With locations in Chicago, San Francisco and Scottsdale, Ariz., Roka Akor mixes sushi with meats grilled in an open kitchen that makes the entire space smell delicious. The plates of lamb chops, skewers of mushrooms in soy garlic butter and lightly charred sweet potatoes drizzled in ginger teriyaki were so popular with the crowd they tended to disappear as soon as they were set down, making it hard to get a taste of everything.
While it’s smaller than its Chicago counterpart, the Skokie location does have plenty of outdoor seating, with wood tables and chairs surrounded by beds of purple and white flowers. More flowers and a bonsai tree decorate the front of the space and the dining room offers a view of both the robata grill and the restaurant’s impressive wine selection. You can also dine at the bar while watching TV and sipping a cocktail like the Roka 75, a refreshing blend of gin, lychee and sparkling wine.
The restaurant was also showing off plenty of its non-grilled offerings at the opening. There were plates of sushi including yellowtail topped with thin slices of spicy Serrano peppers, California rolls made with snow crab instead of the all-too-common imitation seafood and the vegetarian-friendly pickled vegetable roll which offers a crispy mix of asparagus, cucumber, daikon, plum and zucchini. Other bites included Hamachi sashimi given some kick by Serrano and a garlic ponzu sauce, gooey pieces of fried tofu topped with wasabi aioli and little paper cups filled with lightly fried calamari with a wedge of lime.
Roka Akor owner Jon Kapoor, a Lake Forest native, greeted the crowd and explained the origin of the name. Roka translates as fire gathering in Japanese — akor is just an inversion of the word — a tradition where fishermen would gather around a fire after returning from a trip, which suited the mix of fish and fire you’ll find on the menu here. He introduced Jason Alford, former executive chef for the restaurant’s Scottsdale location, who will be serving in that position at the Skokie restaurant. Alford, an Evanston resident, has worked in the restaurant industry for more than 15 years. The formal greeting was capped off by opening a barrel of sake to serve to the crowd.
The grand opening party was invitation only, bringing in people with connections to the restaurant including liquor distributors, hotel concierges and marketing representatives from Chicago and the surrounding suburbs.
Chicago resident Diana Maldonado said she’s been to the Chicago location, but was happy to see Roka Akor open at Old Orchard since she comes to the mall regularly to shop.
“It’s high-quality seafood, very fresh, very innovative,” she said.
Deerfield resident James Hull was excited to see the restaurant opening close to home.
“I’ve had friends who’ve been to the one downtown and they had good reviews,” Hull said. “When you mix steakhouse with Japanese fusion cuisine it’s a good pallet for me.”