Sunday, February 16, 2014


As I have said before, I really like Chicago Restaurant Week.  For two weeks in February, about 300 restaurants in the Chicago area provide a prix fixe menu at a discount.  For most restaurants, the discount works out to getting a free dessert, but there are some restaurants whose discounts are substantially more.  For most restaurants, the prix fixe consists of an appetizer, entree, and dessert.  For pan-Asian restaurant Embeya, though, they offered their entire prix fixe menu for the entire table and it was served family style.  In other words, the entire table was served two appetizers, two main courses, two sides, and two desserts.  Admittedly, this could get a little ugly if a single person tried to eat it all.  Luckily, I did come with a few other people so it wasn't an issue.  The space was both modern and Asian and won this year at the Jean Banchet awards for best design. The front wall is a window, the ceilings are high and unfinished and the room is divided by several cutout screens with hexagonal designs.  The bar is long and marble topped with a great selection top shelf liquors and the kitchen is open.  The seating consisted of the bar as well as dark wood tables with light wood chairs and padded banquettes.  We were seated at one of the tables in the middle of the room, between the window and the bar.  While the meal consisted of many dishes, the meal was actually divided into appetizer, entree, and dessert, with all of the appetizers being brought out together, then all of the entrees (and sides), and all of the desserts.  For our appetizers we started out with a Green Papaya Salad with Cilantro, Crispy Shallots, and Vietnamese Beef Jerky.  The papaya, which made up most of the salad, was fresh, crisp, and slightly sweet and tart, as a papaya is supposed to be.  The cilantro added a little bitterness, and the shallots added a salty crunch like mini onion rings.  The beef jerky was cut into a thin strips and provided a spicy and meaty surprise.  You wouldn't find a piece of jerky in every bite but there was enough to let you know that it was there and to add flavor and texture to the dish.  I had had the papaya salad at First Bites Bash, the opening benefit for Chicago Restaurant Week although there it didn't have the beef jerky.  While it was good at the benefit, it was much better at the restaurant with the jerky.

Our other appetizer was Octopus with Confit Eggplant and Radish.  I wouldn't think that octopus would have enough fat to do a confit, but obviously it came from somewhere because it was very tender, flavorful, and not at all rubbery.  The eggplant was well cooked and soft, but it was not slimy as eggplant can become.  It kind of matched the texture of the octopus.  The only way you could really tell which you were eating was by the flavor.  The radishes were there to add a little spice and provide some much needed textural diversity to the dish.  Without the radishes, the eggplant and octopus tasted good enough, but the dish was a mass of mush.  The radishes gave your mouth something to crunch on and improved it immensely.

Our first entree was a Peking Duck Style Garlic Chicken with Confit Scallions  It was a very simple dish, but the chicken was very good and flavorful.  The garlic and scallions just added to the flavor.  It had a thin, crisp outer skin with tender meat and while most of it was sliced into medallions, there was one piece attached to a leg that i grabbed and enjoyed.

The other entree was called Thit Heo Kho and consisted of Braised Pork Belly with Coconut and Shallots in a Pork Broth.  The pork belly was obviously tender and flavorful.  The coconut was sliced into thin strips and added a little texture and flavor, but the shallots were interesting.  They were cooked whole and when I first saw them in the pan, I thought they were plums.  Trying to grab them with chop sticks, though quickly dispelled that idea because every time I tried to grab one by squeezing it, the inner layers came out.  We figured out the best way to grab them was by scooping them from the bottom.  Once we were able to get a hold on them, it was seen that they were tender, well cooked and flavorful.  All of the elements of this dish were good and I felt a little guilty for leaving the broth.  That was solved though with one of the sides.

The side was simple.  It was Sticky Rice with a little Chive for color and flavor.  On it's own it was very good.  It had a good flavor and it was fairly easy to eat.  If the pork broth from the Thit Heo Kho was added though, it was much better.  The rice and pork broth added to one another and it positively became comfort food.

The other side kind of went with the chicken, although it was very good by itself and was not necessary to finish the chicken dish.  It was Carmelized Brussels Sprouts with Crispy Scallions.  The brussels sprouts cooked to tender and had a slightly crisp and brown outer coating which showed an initial sweetness before the slightly funky (but good) cabbage flavor.  The scallions added a salty crunch to the dish.

After our appetizers, entrees, and sides came the desserts, and while they were both good, one was favored much more than the other.  The first dessert were the Cream Puffs.  The pastry was very good and was filled with Vanilla and Matcha (a type of green tea).  They were topped lightly with powdered sugar.  These were sweet and flavorful but the lesser of the two desserts.

The other dessert was Roasted Pineapple with Coconut Ice Cream and Peanuts.  This was sweet, tart, tropical flavored and the all around favorite.  It was a great finish to a great meal that made a good presentation of the menu.  The food was very good, the restaurant design was very cool, and the service was very good.  I will be very happy to return.      

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