Working in the Loop, I am always looking for new lunch destinations – especially those located outside of the business district. Lately, I have been finding myself finding any excuse to make my way to Ēma in River North for its delicious Mediterranean-inspired cuisine and clean, minimalist decor, which always seems bright and sunny, despite the gloomiest of weather.
While dinner at Ēma focuses on shareable small-to-medium plates, the lunch menu focuses more on individual entrees – salads, sandwiches and kebabs. However, if sharing is your thing, plenty of spreads, mezze and large plates are available to share.
On any visit, a sampler of Ēma’s spreads must be ordered. All six of the options are flavorful and fantastic, but among my favorites are the Spicy Hummus, topped with marinated Fresno peppers and sweet roasted chilies, the Avocado & Sweet pea, with jalapeño, lime, cilantro and mint, and the Toasted Almond & Garlic, with Castelvetrano olives and fresh herbs. If nothing else, order at least one just to have the warm and addicting house bread – essentially the best pita bread ever tasted.
Of the salads, the Mediterranean Chopped is my favorite, especially when topped with the perfectly cooked grilled salmon or green falafel. Made with arugula, romaine, shaved cauliflower, capers, dates, Parmesan, olives and red peppers, the salad is sizable and filling, but will not put you in a coma when you return to your desk.
The Grilled Octopus is a must as a shared plate, appetizer, or side dish. Tender octopus is served with fried kale, fingerling potatoes, and topped with a zesty preserved lemon vinaigrette.
The Winter Squash Risotto is another perfect sharing plate. The current iteration includes Parmesan cheese, crispy sage, and a butternut squash vinaigrette. Naughty in the health department, but so nice in taste.
Other lunchtime favorites are any of the kebabs – chicken, lamb, beef and salmon are all available, and are served with rice and an Israeli vegetable salad.
If dessert is an option, do not pass up the Frozen Greek Yogurt. Smooth and creamy, and topped with a drizzle of California Olive Oil and a sprinkle of sea salt, it is a refreshing end to the meal and combines a perfect balance of sweet, salty and savory.
I hope that Ēma will eventually serve breakfast and brunch, but for now, lunch is offered Monday through Friday, and dinner is available seven days a week. Reservations are accepted, and encouraged, especially during the busy lunch and dinner hours.
74 West Illinois Street, Chicago, Illinois 60654