Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Roka Akor

Location: 456 N Clark
Cost: Variable, Probably around $50-$100 per person

For some reason, a common question I've been getting lately has been what my favorite sushi spot is. It's pretty clear that many of my readers are frustrated with the similarity amongst restaurants in the city. Now the first thing I ask is what kind of sushi they're ordering. It's totally pointless for someone to look for a unique sushi restaurant so that they can order some "spicy tina" and california rolls. For the few people that get past round 1 of questioning, I then ask what they'd like to see. I'm not really a big fan of the crazy sauces or anything like that. Really, all of these conversations boil down to finding somewhere with high quality fish, subtle ways of altering a normal presentation, simple flavors, and few great non-sushi dishes. For those reasons, I've often suggested Macku.

The other day I was contacted to come try out the chef's menu or Omakase at Roka Akor. I hadn't heard much about them except that they had a robata grill, an extensive sake menu, and a swanky interior. One friend of mine told me that the menu could get pretty adventurous. Accordingly, I brought my friend Josh who I thought could thoroughly appreciate all of these things.

Like I was suggesting above, Roka Akor has a dark, trendy vibe that befits its location on the corner of Clark and Illinois. They were pretty full on the Tuesday night that we went in on, so I'd suggest you make a reservation. Also, parking is a pain over there, so you should take a cab or the red line. There's a lounge in the front of the house. The main dining area as well as the sushi bar seating gives a great view of the open kitchen and robata grill. Another nice touch is the complimentary coat check.

I usually mention something here about the wait staff being helpful or nice, but this was something else. On top of the menu advice and thoughtful coursing of our meal, the plate management was immaculate. If you're looking to try the Omakase menu, I think that will typically run around $100 per plate, but you can also go for a variety of sushi or grilled options and spend about half that price.

One quick tip worth noting is that they get their shipments of exotic fish on most Wednesday afternoons. If you go in around 2 or 3 PM you're likely to see the chefs prepping some pretty interesting stuff. Play your cards right, and you can probably get something right off the initial breakdown.

The Food
After a lengthy tutorial, Josh and I went with the Dry Mountain Sky Sake. It had a light sweetness and was easy to drink. Along with our sake, we got the ball rolling with some Butterfish Tataki, Tuna Tataki, and Shishito Peppers off the robata. The butterfish had a nice fat content and while the tuna packed a crisper, leaner bite. The peppers were manageable with regards to heat and had just the right amount of salt with the bonito flakes. By the way, if you haven't seen bonito flakes before... they move. Your dish isn't alive, it's just the side effect of the thin flakes and the heat of the dish.

 The Butterfish Tataki

 The Tuna Tataki

 The Shishito Peppers

The next course came out on a boat of ice. We had a variety of sashimi and nigiri including Suzuki (striped bass), Sea Bream, a Trio of Tunas with varying fat content, Oysters, Escolar, and Botan Ebi (sweet red shrimp). This platter was the biggest highlight of the meal with the shrimp playing the starring role. I'd never had anything like this before. The texture and sweetness of the raw shrimp is something you'll have to try for yourself. They get about 20 of them fresh in each day. Then they fry up the head and thorax to make for an adventurous twist. It was amazing how the fat content of each tuna changed the texture in the trio. The Escolar had a hint of sesame flavor and went great with the freshly ground wasabi.

The Sushi Course

 The Escolar Nigiri

 The Japanese Oysters

 The Botan Ebi and Seaweed Salad

 The Trio of Tuna

 The Head and Thorax of the Botan Ebi

 The Suzuki and The Sea Bream

Our next item was the Red Miso Soup. I'd never had anything like this before either. The broth was earthy with almost a beef broth feel to it. Then, instead of tofu, there were nice big chunks of lobster mixed in. If that wasn't enough, the shaved ginger really gave things a zing.

The Red Miso Soup

The course after that came mostly off of the robata grill. We started with the Black Cod which they marinade for three days. It ends up with this beautiful glaze and flaky texture. They say it's their most popular item, and I can see why. If you feel like some cooked fish, you can't go wrong here. Then they brought out a wet aged New York Strip Steak. It was cooked on the rarer side of medium rare, just how we like it. On the side was a truffle aioli and a stack of Japanese mushrooms. It was impressive how well they performed on the steak with such a strong suit in seafood. With the steak they brought out some brussel sprouts and what they referred to as Japanese mushroom risotto. The sprouts were crispy while the risotto was creamy with a strong savory quality.

The Black Cod

 Sweet Potatoes

 The New York Strip Steak

 The Brussel Sprouts

The Japanese Risotto

 The Serving Dish for the Risotto

In case we weren't full enough, they brought out another ice boat to serve the dessert course. We had Mixed Berry Sorbet,  Jasmine Tea Sorbet, a Green Tea Custard with Caramelized Bananas, Chocolate Cake with Coffee Ice Cream and Roasted Nuts, and a wide range of fruits (dates, figs, Japanese pears, melons, and berries). My favorite was the green tea custard, and I was really impressed that they were able to give us such fresh fruit in the middle of November.

The Dessert Platter

 The Mixed Berry Sorbet

 The Green Tea Custard with Caramelized Bananas

 The Chocolate Cake with Coffee Ice Cream

 The Jasmine Tea Ice Cream

I've been eating at sushi places with my friend Josh for a really long time and this was by far one of our most impressive experiences. Roka Akor has a wide array of fish prepared and served properly in a way that shakes things up from the traditional maki order (although I'm sure you could get that too). The cooked items were spot on too. As the meal was on the house, there will be no Pearl rating, but I can easily say this was one of the better meals I've had since starting Jeff Eats Chicago. Give it a go yourself.

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