Embeya, meaning “little one” in Vietnamese, was once chef Thai Dang’s childhood nickname — but there’s nothing diminutive about the progressive Asian cuisine that he crafts inside his sprawling Randolph Street restaurant. Dang, formerly of L20 and Ria, worked with partner and Elysian hotel vet Attila Gyulai to design a unique menu that combines authentic Vietnamese flavors with a French twist. “I wanted to do food that I love to eat with the refinement and finesse of the places I’ve worked in the past,” says Dang.
The restaurant, which opened in the fall, has already garnered raves for its current staples, including garlic chicken with confit scallion ($22), ribs with tamarind, hoisin and garlic ($18), and the green papaya salad with beef jerky ($10). Despite his success, Dang isn’t ready to rest just yet — he says he’s “very driven by product,” and continues to vary parts of the menu. “You have to challenge yourself, and constantly change based on the ingredients and product you can get,” he explains.
A recently updated menu now includes lamb shank with daikon, purple potatoes and coriander seed ($25), fried oysters with pomelo, lemongrass and lemon balm ($14), and oxtail with young bamboo and baby carrots. Dang also has taken liberties with his spin on green curry ($12), a lighter version of the classic that focuses on its aromatic spices.
Embeya’s interior was just as intricately crafted as Dang’s dishes. 555 International — the team behind GT Fish & Oyster and Girl & the Goat — set hand-carved bamboo screens, sea urchin-inspired chandeliers and elegant artwork against a backdrop of gray, chocolate brown and moss green. “We want to deliver a solid place for guests to come and have a great time,” says Dang.
Though he’s continuing to take risks in reinventing Embeya’s cuisine, Dang says he’s grounded by the support of his diners and of the chef community. “I am forever humbled and honored to be a part of the Chicago dining scene.”
564 W. Randolph Street, 312-612-5640, Embeya.com