Lofty Ambitions

Embeya's smart, sophisticated Vietnamese and Asian flavors

Chef Thai Dang is on a mission to elevate humble chicken from inexpensive Asian carryout fodder to menu centerpiece.

His sleek new West Loop restaurant, Embeya, draws heavily on his Vietnamese heritage. But he prepares his superlative chicken using Chinese techniques.

Whole chicken is treated like Peking duck: hung to dry, marinated overnight, blanched, glazed and roasted. The result, decorated with oil-poached scallions and labeled "garlic chicken" ($18), is superbly flavorful, tender and rich. Don't miss it.

We'd say the same for his green papaya salad ($8), a classic Vietnamese version with house-made beef jerky, fried shallots and fresh herbs tangled with thin, crisp ribbons of papaya. The flavors of his childhood shine in stuffed squid as well, packed with pork meatballs and ladled with ginger nuoc cham.

Thit heo kho ($14) is stewy comfort food, a dish that Dang says he grew up eating. His tip: Mash the braised quail egg, roasted shallots and long-simmered sauce into a spoonful of rice, and eat with bites of tender pork belly.

Dessert is simple, and cardamom-scented mango and sticky rice ($6) a logical conclusion. We advise ordering tropical fruit, too, like fresh jackfruit ($6)–an appropriately unusual way to end a remarkable meal.

Embeya, 564 W. Randolph St.; 312-612-5640 or embeya.com