Totally Original; Totally Fun: Roka Bar’s Cocktail Omakase
Aug 18, 2017 02:22PM ● Published by Fran Miller
BY: FRAN ENDICOTT MILLER
Meaning literally “I leave it up to you,” an omakase restaurant experience heralds adventure and exploration. Guests put themselves in the hands of the chef who serves whatever he/she wishes. At Roka Akor San Francisco, the omakase is an event - a little bit unpredictable and a whole lot theatrical. And downstairs at Roka Bar, a similarly dramatic adventure takes place every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night in the sultry space where Roka’s Cocktail Curator Alex Riddle and his team hold court with a wholly original cocktail omakase.
“Why should chef have all the fun?” thought Riddle in creating the 90-minute innovative cocktail extravaganza that utilizes elements of chemistry, art design, and mix-mastery. Each themed cocktail omakase (there have been four so far) features five to seven alcoholic drinks incorporating local spirits and seasonal ingredients. Each course also comes with delicious, theme-faithful, appetizer-sized food pairings. Seating for the affair at the intimate Roka Bar chef’s counter is limited to five; guests have a front row seat to the action and the sole attention of a personal bartender who describes in detail each drink, its origin, and inspiration. A barrel-sized, ice-filled, candle-lit container dramatically highlights all of the spirits utilized that evening.
The current cocktail omakase theme is ‘childhood summer memories,’ the drinks of which seek to evoke the sights, smells, and tastes of cherished moments inspired by the garden, the beach, and Sunday matinees. It is guaranteed; you’ve never tasted these cocktail flavors before, and you likely never will again. Each is entirely original and elaborate – meticulously crafted via scientific-like experimentation to mimic memorable essences, and served in apropos glassware:
- Course one: Playing in the Garden: An orange, nearly healthy tasting drink of gin and Ginjo sake with lemongrass, carrot, and Sauvignon Blanc. Food pairing: assorted vegan nigiri
- Course two: Day at the Beach: An icy treat served in a milkshake glass with a side of blood orange ‘juice’ to pour over the top: rum with mango, passionfruit, pineapple, petit grain infused Orgeat, Junmai Daiginjo Sake, and blood orange “yolk.” Food pairing: spicy green papaya and mango salad
- Course three: The Barbecue: The most elaborate preparation of the evening entails mini robata cookery and is served warm: Mezcal with ancho chili, lime, honey, and cherrywood smoked peaches. Food pairing: robata grilled corn with butter, Shichimi pepper, parmesan cheese, and lime
- Course four: Summer Camp: A dessert like, whipped cream infused indulgence of Kikori whiskey with Crème de Cacao, graham cracker syrup, rice milk, and mallow root foam, served with a graham cracker encrusted rim. Food pairing: S’mores! Graham crackers and Cadbury milk chocolate served with a bowl of robata coals on which to roast house made marshmallows
- Course five: Movie Night: A Two Part Cocktail – “Popcorn and Coke.” Popcorn: vodka and corn whiskey with popcorn syrup, chardonnay, egg white, butter oil, and popcorn. Coke: bottled and carbonated house made cola syrup and Nardini Tagliatella. Food pairing: Popcorn Three Ways: sea salt and nori, browned butter and honey, and Shichimi pepper with lime and tequila
The attention to detail is exacting. Riddle snips the freshest carrot greens as a garnish; he grills five peach slices table side; he places small seashells ‘just so’ on a bamboo serving tray. He recounts every ingredient and its chemical composition. His is a practiced art, shared with his fellow bartenders, and gleaned from years behind a bar where he’s provided the freedom to experiment. These are not merely cocktails, and this is not merely a night at the bar. This is showmanship – worthy of a first date, perfect for a special occasion, and singularly San Francisco.
Roka Bar at Roka Akor: 801 Montgomery St.: San Francisco Cocktail Omakase: Thursday – Saturday 7:30 p.m.
Reserve: Reservations are limited to five seats per evening and can be made through Resy.com. $78 per person, not including taxes and gratuity. Guests are charged at the time of booking and there is a 24-hour cancellation policy.