Esquire magazine just released its list of 2013 Best New Restaurants in the country, a prestigious roundup of 19 dining destinations determined by restaurant features guru John Mariani. Chicago is well-represented on said list, with two newcomers showcasing our fair city. Carriage House and Embeya both ranked among the top new restaurants of the past year, proving that modern Southern and Asian cuisines can be destination-worthy when in the hands of the right chefs.
Chicago is not short on Southern restaurants, newfangled or otherwise. But Carriage House is the cream of the lowcountry crop thanks to inspired chef Mark Steuer and the sincere Southern philosophies he brings to the table. The Wicker Park restaurant is a neo interpretation of Steuer's South Carolina roots, wherein lowcountry carriage houses served as tack rooms and peaceful retreats and the accompanying food was soulful and comforting. The chef brings a taste of the south northward via his modern carriage house, a chic cottage-like restaurant replete with contemporary interpretations of the Southern comforts the chef was reared eating.
Whether for brunch, lunch, or dinner, guests can get their fix anytime of day at Carriage House, sampling their way through a miscellany of delicacies. Steuer divvies the main dinner menu into "traditional" and "reimagined" sectors, creating a veritable choose-your-own-adventure for diners. Traditionalists can feast on Charleston she crab soup, fried green tomatoes, shrimp and grits, and fried chicken thighs, while modernists can opt for the likes of quail with black pepper dumplings, pork boudin balls, confit octopus, and a lowcountry oyster roast. Larger plates are ideal for sharing, such as crispy pork shoulder with grits, cherry-pork jus, and smoked jalapeño hot sauce, and a lowcountry boil awash with Carolina shrimp, clams, rabbit, chaurice sausage, corn, red potatoes, and grilled lemon.
A few miles away yet worlds apart, Embeya is a haven for modern Asian cuisine in the West Loop. Executive chef Thai Dang works to re-imagine and invigorate Asian ingredients and flavors in bold new ways, fusing them with French techniques to put an elegant riff on his contemporary stylings. Open for lunch and dinner, Embeya encourages sharing with its menu of cold and hot small plates, as well as larger entrees and a selection of side dishes. Far from your fortune cookie-cutter Asian eatery, this place gets crafty with dishes such as smoked scallops with preserved plums, sea beans, and citron oil; green papaya with culantro, crispy shallots, and beef jerky; escargots with green curry, grilled eggplant, and perilla; and rabbit legs bolstered with Thai chiles, fresh garbanzo beans, and royal trumpet mushrooms.