Sometimes I wish I could live life in sepia hues.
There is something so alluring about familiar vintage glam. It seems to be a more calm, collected living, one in which there would be no rush or immediacy, and only real problems would be considered problems.
And so I sported my Sunday best to meet an ethereal comrade of another life, who’s persona was as gentle as the flavors on the plates that we collectively devoured at Sepia, tucked in the West Loop of Chicago. With Art Noveau floors and vintage portraits on walls from bygone eras of this culinary city, I felt like I had been whisked into a classic movie set. Case in point, as I walked beneath the shadows of over sized chandeliers and red velvet draperies. Chef Andrew Zimmerman’s Michelin star winning American cuisine has also acquired other feathers in its cap, including a James Beard nomination, among other notable triumphs.
The amuse bouche was a white peach and rhubarb morsel with an herb overlay. White peaches have a sour quality that makes them more tart and thankfully less mushy than their counterparts. With the rhubarb, it made for a luscious palette cleanser of bite sized proportions. Accompanied by a seedy bread where the fluffiness was a testament to its freshness.
The damsel got an ethereal meaty entrée, elegantly plated which brought gleeful smiles to her face.
Mine was a half moon homage to a Gemini like quality of my indecision, shaped into culinary hemispheres. For what arrived looked no less than a work of art. It was in fact, the ever popular cauliflower cooked in goat cheese with rosemary and herbs on one side, with a savory leafy green cake on the other, simmering in goat cheese and herb chutney. It was hard to choose which side I preferred: the former was an earthy texture with a slight citrus tang, the latter was an herbaceous version of a dessert staple with depth of flavor.
The brittle divided the two in half, covered with cilantro and horseradish, almost as a halfway break and palette cleanser from the rest. To say this was one of the best cauliflower dishes I have ever had would be an understatement.
The pinnacle on this beautiful meal was the duo of disparate desserts. Both were creative and whimsical and drenched in flavor. The first was a raspberry parfait, which was not my first choice owing to my hesitance towards anything that is plunged in berry. However, the sidekicks of a hazelnut sponge cake (albeit torn into morsels), dark blackberry sorbet and candied hazelnuts for a crunch balanced the sweet berry flavor with tartness and texture, respectively. The most surprising was hibiscus syrup, a truly versatile ingredient, which lent the right amount of sourness to the dish.
The second dessert, thankfully also sequentially second, was plated rather inventively and arrived with a rather surprising aromatic whisk of liquor. Tequila, to be precise! For it as an olmeca altos tequila semi freddo with lime curd and lime zest, accompanied by a generous brush of tequila gelee. While not a fan of gelatinous and wobbly desserts, the flavor juxtaposition in this one won me over. Especially the addition of a trio of frozen candied grapes, which with the tequila, transported me to a sepia world of elegant soirees. The salty crisps were probably not needed as the tequila overpowered the boozy dessert, and for once I could have done without a crispy textural note. The overall almost familiar winged delight of another Chicago staple was earthy and golden, in sunset hues that were almost painful to deconstruct, but equally delicious to gobble.
And thus concluded a happy, sleepy meal drenched in memoirs of exchanged stories and decadent bites. Under the whispers of chandeliers, the tinkle of vintage stemware and the shadows of red velvet.
Life is better when lived in sepia hues.