photo credit: Anjali Pinto
Chicagoans can expect a few things to happen like clockwork: people will argue over pizza, local politicians will go to jail, and Lettuce Entertain You will churn out restaurants faster than Devin Hester can return a punt (we miss you, Devin). And Ēma, a Mediterranean restaurant in River North, delivers only the good parts of a big box corporate restaurant.
Ēma is a self-described California take on Mediterranean small plates. While it doesn’t mean they’ll sprinkle kale-feta fairy dust on you upon walking in the door, it does mean there’s a laid-back vibe to the place. The food also showcases the lighter side of all things Mediterranean, like hummus, feta and olives, falafel, and grilled octopus. It’s all simple yet well done, and everything is meant to be shared. If you get a mix of small and large plates, two-to-three dishes per person will do the trick.
Ēma is standard in the sense it’s everything you’d expect a restaurant in this location to be, but it delivers with an enjoyable environment, quality service, and good food. The space is bright and welcoming to the point you won’t even notice it’s in the lobby of a hotel, and Ēma is a great place to enjoy in the summer and in the winter when you want to pretend it’s summer.
If you’re familiar with Beatrix, a sister restaurant next door, consider Ēma the Mediterranean version. Use it for almost any occasion, whether a date, girls night out, corporate dinners, or even a meal with mom and dad.
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We would like to swim a pool of this hummus and use the bread as a floating device. Order it.
Spice up your hummus a bit, figuratively and literally, with a marinated chili mix. Not too spicy, though.
Local Feta & Olives
A mini snacking option, but if you like olives, feta, and almonds this is a great snack.
Do you like large portions of delicious cheese on a plate? We know we do. If you do too, order this stracciatela that comes with tomatoes, herb salad, and olive oil.
Pan Roasted Romanesque Cauliflower
Lightly roasted cauliflower with a yogurt sauce and honey. Some of the better cauliflower we’ve had. Our only complaint about this dish is you get about $3.50 worth of cauliflower for a $9 dish. Give us more cauliflower for that price.
Another strong veggie side. A little more substantial than the cauliflower, but could still use a bit more. We’re trying to be healthy, Ēma, help us out.
Sweet Corn and Bulgar Risotto
An excellent sweet corn and bulgar risotto dish. It’s more grainy than regular risotto because you’re using bulgar instead of rice, but it tastes great with the parmesan, chives, and lemon. Good for sharing.
Quality falafel with tzaziki and freekah (grains). Worth having on the table.
Crispy Halloumi & Dates
Fried halloumi with a few dates, marinated chilis, and a sherry vinaigrette. It’s good, but it’s a lot of fried stuff. Only order if you have more than two people unless you have a weird thing for fried cheese.
Meaty grilled octopus with some fingerling potaotes and fried kale. It’s very simply done, and if you like octopus you’re going to like this.
Choice of chicken or lamb and beef kefta kebabs. This is what we like to get for the bigger dishes, even though these aren’t that big at all. Pair these with some of the smaller plates and you’ll be good to go. No need to mix in a giant chicken or salmon unless you’re really craving one.