Sepia

New American

Sepia, a new restaurant in the Fulton River District, opened only four months ago. But you’d hardly be able to tell as the restaurant is packed, the staff is well trained and easy-going, and the food is consistently divine.

Owner, Emmanuel Nony, has been in the hospitality business his entire career, and with the opening of his own restaurant, Sepia, it’s evident that he’s a pro.

The motto at Sepia is to celebrate tradition with a modern twist. This comes through not only in Chef Kendal Duque‘s cooking, but also in the restaurant’s décor. It’s rustic but stylish, something like a modernday speakeasy. Antique mirrors and contemporary chandeliers don’t contradict each other but create a warmth that enhances the dining experience.

On this brisk fall day in the Windy City, the bartender suggested that I warm up with a calvados apple sidecar. An excellent suggestion! Before my companion arrived, I studied the lunch menu while happily sipping this delicious drink.

Once seated, my friend and I had a hard time deciding what to eliminate from the myriad of mouth-watering choices on the menu. After three appeitizers, two mains and a dessert, we realized that it was probably too much food, but by then, we had polished everything off. It was just too good not to.

Here are the highlights from lunch at Sepia:

The applewood smoked bacon flatbread with peaches and Berkshire blue cheese is the perfect starter to pair with cocktails. It would have been the ideal replacement for bread, except that Sepia serves excellent bread, from Bennison’s Bakery, with Sepia’s own homemade whipped butter. So, in addition to the bread, the flatbread is a nice snack to whet one’s appetite. It’s so thin that it’s crisp, and the bacon, peaches and blue cheese titillate your palate with savory, then sweet, then savory, then all over again.

The onion soup with saffron, almonds and paprika was a special. A purée of onions, saffron and almond, made with chicken stock, this was yet another excellent onion soup. The saffron colored the soup not only in a rich yellow hue but also in flavor. Slivers of toasted almond added some crunch to each bite, and a dash of paprika gave it a nice kick. A lovely way to warm the heart and belly on a chilly afternoon.

The knockout of the day was the skate wing with baby vegetables and raisin-caper sauce. Our waitress highly recommended the dish and mentioned that Chef Duque had a way with fish. That way must be magic because this is the best cooked fish I have ever tasted. Juicy and tender are inadequate adjectives to describe the luscious skate. I was worried that the flavors of raisin and caper — both can be overpowering — would give the dish too many strong flavors, but every scent and ingredient was in perfect balance. The baby vegetables complemented the fish as a refreshing choice of side over the often-used potatoes. Skate may be an inexpensive fish, but under the expert hands of Chef Duque, this dish tasted like a million bucks.

Finally, though I am not inclined to take sweets after a meal, the bittersweet chocolate crepes with fresh figs and pistachio ice cream looked different from most obligatory chocolate desserts on menus. Indeed, the chocolate filling was not sweet, which brought out the sweetness of the fresh figs. And the pistachio ice cream completed the dessert with a cool hint of nuttiness. All in all, a very well balanced endeavor and a beautiful end to an unforgettable lunch.

Editor’s PickCelia Sin-Tien Cheng | October 31, 2007

American

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