Monday, March 19, 2018

Drinks & Desserts at Roka Bar

I've reviewed Roka Akor, an upscale Japanese restaurant in San Francisco, several times before, including the high quality and reasonably priced business lunch, a crazy impressive sushi delivery, and a simple takeout lunch.

I'll skip the background, and leave you to read those previous reviews if you care.
Drinks & Desserts.
My visit this time was to Roka Bar, the downstairs lounge that serves light bites and drinks, along with the full restaurant menu.  We visited just for drinks and deserts.

The overall experience was pleasant, and matched what we were looking for, a quiet place to talk, sip cocktails, and eat dessert, but, I didn't particularly like anything I had.  The service was great though, very attentive and polite.


The upstairs restaurant is light filled, with huge windows.  It is a very open space, including an open kitchen.

But we went to Roka Bar for this visit, downstairs, a completely different atmosphere, with zero windows and thus no natural light, very, very dim interior. 
That isn't to say it wasn't a nice space.  It was beautifully designed, and much larger than I expected.

Lounge furniture makes up the majority of the seating, surrounding low tables.  There are little candles on every table.  Interesting artwork on the walls.  Rich color tones.

I visited with a group of 4, arriving at 7:30pm on a Saturday.  We were able to get a private area with couches and lounge chairs with no problem, and had our choice of several different seating areas.  I'm not sure when/if they get crowded, but it was only half-full the entire time we were there, which was perfect, quiet enough for easy conversation, but it certainly didn't feel awkwardly empty.

The space was really beautiful, but actually not very comfortable for sitting (or eating).  Every other group of patrons was seated at low tables like us, and they all had full meals, so I think they struggled even more than us, as we only had drinks and desserts.
A large bar occupies the center of the room, with a beautiful wooden overhang for dining.  This looks like it would actually be a great place to dine with just one other person, the only seating that has you seated at a table of normal height for dining.

A random side note: the bathroom smelt really great.  The attention to detail like this is what made the experience overall good, even if I didn't care for my food or drink.  Someone really did care about the space and the atmosphere.


We were mostly there for cocktails, although there is an impressive wine, whiskey, and sake selection as well.  Cocktails are broken into three categories: Roka Signatures, San Francisco Specialties and Classics, Old & New.
Roka Fashion / Boozy & Bitter.  $13
"Suntory Toki, Japanese Black Sugar, Citrus Oils, Bitters."

I opted for the "Roka Fashion", from the Roka Signatures menu.

I didn't really like it.

The flavor was complex, the citrus oils did add a slight fruitiness.  But, it was overall just too bitter for my taste, particularly on the finish, leaving me with a bitter taste that lingered.

I wouldn't get this again.
Roka Ginger Ale. $6.
"Fresh Ginger & Lemon, Simple Syrup, Soda Water."

My dining companion who wasn't drinking alcohol had two choices of drink, cucumber rose lemonade, or the Roka ginger ale.

He was really impressed with the drink, commenting several times on how good it was.  I tried a sip, and, yes, it was very good.  The ginger was quite strong, but fresh, and well balanced by the citrus.  Clearly made form fresh ginger.  More successful than my cocktail, for sure.


The dessert menu had 5 items, plus a daily ice cream or sorbet by the scoop, in addition to the signature Roka Akor dessert platter.  The dessert platter is a crazy feast that costs $18 per person, and I've seen photos of, so I knew it was far more than we needed, plus, uh, we didn't need to get a $72 dessert!

We ended up ordering 3 of the desserts, skipping the simple ice cream and sorbet, and the two other desserts that were both based around shaved ice and ice cream.  San Francisco cold summer weather just didn't inspire frozen desserts, although I was excited by the pandan ice cream that was part of one shaved ice creation, and the red bean and mochi with the other..
Baked Taro and Coconut Custard with Jackfruit Ice Cream. $12.
As soon as I saw the dessert menu, it was clear what I wanted.  This.  I didn't entirely know what it was, but I adore taro and would gladly consume it in any form.  Bonus points for "custard", as that sounds like "pudding", and I love puddings.  More bonus points for jackfruit, something I rarely (if ever?) have in the US.

When the dessert arrived, I was impressed, visually.  Served on a large earthenware piece.  Elaborate plating.  Which, makes sense, given that I know the restaurant serves well plated food.

But ... as good as it looked, and as much as it incorporated ingredients I like, it just wasn't very good.

The taro and coconut custard was a bar shape in the middle of the plate.  I couldn't taste any coconut (not in the custard, not anywhere).  It did taste of taro, but it also had a strong "fake sweet" taste, like artificial sweetener.  The texture was a bit odd, kinda just mush.  Slightly taro flavored mush.  Not a rich custard as I was expecting.  Not a highlight.

The custard was topped with thin slices of jackfruit, fruity, flavorful, and I loved these.  The crispy taro chips on top were also tasty, and I loved the crunch.

The jackfruit ice cream wasn't great though, fairly icy, not a smooth creamy texture.  It came on top of a few more pieces of jackfruit, which again stole the show.

The final element was the smear you can see here, that we weren't ever able to identify.

Overall, I just didn't like this.  At all.  Yes, the jackfruit and taro chips were tasty, but those were about two bites, and everything else was extremely disappointing.  No one else really bothered with a second bite of this one, but I kept trying.  Eventually, even I gave up, and we left this one unfinished. 
Warm Valhrona Chocolate Cake with Almond Caramel & Vanilla Ice Cream. $14.
One of my dining companions ordered the signature Roka Akor dessert, on the menu at every one of their locations, and a permanent item: the molten chocolate cake.  It came topped with custom printed Roka Akor chocolate.

I do not eat chocolate at night, so I just had a tiny bite.  It was pretty textbook molten chocolate cake.  It was warm, the cake shell wasn't too thick, and it burst with oozing warm chocolate when he cut into it.

The caramel was very tasty, thick, sweet caramel.  The almond elements were very strong, which was a bit surprising to me, and if you don't like almond, beware.

Overall, a very good molten chocolate cake, and one diner (the one who ordered it) ranked it his favorite.
Cherry Blossom Panna Cotta with Roasted Apricots & Honeycomb. $12.
Another dining companion opted for the panna cotta, which certainly would have been my pick if there wasn't a taro item on the menu, given my love of panna cotta.

Of course I tried a bite.

The seasonal accompaniments were three large segments of roasted apricot, a scoop of apricot sorbet, and pieces of honeycomb.  Under the sorbet scoop (bottom orange blob) was a buttery shortbread crumble that I really liked.

The panna cotta itself, much like the molton chocolate cake, was very textbook.  Good consistency and texture.  Nice wiggle.  It had a pleasant, sweet, delicate flavor from the cherry blossom.

Much like the molton chocolate cake, I thought this was a good solid execution of a classic dessert, with some slight twists, but not particularly exciting.  The person who ordered it did like it the most, and one other said the honey was his favorite item.  


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