Located at 456 N. Clark St. is the JNK concept restaurant Roka Akor. Roka has been voted one of the top 10 sushi spots in the United States, and was given an Award of Excellence by Wine Spectacular.
Contemporary Robatayaki Japanese cuisine (in which items of food on skewers are slow-grilled over hot charcoal) and the modern design of the space transport guests to another part of the world.
Without a reservation the wait can be a bit lengthy, so insiders were told to sit at this chef's counter if available as the cooks will give extra attention and special treatment at the ringside seat. The name "Roka" even describes this area as "Ro" means "hearth" and "ka" means "burning fire." The robata grill is the heart of the dining experience and very similar to its English counterpart. This style of barbecuing over an open flame has been used for centuries throughout different regions of Japan. Fishermen would bring home a catch of the day; then families would gather around the Ro, or fireplace, to cook and eat.
The sake and shochu bar is a relaxing place to unwind after a hard day's work during cocktail hour. Shochu is a vodka-like drink that dates back to 14th century Japan.
Temperature is key in this establishment, with purified hand-carved ice for drinks and seafood kept at that perfect temperature for freshness and to kill bacteria. The fire is built each night, with the flames reaching more than 1,900 degrees.
Private dining is available, accommodating up to 48 guests along with a smaller private dining area for 14. Enthusiasts may even return for a behind-the-scenes treatment of a cooking class when offered where they learn to roll their own sushi and mix specialty drinks.
The winter menu includes such delicacies as flame-seared uni nigiri and Wagyu confit shortribs with truffle maitake mushrooms. Look for the Happy Time cocktail made with house infused vodka, agave nectar and Hitachino white ale. While there are dozens of sakes to sample alone also try it in a mixed drink with the Yoi Mono. The ingredients include Hendrick's gin, Junmai sake and fresh cucumber.
With the top-notch salads, sushi rolls and high-end seafood, this the place to bring a date for an all around experience that is not easily forgotten. Visit www.rokaakor.com for hours including lunch and brunch.
Bistro Voltaire boasts delicious French cuisine in downtown Chicago with flair from the mouth of Voltaire. A large quote by the philosopher himself covers the wall of this narrow spot on 226 West Chicago Avenue. It says, "Je m'arrÃȘterais de mourir s'il me venait un bon mot ou une bonne idee (which means "I will stop my death if a good word or a good idea come to my mind")."
After entering this cozy space, the ambiance wraps around guests like a warm blanket. The food is Parisian in nature complete with starters like French onion soup and sauteed mussels. Next for the main course try the gnocci with vegetables or swim in grilled salmon with toasted Israeli couscous. On a cold evening the boeuf bourguignon is a must have with fingerling potatoes and carrots to finish it off the hearty meal.
Many diners like easy prix fixe options; these have been extended from Monday night through Thursday for $29 making this deal tough to beat. It includes the aforementioned items as well as others that may change throughout the promotion, so check back regularly. The prix fixe bargain even offers dessert such as warm chocolate cake or creme brulee.
The service was excellent and wine pairings really added to the overall experience, with more than 50 wine selections to choose from.
For those who can't make the trip all the way to gay Paris then try Bistro Voltaire in the Windy City. Voltaire will make you say, "Oui!"
Reservations may be booked by visiting www.bistrovoltaire.com or by calling 312-265-0911.