Local Dining By BLAKE AUSTYN
COZY ATMOSPHERE: Roka Bar and Asian Flavors, 1616 S. Utica Ave., which opened in February, features a laid-back, comfortable interior with a large wooden samurai statue, created by local artist Clayton Coss, that presides over the bar.
Roka Bar and Asian Flavors, 1616 S. Utica Ave., opened in February after a lengthy and extensive renovation project in the former Te Kei’s Chinese Asian Kitchen location.
The new restaurant concept was created by Chad Stanger, former operating partner of P.F. Chang’s, and James Shrader, of Palace Café.
“This was a huge opportunity to do something unique for Tulsa,” says Stanger. “We wanted to bring in a new concept: providing Asian cuisine with innovative updates.”
Roka offers favorite dishes found from many regions of Asia. The menu includes noodle dishes, seafood options, family-style dishes, and sushi and vegetarian offerings.
Stanger and Shrader are also using Roka to support the Tulsa community as much as possible.
“Everything we do in the restaurant is locally-minded and locally-sourced, if possible. That includes food ingredients and even during the renovation project itself, all of the construction work was done using local companies,” says Stanger.
In contrast to the interior of Te Kei’s and the openness of its dining and bar areas, the intent with Roka was to create what Stanger refers to as a “cozy, comfortable atmosphere,” with an emphasis on privacy.
The restaurant is broken up into three dining areas also with a party room for large groups.
The dining areas feature high-backed booths to create a more private, intimate setting. Tables also feel as if they’re nestled into corners and away from other diners with half-walls used to, again, provide a feeling of privacy.
The owners also put a focus on acoustics, using special paneling to control noise and allow for conversations.
The interior has a definite Asian feel with umbrellas hanging from the ceiling, colorful pillows on bar seats, dark wood paneling, and the very obvious and large wooden samurai statue, created by local artist Clayton Coss, that presides over the bar.
The front page of the restaurant menu serves almost as a guide for guests, highlighting the restaurant’s Signature Dishes, which range from Lettuce Wraps and Pad Thai to its Thai Green Curry and Roka Burger. Turn the page, and those same dishes are found in their corresponding appetizer or entree categories.
Roka’s menu includes traditional Asian dishes such as Kung Pao Chicken and Beef and Broccoli plus “American dishes with an Asian influence,” says Stanger, like the Roka Burger, which includes a beef patty tossed in kung pao sauce and topped with veggies, wasabi sauce and kewpie.
The bar menu offers a mixture of classic Asian small plates and some Asian-American takes on bar food, including Kimchi Sliders, Roka Sesame Fries, Duck Frites, and Spring Rolls.
Roka also offers Happy Hour seven days a week, 3-6 p.m., which features special pricing on select drinks and bar menu items.
The drink menu features craft beers (including 10 beers on tap), a selection of over 40 table and boutique wines, classic cocktails, and 15 Asian-inspired signature cocktails, mixed with house made syrups and fresh-squeezed juices.
I visited with my parents on a recent Friday evening during Happy Hour, and the bar area was hopping.
We started with the Korean Tacos for an appetizer because I used to enjoy eating those at Te Kei’s, and I wanted to see if it was the same dish. The dish is made up of four small soft tacos filled with marinated pulled pork, white onions, avocado, cilantro, and house made tomatillo and korean bbq sauces, and they tasted as good as they ever have. One of my favorite dishes for sure.
The potstickers, pan-seared chicken dumplings, with house made soy cream sauce and sweetened mushroom soy sauce, is an appetizer that is available at a discounted price during Happy Hour, so we sprung for those too. The two sauces added a nice contrast, and the potstickers provided a tasty bite that didn’t fill us up, but only whet our appetites for more.
For my entree, I chose the Thai Green Curry, partly due to my love of curry and also based on the suggestion of our server. The dish was spicier than I expected and hearty, with a lot of meat. I would have preferred a few more vegetables added in. It is definitely enough for one person. I took about half of it home with me.
My mother ordered the Roka Steak Frites: char-grilled tenderloin on a bed of sesame fries, with japanese hollandaise sauce. For those looking for a basic dish with a good piece of meat and fries, this would be a good choice. The meat was tender, and the fries were tasty but nothing overly adventurous here.
My dad opted for sushi: the Tiger Stripe Roll (tempura shrimp, ahi tuna, avocado, sriracha aioli, sweet soy sauce) and the Tempura Veggie Roll (tempura asparagus, sweet potato, zucchini, toasted sesame seeds), two of the three rolls available on the Happy Hour menu. Both tasty choices.
Even though we were full, we couldn’t resist the Lava and Gelato dessert: hot fudge lava cake, with caramel and gelato. It was gooey and oh so sinfully good!
Roka Bar and Asian Flavors is open Monday-Saturday 11 a.m.-11 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.