Gluten Free Chicago: Embeya
At Embeya, an upscale Asian fusion restaurant in the West Loop, gluten free dining is impressively seamless. The menu leans towards seafood and away from starches, with the exception of delicious fried rice. While there isn't a separate gluten-free menu, almost every dish can be prepared without gluten.
Because fried food is usually a gluten hazard, I immediately gravitated towards the Fried Oyster ($14), which is lightly battered in rice flour instead of bread crumbs. It still delivered a satisfying crunch, but didn't overwhelm the plump oyster. A pairing of pomelo grapefruit wedges, lemongrass and, a cilantro-flecked slaw added tart sweetness and subtle spice. The only complaint was the portion compared to the price, as the oysters disappeared a little too quickly, leaving a trail of fruit behind.
The Kona Kompachi ($15) is a beacon of summer, a refreshing and breezy ceviche that deserves balmy weather. Lightly seared diced fish arrives layered with preserved kumquat, long strings of marinated onion, chive slivers, and crisp garlic chips. The fish is a neutral sponge for bright splashes of chili oil and tastes best when balanced on the edge of a chip, dipped in the oil, and topped with a citrusy strand of onion. It's a mellow dish, but an ideal partner to white wine and warmer temps.
After a quick mix-up on the Spring Roll (note: it's not gluten free), I reluctantly ordered the Tofu ($11). Admittedly, I completely underestimated how flavorful tofu can be, especially when it's crisp, beautifully plated, and elevated by a diced chili jam. The combination of heat and sweetness was irresistible, complemented by pickled fiddleheads shaped like snails and charred ramps.
The Halibut ($28), recommended by the restaurant's director, Attila Gyulai, was the undisputed favorite of the meal. The fish arrived in a shallow bowl, swimming in a yellow coconut curry that begs for a spoon. The curry is worthy of its own spot on the menu, as a fragrant soup that manages to feel decadent but not heavy. The crust on the halibut added texture, along with substantial bites of young bamboo. To ensure none of the sauce is wasted, I recommend pouring in fried rice and savoring every last bite.
Because the majority of Embeya's menu is naturally gluten-free, one meal isn't enough to explore all the options. I look forward to addressing this issue on future visits and tasting more of what chef Thai Dang has to offer.