For several years, Roka Akor has set a high standard for dining in River North. 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 offers a unique fusion of prime cuts of steaks, seafood, and vegetables with unique Japanese-inspired marinades and sauces, along with sushi, sashimi, tempura, and extraordinary desserts.
Recently they have reconcepted their lunch menu and the results are equally superior to their dinner offerings. This new lunch menu has been crafted to complement (and to be complemented by) local artisan beers. Each month, Roka Akor will choose a regional brewery and pick specific beers to pair with the lunch menu. For the month of August, the featured brewery is Two Brothers Brewing Company from Warrenville, IL. You can check their website each month for details on that month's featured brewery.
I was recently invited to try this new menu and can easily report that this is one of the finest lunch options in the River North area. Throughout the meal, we sampled three different options from Two Brothers – Prairie Path Golden Ale, Cane & Abel Hopped-Up Red Rye Ale, and their newest offering called Cabinet of Curiosities White IPA with Coriander and White Pepper. All three were superb pairings with the inventive lunch options.
For the meal, we were lucky enough to sample all of the following items and each was something that I would order again on a visit to Roka Akor:
- Butterfish Tataki with Shiso and Yuzu Shallot Dressing: Do yourself a favor and make sure you order this. The butterfish is aptly named because this was sweet, tender and . . . well . . . buttery. The slight citrusy flavor of the yuzu created a lovely interplay with the light savory flavors of the fish.
- Wagyu Beef and Kimchi Dumplings: Dumplings are an expected item on any Japanese menu. These were quite well-prepared and with a nice interplay between the savory/umami beef and the tart vinegar taste of the home-made kimchi.
- Assorted Baos (Pork Belly, Braised Duck, Seared Salmon, Mushroom & Tofu): Baos are a new addition to the Roka menu and these were uniformly good. My favorite was the vegetarian option (mushroom & tofu).
- Red Miso Soup with Lobster: Red miso is densely flavorful alone, but add some well-prepared lobster and you have a tremendously tasty combination that will become even better as the weather turns cooler.
- Crispy Butterfish Maki: I love maki, and this was one of the most superb maki rolls I have tasted in a very long time. Of everything we sampled, this is one that I would definitely say should be on your “must try” list.
- Yuzu Miso Marinated Black Cod Skewers: The cod alone was well-prepared and flavorful but the yuzu sauce on the side (for dipping) definitely elevates this robata dish.
- Sweet Potato with Ginger Teriyaki: The grilled flavor from the robata give this simple preparation a wonderful smokiness. Add the ginger and you have a combination of sweet, savory, umami and salty that is surprisingly complex for something so simple.
- Yaki Soba with Chicken, Sweet Soy and Mixed Vegetables: The chicken has a tendency to be a trifle overdone but otherwise this is an excellent combination. The soba noodles and sauce were the best part of this preparation.
- Japanese Wagyu Skirt Steak with Maitake Mushrooms and Shiso Chimichurri: Fork-tender, rich, buttery . . . all of these and more. This was some of the best steak I have had in a very long time.