Sepia restaurant in Chicago's West Loop is a testament to the success that can come from having a vision and sticking to it. While the idea of having one foot in the past and one foot in the future sounds like a bad tag line for a time-travel company, this is precisely the thing that makes Sepia, now more than a year old, still one of Chicago's hottest restaurants.
Owner Emmanuel Nony has stuck to his guns and successfully melded mod and old, whether it's in the interior design featuring crystal chandeliers shaded by spacey screens or the website theme music, which features a trip-hop remix of Billie Holiday crooning "God Bless the Child."
And when inaugural chef Kendall Duque announced plans to leave, Nony stayed on course with Duque's replacement by selecting Andrew ZImmerman, formerly of Del Toro and Mag Mile darling NoMI. Especially at Del Toro, Zimmerman's strength was taking a concept (Spanish tapas) that was more tired than a heart surgeon on his third night of call and reinventing it in a contemporary way.
Zimmerman's patatas bravas were one of the first I'd ever seen that didn't mix a bunch of mayo, tomato, and home fries in a cazuela. He'd carved perfect potato cylinders, deep-fried them, and then piped on a gabled circle of smoked paprika-infused aioli, the final product looking a bit like a Smurf hut. While there were plenty of reinventions at Del Toro, he'd also been working with his sous chef, Rob Levitt, (now of Mado) to create house-made blood sausage and other charcuterie.
It remains to be seen what modern touches Zimmerman brings to Sepia, but on a recent visit to the West Loop spot, I did get a chance to see the next level of his charcuterie skills. All, including mortadella and rabbit rillettes, were superb. The one piece that blew my tastebuds, though, was a Gunthorp Farm duck pâté wrapped in bacon and infused with green peppercorn and dried cherries. The heady mix of fruit, spice, and fat was a nap-inducing elixir of pure and utter comfort.