy of Davis Ad Agency)

Chef Valencia graduated from a culinary school in Chile and has helmed kitchens in his native country of Peru, as well as Mexico, Central America, and Europe. But he has always wanted to come to the U.S. “This restaurant is a dream for me,” he says. “The team is great, the kitchen is awesome, the ingredients are high quality. I have everything I need to do a good job.”

Orion’s Roof specializes in the unique blend of cuisine known as Nikkei, a term that refers to the many Japanese who emigrated to Peru and other countries at the turn of the 20th century. As they adapted to their new homeland, the immigrants began blending Peruvian flavors with Japanese dishes.

(photo by Keith Lanpher)

The combination of new ingredients and traditional Japanese techniques gave birth to a bold style of cuisine, which took the name Nikkei as well. Chef Nobu Matsuhisa was among those who introduced this genre to the U.S. via his restaurant chain NOBU, which now includes locations around the world. Today Nikkei-style restaurants are growing in popularity and stature.

Chef Valencia explains some of the secrets of Nikkei cuisine, starting with three chilies that are basic to all Peruvian cooking: aji amarillo, rocoto, and aji panca. These are often used to create sauces enhancing main dishes. One example is tiradito, raw fish served with a spicy sauce, exemplifying the culinary influences of both Japan and Peru. The chef regularly creates specials, such as a salmon-topped maki roll paired with creamy anticucho sauce, avocado mousse, and crunchy quinoa. In the roll’s center sits a plump tempura-battered shrimp.


It’s a view matched only by Orion’s extraordinary cuisine.


(photo by Keith Lanpher)

As you would expect from a restaurant on the Atlantic seaboard, Orion’s Roof is seafood-centric, which dovetails delightfully with Nikkei cuisine. During our dinner, my husband and I sample dishes that are both familiar and exotic, their nuanced flavors evoking distant lands, leaving us wanting more.

(courtesy of Davis Ad Agency)

Local Rappahannock oysters on the half shell are presented with a tongue-tingling mignonnette containing yuzu, shiso, and rice wine vinegar, the perfect balance of sweetness and acidity. Five generous slices of yellowtail tuna comprise the Hamachi Carpaccio, dressed with a yuzu soy sauce, cilantro, and thinly sliced peppers, a divine combination deserving of the silver chopsticks our server brings. Our third starter is a bowl of crab, shrimp, clams, and octopi bathed in sweet vinegar and accompanied by crunchy seaweed salad and cucumbers.

(courtesy of Davis Ad Agency)

For our mains I choose a roasted rack of lamb, and Peter opts for the grilled local rockfish. Both are excellent examples of the Nikkei fusion style of cooking. My lamb is prepared sous-vide and arrives at the table rare and melt-in-your-mouth tender with a black walnut-shiso crust. Two sauces elevate the lamb to an even higher plane: bulgogi sauce—salty, spicy, and sweet—and a smudge of aji panca paste, whose smoky, fruity notes I adore.

Peter’s rockfish is a standout. Moist and meaty, it’s served with a crunchy grilled rice ball, al dente asparagus, and a daikon salad, accompanied by umami-rich ponzu sauce, whose salty sweet- ness complements the clean briny taste of the fish. Desserts range from shaved ice to a Thai-fried banana, but Peter and I are drawn to try the Signature Cavalier Mile-High Cake, prepared by the Cavalier’s pastry chef, Alicia Aab. It’s a decadent layered sponge cake flavored by Tarnished Truth bourbon and oozing with espresso buttercream and chocolate cremeux.

(courtesy of Davis Ad Agency)

A variety of craft cocktails are on tap including many whose ingredients feature house-made juices and bitters, and Orion’s Roof has an extensive sake and wine menu as well. “We’ve got unbelievable sakes and wines,” says Chuck Sass. “Our beverage and spirit program will rival anyone in the state.”

The case could be made that the restaurant itself is one of a kind in Virginia. The kitchen’s attention to technical detail and focus on culinary excellence, combined with its unique Japanese-Peruvian cuisine, are the ingredients for a destination restaurant par excellence.

The transcendent view is the icing on the cake.


This article originally appeared in the June 2021 issue.

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