Ember is permanently closed
photo credit: Mike Butler
Certain creative endeavors could benefit from having someone in the room who is willing to say no - like every DJ Khaled album ever. “Sir, maybe you only have to scream your name once per song,” is a sentence our ears wish happened at some point. Instead, we can’t turn on our car radio without feeling like Mr. Khaled has burst through our rear windshield like the Kool-Aid Man.
Ember could have used a voice like that too - someone to say no to designing a restaurant that looks like the bachelor pad of a Las Vegas Keebler elf, or fire-roasting lasagna just because it sounds cool. But this place feels like the result of a brainstorming session where every idea was given a big fat yes. And what we have now is a restaurant where nothing really makes any sense.
photo credit: Mike Butler
The first thing you notice when you walk into this Design District spot is everything, all at once - like being woken up by a 300-person marching band. There’s no room to focus on the details because everything is screaming for your attention at the same time: the wooden curves that line the mirrored ceiling, the wavy brown and white stripes on the floor that make you dizzy if you stare at them too long, and the giant sculpture in the middle of the dining room that looks like the Stranger Things monster if it was made out of repurposed driftwood.
The surfboard-sized menu is also a bit overwhelming. Ember calls itself a “wood-fired American bistro” and serves random things like savory beignets, roasted cornbread custard, lasagna, fried chicken, and a handful of steaks ranging from $49 to $125. We’re totally cool with a menu that takes some Shyamalan-esque twists, and if Ember’s food was undeniably great, then maybe we could even forgive some of the sensory overload. But it’s just not.
photo credit: Mike Butler
Those NOLA beignets are overwhelmingly cheesy and after two bites, it just tastes like you’re taking shots of warm pimento cheese. The steak burger is better without its bun, which is denser than styrofoam and almost tastes stale. The fire-roasted lasagna needs to borrow some cheese from the beignets and is nowhere near as exciting as it sounds on the menu. And other dishes come to the table room temperature at best, which isn’t what you want with Oysters Rockefeller or roasted cornbread that’s supposed to be custardy in the middle.
It’s not all bad here. The smoked fried chicken is awesome - it’s super crunchy and comes with Haitian-style spicy pikliz. And if you’re a dessert person, the Maduro cream pie is fantastic and topped with a charred meringue that’s taller than the pie itself. But as good as those two things are, it’s not enough to really make us want to come back here - just like how even a few good verses can’t make up for four minutes of DJ Khaled screaming nonsense into our ears.
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Some things sound better than they taste and this is a perfect example. A savory beignet with pimento cheese and hot sauce should be delicious. But here, it just tastes like a mediocre Hot Pocket doing a bad beignet impression.
We are all for unusual takes on classic dishes, but no matter how you prepare it, lasagna needs to be a bear hug of pasta, cheese, and sauce. We could barely taste all of the above in this dish, which has an upsetting lack of cheese between its layers and a maitake bolognese that’s about as exciting as ketchup.
These are brought to the table in a cigar box (cute), but are served barely above room temperature (not so cute). Even if they were nice and hot, there’s so much spinach and hollandaise that you can’t even tell you’re eating an oyster.
Roasted Cornbread Custard
You’re told to mix up this cornbread custard (which is not a custard, but a fully-baked disc of cornbread). But even after we stabbed and scraped together the greens, beef ragout, and bone marrow butter on top - it didn’t taste any better. Plus, there aren’t any of those nice, crispy edges we love and expect from skillet cornbread.
Smoked Fried Chicken
This is probably the only dish here we would like to eat again. The fried chicken is super crispy and juicy inside and comes with some spicy pikliz that have a nice kick.
Black Angus Filet
The filet itself is cooked perfectly, but it’s kind of floppy and lacks a good sear. You will forget about this steak the same way you meet a person at a party and forget their name five seconds later.
Expect this is to be one of those messy burgers where the cheese and toppings ooze out and onto your entire body if you’re not careful. But the main reason we’d never order this again is the dense, hard bun.
Maduro Cream Pie
You know those desserts that are so good you will eat them even when every rational part of your brain tells you that you’re about three seconds from actually exploding? This is that kind of dessert. Sit at the bar for a slice of this after trying on everything in the Gucci store down the street.