If you have been to an art museum or a classy art gallery, then you can relate to both the obvious skill and beauty in some of the pieces and know that there are some that you just don’t understand. That is, until you do. That’s how I felt when I dined at Sepia.
123 N Jefferson Ave, Chicago, IL 60661
Set the Mood
The decor was similar to an upscale and modern (1950’s) art gallery with exquisite photo prints and purposeful lighting. The walls evoked a warm feeling and were a perfect canvas to the artwork. The ambiance was simply delightful. The bar is made from marble and it was absolutely gorgeous!
Since our environment was a little elitist, I figured why not start with something I would consider an amuse bouche, the charcuterie plate.
This plate was a bit disorganized until I realized why the pairings were made. The first part of the dish was in a ramekin and was not as I expected for a spread. The mousse was so light and creamy and was made to be used as a spread, but it was “sealed” with a layer of hardened duck fat. What an amazing base to a luxurious shell. So rich and hearty, it melts in your mouth like whipped cream. That was the centerpiece and it was my first bite. That just wasn’t fair to it’s counterparts. They just couldn’t keep up. My recommendation is to sample the meats first as a means to build up to the mousse.
The cobia was complex and full of intensity. Almost like a Picasso in his later years. The salinity was blended very well with acidity and herbal zest. Intense flavors that worked well together were then highlighted with saffron. This addition worked amazingly well and brought about this fish’s unique profile. Tasty, but not quite a meal.
Then there is the salad. Similar to how a photo of a simple landscape can make people pause, this salad was what I believe a salad aspires to be. The salad’s fresh field greens are tossed in a light vinaigrette to enhance, not drown, the true flavors of the fresh greens. Although this didn’t need anything else to make me happy, the chef brightened up the composition with some saltiness, provided by cheese, and the finishing touch of marcona almonds. Bitter, nutty, sweet, and a hint of licorice at just the right times, just enough to kick up the flavor and make this salad a tasty treat.
All of these appetizers were just teasers to the main meal. My mouth watered the moment our main dish was presented. I took a bite and almost required a bib. That’s not acceptable at a place like this, but the food just makes you consider wearing one. That’s what the pastrami can do for, or to you, depending how you look at it.
Like a butter made of meat, the pastrami’s superb fats gave rise to the tanginess of the sauerkraut. But this dish isn’t simple like comfort food. Not in the least. It needs to be interesting, so it’s topped with a spicy mustard seed sauce that made the tanginess bite you back!
At this point I was expecting to see the main event, the showstopper, the final piece of this night. You’re thinking that after all this, it has to be epic, right!? It wasn’t. It was pedestrian. Albeit a delicious one, it just didn’t live up to the standards that the previous dishes provided. The beef was cooked to a perfect medium rare so it’s grass-fed protein-ness was in full effect. It really was what every Midwesterner longs for. A true and worthy meat and potatoes dish with a potent au jus that kicks up the flavor of beef and some sweet preserves to round out the tasty bite.
Since the beef was not spectacular, I had to try some more dishes, so out came the fish. I had finally found the star of Sepia. It’s not the typical fried then baked kind, no no. It’s oil poached which gives it a soft texture and preserves its moisture. Almost like it swam into your plate. I’m starting to get impressionist here, but that’s the best example I could give without making you believe I wasn’t on an LSD trip. This fish really was wonderful enough on its own without even a hint of spice, but they know how to get more out of it. They dressed it with shrimp to enhance the sea flavors and incorporated trumpet mushrooms to bring it to the beach and slowly walk you deep onto the the land.
Then there is the random art piece that just worked for you. It wasn’t the allure that drew me but the uniqueness of the ingredients. What I’m referring to are the Brussels sprouts. I could have enjoyed a little less salt, but the pistachios added a wonderful nuttiness and crunchy texture that elevated this dish. Then there was the smoked butter. What a nice touch! All of these components together are now the way I want my Brussels sprouts. Bittersweet, nutty, salty and creamy with that hint of smoke. Go there just for this. It is worth it.
Sepia is perfect for a romantic dinner or for someone you would like to impress. Their flavor combinations along with their support for local sustainably raised ingredients (that are also organic!) make for a delightful dining experience.
123 N Jefferson Ave, Chicago, IL 60661