CHICAGO (WLS) --You might think River North restaurants fit into one or two categories: steakhouses or something by Lettuce Entertain You. The Hungry Hound says even though that's a good guess, Lettuce's latest effort - a Mediterranean-by-way-of-California restaurant, offers some unique flavors for the neighborhood.
The bright, vibrant colors on the plate, combined with the revved-up group of diners beneath a vanilla-looking Hyatt Place, bring a much-needed jolt to this previously sleepy corner of River North. Ema is really influenced by two things.
"Ema is Mediterranean-inspired cuisine done by a guy from Orange County, California," said Chef CJ Jacobson.
Spreads are prominent, and hummus is a given, although it can be made improved with roasted Fresno and sweet chilies. Avocado and sweet pea contains jalapenos, lime and mint, perfect for scooping up with crunchy lettuces.
"We have hummus, we have different spreads. Our bread is kind of a mix between naan and pita I would say. Dishes are sort of California in approach," he said.
Peppers and pickled radishes form the base - along with watermelon cubes - for a cool, refreshing soup.
"Also has feta and cucumber and a lot of the same accoutrements but it's poured tableside, very, very vibrant; not too spicy but it has a little tinge of spice," said Jacobson.
Grilled octopus is enough for two, supported by fried kale, tender fingerling potatoes and dressed in a preserved lemon vinaigrette. A few kefta kebabs, like the beef and lamb, are juicy, brightened by lemon and served with creamy tzatziki sauce.
"If anything they have a little more onion and garlic flavor. They're also dressed with a Greek oregano vinaigrette," he said.
So ma doesn't really pigeonhole things. It combines the exotic flavors, the spices from the Mediterranean, along with those fresh, light, clean flavors from Southern California and puts it all into a package that you can't find in this neighborhood.
EXTRA COURSE: A unique frozen Greek yogurt available at Ema
74 W. Illinois St., Chicago