I’m out in Chicago over the weekend for a special occasion. The decision was made to go to Roka Akor for dinner because it received great reviews and would be an excellent place to celebrate this occasion. So how did it fare?
The decor in here is modernistic with an open view of the grill. Our party of 12 was seated at a section that had a view out on the streets but was also partitioned away from the rest of the restaurant. Based on the menu, there were many Japanese style dishes with a modern American twist to it.
Some of us wanted to order this special course menu for $85. It looked pretty good, but in the end, all but one decided to order the $98 5-course Omakase meal. The omakase consists of 2 appetizers, 1 seafood, 1 meat, and 1 dessert course. For a table of 12, everything was served family style. On my side of the table, there were 3 people including myself that ate off the plate.
Course 1a. Grilled shishito peppers with bonito flakes. It tastes exactly like how you would expect shishito peppers to taste. I didn’t think they were that spicy, but the grill flavor was nicely done. Let me also mention that this little dish came out all by itself. The waiter told us this was first course. We became worried thinking our next dish was going to be the second course.
Course 1b. Butterfish tataki with white asparagus and yuzu. The waiter mentions that this is also part of first course. Our anxiety was atoned a bit since we now understood that each course of this omakase is not just 1 dish. This white butterfish dish was pretty good. I don’t remember exactly what it was like, but I remember it being light, refreshing, and … buttery/fatty.
Course 1c. Tuna. I remember this being somewhat on the salty side. It’s basically raw tuna with some type of soy sauce based marinated sitting on top of some sauteed onions. The tuna was good although I tasted more dressing than the fish itself.
Course 2a. Sashimi platter (multiple types of toro, tuna, sweet shrimp, kumomoto oysters, etc). When this came out, I was pretty stoked. All of this came out in a big bowl of ice. The most memorable things on this plate for me was the very fatty toro sitting on the block of ice in the back as well as the sweet shrimp with fried heads. Everything else was good as expected. There were multiple types of tuna AND toro (if I recall correctly). I’ve never had a bad kumomoto oyster (yet), so this platter in general was pretty good if you are into sashimi.
Course 2b. Some type of grilled langostine. This is basically some huge shrimp. The texture reminded me of a langostine. This shellfish was grilled and cut up in small portions. I thought this was just ok. The meat itself was slightly overcooked but still was plump and flavorful.
Course 3a. Black cod, pickled onions, yuzu dressing, black sesame. The plating on this seemed a little barren, but the cod was pretty good. The pickled onions was good as well although I didn’t get the pairing idea between this and the cod. The yuzu dressing with black sesame wasn’t needed especially since it would mask the flavor of the black cod. I understand the contrast of the sour flavoring of the pickled onions with the sweet yuzu dressing, but I really think either would rid the black cod’s natural flavors. The black cod itself was very good by itself.
Course 3b. Grilled brussel sprouts with bonito flakes and dressed with sauce. This came out with the black cod above, and it was just ok. Grilled brussel sprouts seems to be the popular thing to do now in many of these contemporary restaurants. This one in particular had more of that char taste and was slightly overdressed to my liking. The dressing itself has that ponzu type of kick to it where it’s salty but had some citrus/sour-ness to it.
Course 4a. Australian grade wagyu beef with sweet tangy sauce. This is perhaps my favorite course for the night. The wagyu was very tender and hearty. The outside was seared, but the middle was very close to uncooked which is perfectly fine. It came alongside a dipping sauce that reminds me of the Korean dipping sauce that comes out with the oil/salt medley at Korean BBQ.
Course 4b. Wild mushroom Japanese style risotto straight out of a stone pot. I’ll be honest. I am not a fan of mushrooms at all, so I passed this to someone else. I had a small taste to see if I can endure eating it, but I couldn’t because it’s mushrooms. The mushroom flavor from the tiny bite was very light, and the rice was cooked well with that starchy texture.
Course 5. Dessert. This picture was rather grainy due to the low lighting. There was a bunch of flavored ice cream and cakes in this platter. Some of the desserts that I remember include chocolate cake with vanilla, creme brulee, fruit, and various flavors of ice cream. I want to say green tea or red bean, but somehow I don’t think that’s right. By this course, the entire table was completely full and had trouble finishing this. None of us were feeling the dessert part, but I think it was a nice ending to this omakase. The chefs definitely were able to gauge our appetites and prepared well for us.
The omakase overall was very good. The seafood in general was very fresh, and the way they planned the courses for us was very thoughtful and fitting. If I had one complaint, it might be that I felt some of the seafood was too overdressed in sauce such that you won’t taste the flavor of the seafood. This of course is a personal preference, but I generally like dressing that assists the main showcase of the dish instead of masking it. Despite that small caveat, I would definitely recommend this place if you’re into a trendy spot with some good Japanese style seafood in Chicago.