- Sushi and robata chefs plug away in an open setting
- A wood-slatted private dining area
- Roka Akor's extensive wine and sake room
- Dramatic fixtures hang from the ceiling and walls
- Large windows allow natural light to come in off Clark Street
- Flat-screen TVs welcome people to relax at the bar
- Lively murals grace the walls, evoking a bit of India
- Guests can dine at the casual counter looking into the kitchen
Roka Akor and Bombay Spice [Photo: Timothy Hiatt Photography]
The robata grill trend continues to escalate in Chicago, now with the opening or Arizona transplant Roka Akor. The restaurant chain, named a top 10 spot by Bon Appetit, hits River North today, opening alongside its sister restaurant, Bombay Spice, but more on the Indian restaurant in a moment.
The sprawling 238-seat Roka Akor will only serve dinner to start, but will eventually add lunch service later this summer. The restaurant's arrival brings another upscale sushi spot in River North and we'll see how the robata cooking compares with that of Union Sushi + Barbeque Bar, which opened in May.
Roka Akor's wide open dining room can be seen through tall windows facing Clark and Illinois streets and the natural light only enhances the abundance of wood throughout and competes with the interior glass wall enclosing the stunning wine room. The lounge, which pulls its 75 bottles of sake from the aforementioned wine room, features a bar carved from a single tree trunk. The massive open sushi/robata bar has a cool hanging sculpture above the chefs and the private dining room is replete with log wall coverings and a massive branch sculpture coming down from the ceiling.
Roka looks to set itself apart with it menu offerings, which are not cheap. It looks as if they'll serve top-quality sushi, and with sushi and sashmi ranging between $6.50 and $20 for two pieces, it should be some of the freshest fish you've had. Some Roka signature dishes to look for include Wagyu beef and kimchi dumplings; robata grilled scallops with yuzu shiso and wasabi; the hamachi serrano chili roll; rock shrimp tempura with wasabi peas; and lamb cutlets with Korean spices. You can also select to have chef Ce Bian prepare an omakase, or chef's choice dinner, for you, starting at $98.
Next door, Bombay Spice also opens today, but will begin serving both lunch and dinner, offering people in the area a modern Indian option. Chef Sunil Kumar approaches the menu with a healthy perspective, cooking with olive oil instead of butter or ghee and also has many gluten-free and vegan options (as do most Indian spots). Most items on the menu fall under the $15 price point, making it a good lunch option, with dishes like chickpea ceviche; chili shrimp; tandoori wings; lentil cakes; various naan-wiches (veggie, tofu, chicken, lamb); and a "create your entree" selection where you choose a main ingredient and a housemade sauce.
The interior is whimsical and inviting, with murals evoking an Indian vibe and a casual mosaic-covered counter where diners can look toward the kitchen and a wine bar with a number of flat-panel TVs where people can order from a number of $25 bottles of wine, keeping the affordability factor in line.
· Roka Akor menu [PDF]
· Bombay Spice menu [PDF]