I originally wanted to title this review, “Sushi in the Suburbs.” After dining at Roka Akor in Oak Brook I now understand that the restaurant offers much more and can please diners of every type – from hard-core sashimi lovers to those who eat no fish or seafood at all.
Roka Akor – Oak Brook opened in December 2017 and is one of three Roka Akor locations in the Chicagoland area. The other two are in River North and Old Orchard. There are also locations in Scottsdale, San Francisco, and Houston. Despite having multiple sites, this is not in the least a “chain” restaurant. Each is locally-focused and although the menus are similar, much of the menu is driven by the choices of the individual chefs and by what is fresh and local. The restaurant’s name is derived from two words: RO and KA. The meaning of the first word is hearth, a gathering place where people socialize and take in the ambience; the latter stands for a burning fire and projecting energy.
The restaurant has a sleek, sophisticated, modern feel but manages to also come across as warm and inviting. For more casual dining, the bar offers an attractive and comfortable option. In addition to offering an extensive a wine and sake list, a wide variety of liquor, specialty cocktails and an exclusive Japanese beer list, Roka Bar also serves a comprehensive assortment of shochu – a distilled Japanese spirit used as a medicinal tonic in ancient times. Roka Bar offers a variety of house made shochu flavors including infusions with blood orange, raspberry, mango and chili, and honeycomb. With their intriguing cocktail program, they focus a great deal of energy on the ice – made from purified water, which is frozen over many days without oxygen to form crystal clear blocks. These are then hand-carved into miniature icebergs for each glass.
Guests can also grab one of the six seats at the sushi counter. Roka Akor’s sushi program was named “Best Sushi Restaurant in the U.S.” by Travel + Leisure and “Top 10 Sushi Spots in the United States” by Bon Appétit. It features fresh fish flown in daily, served with fresh wasabi grated at the table, house-made soy sauce, and Himalayan rock salt – a delicate seasoning that does not interfere with the natural flavor of the fish.
In the main dining room, guests have acess to an extensive menu. In addition to many traditional Japanese favorites (sushi, sashimi, maki, etc.) the restaurant offers a steak program featuring Japanese and domestic Wagyu selections. The extensive menu also includes prime American cuts from partners such as Greater Omaha and Snake River Farms, grilled over a select blend of charcoal in the Robata Grill.
For the most authentic – and in my opinion the best – experience I suggest the “Omakase” menu. The term translates as “to entrust the chef” and consists of a personalized tasting menu with exclusive off-the-menu dishes prepared with premium, chef-selected ingredients. Chefs are easily able to accommodate dietary restrictions. On my recent visit, I mentioned my allergy to raw onions and my guest indicated an allergy to shellfish. Chefs were able to slightly adjust several of the options to substitute or eliminate those ingredients for each of us – and certainly the taste and quality did not suffer in the least.
This multi-course tasting menu brings items from all sections of the menu to the table. Each course is carefully crafted by the chefs, and often includes items that are not on the regular menu but are fresh that day. Although the offerings will change, some of the standout items on my recent visit were definitely worth asking for:
- Escolar Tataki (white asparagus, yuzu shallot dressing): This is a light, refreshing bite. The ingredients are so simple, yet the layers of flavor were complex and surprising.
- Robata Grilled Pork Belly (pickled radish, tarragon miso): Pork belly (what I think of as the ‘king’ of bacon) rarely disappoints, and the addition of the tarragon miso was a perfect herbal and salty complement.
- Snake River Farms American Wagyu Sirloin (bone marrow, truffle aioli): Fork-tender only begins to describe how wonderful this steak was. The bone marrow – which they also offer as a side on the menu – was perfectly prepared and the truffle added an earthy bite to the umami of the other ingredients.
- Yuzu Miso Marinated Black Cod (pickled red onion): Another simple preparation, but delicately prepared and layered with flavor. I definitely suggest adding a bit of the pickled onion to a bite of the fish. That extra acid gives the dish the lift it needs.
- Japanese Mushroom Rice Hot Pot (with fresh-shaved black truffles): If anyone ever wondered, “Just what is this ‘umami’ thing, anyway?” then this is the dish that explains it to you. I laughed and called this an “umami bomb” with my guest. The flavors are dense and sumptuous. Again, a simple selection of ingredients yet prepared exquisitely.
The Omakase menu included many more courses, including sushi and sashimi selections. The ending was a sampler of desserts – from refreshing sorbet to decadent warm chocolate cake. One of the best of this selection for me was the Green Tea Custard served with caramelized banana, caramel sauce, and vanilla bean foam. Pace yourself through the meal – you definitely want to save room for dessert!
Whether you are stopping in for a lunch while shopping or setting up a dinner for a special occasion, Roka Akor – Oak Brook can easily accommodate your needs. The menu is extensive and can be adjusted for most dietary restrictions. They have everything from sushi to steak, a fantastic wine list, and one of the best cocktail programs of the restaurants in that area.
Roka Akor – Oak Brook is located at 166 Oakbrook Center in Oak Brook, IL. The restaurant is open for lunch daily, 11:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. Dinner is served Monday – Thursday, 3:30 p.m. – 10 p.m.; Friday – Saturday, 3:30 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.; and Sunday, 3:30 p.m. – 9 p.m.
For more information, call (630) 348-9210 or email to [email protected].