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Nagrant Thinks Ema Doesn't Reach Its Potential; Sula Trashes Mahalo; More

But Cantina 1910 has rebounded nicely from rough beginnings

Marc Much

Ema doesn't quite live up to chef C.J. Jacobson and Lettuce Entertain You's lofty standards, writes Michael Nagrant. The dining room resembles "every upscale beach resort you've ever seen" and Jacobson dishes out Mediterranean tapas. There's a complex watermelon gazpacho that excites by "featuring the savoriness of a Bloody Mary and the frozen fruity rewards of a treat from Mario's Italian Lemonade," but fried eggplant is an "exercise in monotony" and "soggy, raw in the middle and tough to chew." Likewise, grilled octopus is accompanied by fried kale and fingerling potatoes that are "as addictive as a perfect batch of French fries" but is offset by a deconstructed baklava that looks like regular baklava "smashed with a sledgehammer." Nagrant thinks if the restaurant ups its game, it could "eventually become a classic." [RedEye]

Mahalo is anything but paradise for Mike Sula, who thinks the Hawaiian-themed spot is near disastrous on most fronts. Spam meatballs approximate a "fair representation of mom's meat loaf;" dumplings are enrobed in "oversteamed" wonton wrappers and "drowned in globs" of coconut cream; and "soft, oversauced ribs" come straight from the "potluck playbook of, say, an all-you-can-eat fund-raiser for the swim team." Even the iconic loco moco burger lacks "any personality or dynamism." The lone bright spot on the menu is a poke trio sampler but otherwise the "food isn't so dreamy at all." [Reader]

After a rocky and inauspicious start, Cantina 1910 has a "boast-worthy kitchen team again" under new chef Scott Shulman, writes Phil Vettel. A "delicious" arroz con pollo dish shows "creativity" and the daily chef's ceviche features "unexpected," tasty combinations such as escolar with shimeji mushrooms, ancho-flavored dashi and red shiso leaf. Tacos are "all well-made" and "piled high" with ingredients like housemade chorizo, turkey carnitas and carne asada, while entrees include a "well-flavored" dry-aged strip steak big enough to feed two. Desserts are equally "delightful," with the "camera-ready" tostada topped with jocoque ice cream delivering a fine finish. Phil Vettel's lone complaint is with the front-of-the-house staff, which "occasionally can't get out of its own way." Overall, though, he thinks it's a first-rate meal. [Tribune]


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