Ever since it opened, I wanted to go to Embeya, an Asian fusion restaurant in the west loop named after the head chef’s childhood nickname of “little one”. With practically raving reviews from Timeout Chicago and Yelp, our meal there was surprisingly underwhelming, going downhill progressively. Upon sitting down in this chic space, our waiter, who kind of reminded me of the Kamakona shrimp guy from Hawaii 5-0 with glasses, welcomed us with a bubbly personality. Because we had never been there before, he suggested we each order THREE dishes, and there were four of us. He may have overestimated how much four people can eat because looking around, there was no way we would even come near to finishing 12 dishes altogether. So we ordered six instead, starting with the green papaya (Figure 1).
This was actually a pleasant start to the meal. The unripe papaya was sliced into thin strands and mixed into a salad with some cilantro, crispy shallots and beef jerky. It tasted more like a dish for the spring than something prepared for the middle of winter, especially because if was lacking in the beef jerky.
Then came the grilled head-on prawns (Figure 2) with a side of green mango, calamansi (fruits like kumquats but larger) and cubeb pepper. The prawns had a serious lack of flavor, and I could taste the severe char on the head when I sucked out the brains (yes, that is actually the best part of the prawn). Unfortunately, the prize of the dish was not the prawn but rather green mangos on the side, sliced so it looked like cucumbers. They were a little sweet and sour, just how I like it.
Andrew ordered some baby octopus (Figure 3), which was a tad over-cooked with some serious chewiness to it. It was mixed with some braised lettuce, Chinese bacon and grapefruit that was too bitter to be a part of this dish. Not impressed.
And thank goodness we ordered the mussels (Figure 4) because this was the best dish of the night. They were cooked in this potent coconut broth with lime leaves and drizzled with shallots. I could have probably had the entire bowl myself.
We needed a hardy meat so next came the oxtail (Figure 5) in a green curry with bamboo shoots and baby carrots. The oxtail wasn’t anything special, especially in a green curry that was seriously lacking in flavor. But perhaps the green curry was deficient in spices because it had quotes around it on the menu. But a curry should be a curry, not a chemically green-colored, lukewarm broth. At least the bamboo shoots were a saving grace for this dish.
Last but not least, we had suzuki (Figure 6), the Japanese sea bass that came highly recommended by our waiter, and we decided to listen for once. For an Asian dish, I was wondering where the head of the fish went, but I guess this is where the fusion part kicked in. It was steamed in a banana leaf with ginger and topped with garlic chips. It was cooked perfectly, but again, strong flavors were absent. It just tasted like any other steamed white fish.
The worst part, though, was that our waiter kept flashing us nasty glares when we stayed to finish our beers after we paid the check. Overall, we were all sorely disappointed at what should be one of the top Asian fusion restaurants in Chicago.
- Look at the size of the dishes that everyone else has and gauge from that how much you can eat.
- If the head-on prawns are on the menu, DO NOT order them unless you just want to try the green mango (although I really don’t think $12 is worth it in any case).
- If you get mussels, mix the coconut broth with your rice – just delicious!