Oman Magazine’s Lifestyle Jetsetter, Lucas Raven visits Ēma, a Mediterranean restaurant showcasing Chef CJ Jacobson’s lighter Californian style of cooking. The concept was created by Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises’ Founder Rich Melman, Executive Partner Marc Jacobs and Chef Partners CJ Jacobson, John Chiakulas and Rita Dever.
Ēma at Hyatt Place River North in Chicago boasts a cosmopolitan ambiance with a menu that is both familiar and peculiar. It offers a light, relaxed and comfortable vibe, with interiors of reclaimed wood, rustic white brick and funky, woven basket fixtures. It’s as cool as its founders, bursting with vibrancy.
With the scene set for a contemporary culinary journey, Top Chef, CJ Jacobson talks me through his travel diaries, inspirations and food-lead experiences in The Middle East; this man surely loves his hummus and everything he does is on-point, perfectly curated and fun.
Simple yet special, each dish encompasses a wonderfully obscure pairing which shouldn’t work, but it does. Personally speaking, this style of gastronomical wizardry should be referenced by other fine dining restaurants, whom all-too-often overcomplicate matters.
The core of the menu includes spreads, dips and mezze and Mediterranean small plates meant for sharing. Guests can expect a lighter, more healthful style of cooking that uses local produce, unique spices and ingredients with signature dishes such as Spicy Hummus, House-Made Stracciatella, Grilled Octopus with Fried Kale, Pan-Roasted Romanesque Cauliflower and Lamb & Beef Kefta Kebabs. Chef CJ’s experiences in the Middle East have beautifully inspired the palate of his menu and has brought clean, no-nonsense, good food to the table at Ēma.
Now onto the grapes, hops and grains…
The beverage program at Ēma was developed by Ryan Arnold, wine director of Lettuce Entertain You and Julian Cox, bar director of Lettuce Entertain You. The wine list showcases wines from Mediterranean coastlines and islands, in addition to a handful of California producers with an old world style. Highlights include Massaya rose from Lebanon and Terre Di Principe Pallagrello from the coast of Campania. The cocktail list will include drinks that synergize with the menu by incorporating Chef CJ Jacobson’s flavor palette. Kitchen ingredients like fresh apricots, harissa and Aleppo peppers will be used in combination with unique spirits and a modernized, yet classic cocktail technique.
In addition to the restaurant, Ēma shares its kitchen with Rotisserie Ēma, a quick casual counter. Menu specialties include chef prepared salads, rotisserie chicken and house-made frozen Greek yogurt. Guests will enter through a separate entrance found on Illinois St., to pick up lunch to-go. What could be better than that?
CJ Jacobson’s playful soul is apparent in person, as it is in the kitchen. His mission to produce mouthwateringly peculiar dishes, such as frozen yogurt with olive oil and sea salt, for instance, will make you question your own home cooking. “Why not experiment?” He says.
Ēma is a breath of fresh air, it’s just real-good food.
74 W. Illinois St. in Chicago, Ill.
Check out their Instagram @emachicago
Monday-Friday: Lunch & Dinner
Saturday-Sunday: Weekend Brunch & Dinner