A Multi- Layered Saga

November 2020 View more

What, exactly, is the story with Mora on the River in downtown Aurora?
The first thing one notices about Jason Morales’s latest project—aside from the prime location just across the Fox River from the Paramount Theatre—is that it is very much a work in progress. The vintage riverfront building was clearly more framework than finished product upon our late September visit, with Morales’s team spending the summer and fall working alfresco for guests dining on the adjacent outdoor patio while construction continued inside (a conveniently smart play considering the pandemic-related restrictions in effect).

“This is really an ideal location,” Morales says. “Downtown Aurora has a lot of positive momentum right now, and the Paramount is going to help make winter a busy season for us, which is not what restaurants normally experience. And during the nicer weather, the courtyard is perfect for outdoor dining and street parties—that social aspect is huge for us.”

The second and somewhat more confusing aspect arises upon a perusal of the menu at Mora on the River (43 E. Galena, 630.660.3519, moraontheriver
). Not only is the “Asian” designation from Morales’s Oak Park, Plainfield, and Bolingbrook Mora Asian Fusion outlets absent from the restaurant’s name, but the slate is something of a hodgepodge, with a handful of sushi rolls sharing space with a few pasta dishes, a flank steak, a hamburger, and a smattering of Asian-inspired hot plates.

Again, what’s the story?

The Long Game
It turns out Morales isn’t being indecisive with this crazy quilt of a menu. Rather, he’s simply getting out ahead of his long-term plan to build out this Aurora location as a multilayered flagship of his Mora empire. Eventually, he says, each story of the restaurant will be a distinct culinary experience, with the main floor offering the kind of signature Asian fusion dishes that diners have come to love at his other Mora sites, a speakeasy-style steakhouse in the basement, an Italian eatery on the second floor, and a rooftop deck that will feature great views, cocktails and small-plate selections from the other levels.

Morales hopes to have the main floor ready for guests by early 2021, with the other levels opening one at a time every four to five months—and the rooftop welcoming its first revelers by May. In the meantime, his team spent the summer and fall test-driving a few selections on the patio that will eventually show up on each of those menus, kind of a “greatest hits” of things to come. At press time the patio was closed for the season.

Chapter One
While the river actually runs by the other side of the building, its flow can nevertheless be heard from Mora’s charming and cozy outdoor space, which the restaurant intends to keep open as deep into autumn as the weather (and some strategically placed heating) allows. Our Sunday evening visit precluded us from taking advantage of that morning’s brunch offerings or the popular Wednesday-night ramen bowls, but the wide-ranging regular menu offered plenty of terrific tastes of things to come.

We decided to share a collection of hot and cold plates, including a straightforward California roll from the sushi menu, some spicy crispy tofu, a well-prepared flank steak, and—on Morales’s recommendation—both the adobo fried rice (a Filipino fusion favorite that he says is one of his most popular items) and the crunchy Brussels and kale salad. This this last dish proved to be the knockout of the night (and this coming from someone who has never been even mildly impressed by kale).

Downtown Aurora is quiet right now: The Paramount marquee is dark, and Mora on the River is still very much at the beginning of a bigger story yet to be told. But based on this prologue, at least, it’s certainly going to be one worth reading in full when the time comes.

Photos courtesy Mora on the River