Ema, located in the heart of the River North neighborhood, is a Mediterranean restaurant featuring light tapas style dishes.
Vishnu keeps a pretty close eye on the Chicago restaurant scene, so when he suggested we make a reservation at Ema for date night , I was game! We went in knowing the restaurant received mixed reviews on different platforms. There are raving fans on one end of the spectrum, and there are those who will never return on the other. By the end of our meal, we fell somewhere in the middle.
The overall ambiance at Ema is fun and trendy. The restaurant is brightly lit and very simply decorated. I liked the clean look.
What I didn’t like was how closely the tables are placed next to each other. I kind of felt like we were all eating on top of each other.
Vishnu liked the bar set up and went on to tell me that one day we would have something like this in our home. Ummm…we don’t even drink that much!
The service we received at Ema was the true highlight of our meal. Our waitress was attentive without being overbearing. She also made great suggestions when it came to ordering our drinks and overall meal. Her guidance was on point and even pushed us outside our comfort zone a little (when it came to dessert!).
Ema’s menu is comprised of tapas style dishes that are meant to be shared. There are dips, cold mezzes, hot mezzes, salads, and kebabs. I was pleasantly surprised with the large number of vegetarian options. We definitely didn’t leave hungry!
Vishnu and I ordered a few dishes to share based on our waitress’ recommendations.
We started with an almond and garlic hummus – the favorite of the night! Both the flavor and texture were very pronounced – rich, nutty, and very creamy. It came with warm, soft, pillowy pita bread.
We also ordered the crispy Halloumi with dates. I wanted this dish to be mouth-watering delicious, but instead, it ended up being satisfactory. I enjoyed the first few bites, especially those when a piece of cheese and a date came together. It was a little too much for me after a while.
We also ordered the falafel dish to share. I expected this to be everything (so many good reviews both online and from friends). The presentation was beautiful, and I appreciated the crunchy exterior. They lost me with the tablespoon of tzatziki sauce smeared on the bottom of the plate. I wanted a lot more because without it the falafels tasted dry. Again, not horrible but not amazing either.
And finally, Vishnu ordered the chicken kebab to round off his meal. He enjoyed this dish and said the chicken was flavorful and moist. But again, he wished there was more sauce. Almost a complete win!
Of course, no date night would be complete without dessert. Ema’s dessert menu is full of tasty treats, and based on the numerous reviews I read online, the honey pie was a clear winner, so we went for it. This pie was a cross between a Greek cheesecake and a custard (with a side of roasted grapes). The slight tang and honey flavors were on point, however, the sesame seeds sprinkled on top were not. There was absolutely no need for them, and they didn’t complement the other flavors at all. If there’s a next time at Ema, I’m going for the chocolate tart. Always go for the chocolate dessert!
Vishnu and I also ordered a cocktail each to accompany our meal, and we both loved what we ordered (Rose and Rose for me (a light fruity wine mix) and the Savory Hunter for him (a smoky margharita type drink)).
Like I said, even though our meal was good and not great, we had a great time trying Ema and spending time together. And now I’m more determined than ever to find a Mediterranean restaurant worth writing home about!
Does your city have a really good Mediterranean restaurant?