Friday, April 6, 2012

sepia (2) - chicago, il
123 north jefferson street
chicago, il 60661

in a city like chicago with so many fantastic dining options, planning a three day eating itinerary can be a daunting task. making things slightly more difficult on this trip was the fact that not only did i have to think about pleasing both myself and carrie, but i wanted to impress my parents and show them why we visit the windy city for dining with such frequency. with that sentiment in mind, i decided that instead of taking a risk and trying someplace carrie and i had never been before (ideas included henri, cafe des architectes, bistronomic, and the gage), the four of us would close out the trip with lunch at sepia. while we weren't blown away by our first meal there, everything was very solid, and i left feeling like had a few different choices been made that the meal could have been more successful.
after dealing with the headache of checking out of the hyatt regency on wacker (waaay too big and confusing), we opted to make the twenty five minute walk to the restaurant as the weather was quite pleasant. upon arriving at the former print shop, we were seated at a four top near the back of the dining room. the space was a beautiful as i remembered, being a great mix of vintage chic and modern flair. the lunch menu at sepia is small and focused, with a few starters to chose from along with three sandwiches and a handful of entrees. the bar program at sepia is fairly stout, with a well culled selection of craft beers and a nice list of specialty cocktails.
prior to confirming our lunch selections, bread arrived in the form of a crisp bagguette. decent, but nothing to write home about, although the butter was excellent.
as we are prone to doing, carrie and i began with a pair of cocktails. for me the choice was difficult as there were a number of whiskey/bourbon based drinks, but i ultimately settled on a drink titled, "hello, holy rollers". made with old granddad bonded bourbon, dubonnet rouge, dry white port, lemon, angostura bitters, and burnt cinnamon, this was a good choice with the pronounced notes of cinnamon on the finish being most enjoyable . carrie's selection was the "french 75", featuring hendrick's gin, fresh lemon sour, orange bitters, and demi-sec sparkling rose.
for my starter, i had the house made tagliatelle with wild mushrooms and grana padano. after the excellent pastas i enjoyed the day before at coco pazzo, the bar was set pretty high. however upon first bite there was no disappointment to be found. the wide noodles were well cooked and the flavors of the mushrooms and strong grainy cheese were excellent.
carrie opted to begin with the daily soup, which she reports was tasty, yet is unsure of the ingredients at this time...
following a lengthy break after the completion of our starters, my main course, the sepia burger with red dragon cheddar, bacon, and crispy onions, arrived. cooked to a juicy medium per my request, the burger was incredible. served with duck fat fried potatoes which were also stellar, the burger had everything i look for, solid bun, bold cheese, texture contrast of some sort, and well cooked/seasoned beef. i can easily say that the sepia burger ranks in my top three burgers of all time, a list that includes the led zeppelin at kuma's corner and the notorious offering at five bistro in st. louis.
as my cocktail was long gone when our main courses were served, i asked our server to bring me a beer that would pair well with my burger. after a few moments, he produced the smuttynose porter, whose chocolate and coffee flavors definitely stood up to the bold flavor of the burger.
served with the same duck fat fried potatoes as my burger, carrie selected the grilled flat iron steak with bacon-thyme butter. i was allowed a couple bites, and was impressed with how tender and flavorful the beef was.
moving on to dessert, i had very little trouble making my selection, opting for the malted milk chocolate mousse on peanut butter crunch with pretzel 'bark'. as a lover of both chocolate and peanut butter, this was a huge success for me with the creaminess of the mousse contrasting nicely with the crunch of both the pretzels and the peanut bottom.
for carrie, coconut tapioca pirouettes, oven roasted pineapple, spicy cashews, and pineapple rum. i did not taste this save for a few of the excellent spicy cashews, but carrie definitely liked it.

going into the meal at sepia, i figured we were in for a good albeit not overly exciting meal in one of the cities most attractive dining rooms.. i am pleased to note that my expectations were met and exceeded, as this trip to the michelin stared restaurant was better than our first on all accounts, and was a good send off after an incredible three days of eating. returning to sepia at some point for dinner would certainly be nice as i am sure the entrees really shine, but with a slew of mid tier places both new and old in my "must try" queue (the publican, the bristol, nellcote, yusho, balena, ect) , i doubt such a thing will occur for some time. 

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