Right on the northeast corner of Randolph and Jefferson in the West Loop, Chef Mike Sheerin and his colleagues are serving up some of the best Asian cuisine in the city, accompanied by a setting that is remarkably distinctive in its use of creative design elements and its overall ambience.
The accolades have been piling up of late as Embeya has received special kudos from Esquire, Chicago Tribune food critic Phil Vettel, Crain's Chicago, and the folks over at Chicagoist. It's definitely worth setting up a reservation where you can linger for awhile - here are a few of the items that I found most compelling on my recent visit.
My top nod for a starter would go to the green papaya salad (above), which brings together cucumber, shallots and Thai basil for that crisp cool taste that makes for a fine way to begin any meal. If you're looking for something on the protein side, you might pick up the salmon tartare or the seared tuna, which is given a bit more muscle with the addition of Thai chili.
In terms of the hot starters, the best one-two combination here is the soft shell crab with black pepper curry paired with the grilled beef jerky. While it might sound a bit unusual, the relative lightness of the jerky actually makes for an effective flavor profile.
As you move on to think about mains, I'd take a moment to order a drink. Not surprisingly, a number of Asian ingredients are put in the mix here, which offers complementary flavors across the entire menu. My top honors go to "Grass is Greener" (gin as a base works perfectly with the lemongrass syrup) and the "Rubus Cube," which feature bourbon, amaro Lucano and a bit of lemon.
Moving along, the smoked scallops (above) with snow peas, frisee, candied walnut and pickled turmeric has a nice balance throughout in terms of overall flavor, and the udon noodle with a mix of vegetables (artichoke and fennel stand out) is the perfect thing for folks who enjoy this type of traditional noodles.
You'll want to linger around as the tempo and pace of the place changes as the night charges along. Conversations get louder and the bustle continues to grow as folks meet other folks who meet other cocktails as they meet other new folks. It's a great feeling and you might even retire to the bar here after for just one more.
Photos: Interior by Adam Alexander; Green Papaya Salad by Eugene "Huge" Galdones; Cocktail by Max Grinnell; Scallops courtesy of Embeya