There’s nothing like discovering a hidden gem and ROKC located in NYC’s Harlem neighborhood is just that. Wedged between a couple of local storefronts, the building’s exterior is unassuming and unless specifically looking for it, you surely could miss it walking on by. But once inside, talk about ambiance. You feel like you’ve been transported to a cool bar somewhere in Tokyo! I couldn’t wait to experience this as the latest food adventure with my Cocktails Before Love crew.
ROKC, a Japanese bar and restaurant, is actually a clever little acronym which stands for Ramen, Oyster, Kitchen and Cocktail. The extra special treat is the creative presentation and unique preparation of the excellent cocktails. They not only taste good, but they look amazing as well!
Upon arrival, we chose to sit at the bar. I actually think these are the best seats in the cozy restaurant as we were able to get the perfect view of Shige, the highly skilled mixologist, bringing all these unique drinks to life. He effortlessly prepared all the cocktails during our visit and with such attention to detail, added every house-made ingredient. It was certainly a treat to watch as he whipped up all the special concoctions. Nope, these aren’t your typical, ‘let’s meet for happy hour’ drinks. ROKC does not take reservations and can get crowded as it is a small space, so I suggest going toward the beginning of the week if you would like to secure a table or just get there early and post up at the bar like we did!
The menu is quite impressive, boasting over 40 sophisticated and fun cocktails ranging from the classics to ROKC signatures, as well as a selection of beers, wines and sake. The menu doesn’t hint at what kind of container your drink will come in. So it was fun to order and then see the unexpected presentation Shige would place in front of you. It ranged from really beautiful antiques and/or elaborate glasses to some amazing looking works of art. My Lychee cocktail, for example – which consisted of lychee fruit, ginger vodka, house lychee juice and lime – was served inside a lightbulb perched on top of a pile of ice in an etched ceramic mug. The Berries frozen drink looked like an ice sculpture on a pedestal and my fellow foodie’s bourbon based drink, the Final Word – mixed with maraschino, Chartreuse and lime came in an ornate, ruby red goblet. Someone next to us had the Tomato Clam that arrived in a huge conch shell in a wooden box, while someone else’s drink was displayed in a bird’s nest within an eggshell! Every drink we sampled was amazing and well-balanced and even traditionally robust, warm liquors like bourbon and cognac which were favored by my Cocktails Before Love crew, had a nice spin and were surprisingly light, refreshing and full of unexpected blends.
ROKC’s small plates consist of favorites like its assortment of steamed buns and ramen bowls. The staff was very attentive and helped with our food selections. We started out with the oysters, which were $1.50 during the happy hour special. We ordered all the varieties, from the small and salty Sweet Petites to the larger and meatier Blue Points – they were tasty and fresh served with lemons, cocktail sauce and mignonette sauce. We sampled the pork bun which featured tender and flavorful chunks of pork belly; the shrimp bun which was doused in a spicy mayo and for our ramen, we opted for the Kyoto, a chicken and fish based broth, topped with pork belly, garlic, soft-boiled seasoned egg and scallions, deemed by our server as the most traditional choice. The melding of the spices in the broth was just right without being too heavy. Everything was delicious and enjoyable.
Honestly we could have sat and watched Shige create these killer cocktails and happily eat and drink for hours. You must visit ROKC! I know I will absolutely return for a seat at the bar and explore more of the menu.
If you want to join in on our next food adventure, be sure to RSVP for an upcoming meet up.