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Delicious Sepia a hot ticket

Beard-nominated Sepia provides a charming evening

Phil Vettel

9:07 AM CST, February 24, 2012

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It has been a nice week for Sepia chef Andrew Zimmerman, who Tuesday was named a semifinalist for a James Beard Foundation award in the Best Chef: Great Lakes category.

And for the next couple of days you can find out why for a lot less than you'd usually pay. Sepia is a participant in Chicago Restaurant Week, offering a three-course lunch menu for $22, and three- and four-course dinners for $33 and $44, respectively.

Wine pairings ($20 for three courses, $30 for four) are available as well.

Your three-course dinner begins with either a pretty salad of blood-orange slices separated by baby arugula with pine nuts and flakes of ricotta salata cheese, or perfectly al dente cavatelli pasta with duck sugo (a braised-meat sauce). The cavatelli looks positively tiny, but it's substantial; I actually failed to finish my portion.

Main courses consist of trout, the flesh rich with smoke flavor and the skin pan-seared to a crisp, with some julienned apples on top to balance the smokiness. Pork tenderloin, stuffed with fig paste and placed over sharply tangy sauerkraut, makes a nice entree on a cold evening.

Cindy Schuman's elegant desserts are a highlight, whether you pick the yogurt Bavarian cream perched on a thin coconut-cake base, or the chocolate port mousse, layered with chocolate cake and meringue.

The four-course dinner offers the same choices, with an additional opening course of cured mackerel with piquillo peppers and almonds, or a savory pumpkin custard with sage and walnuts.

The only trouble is getting a table. Sepia is a popular restaurant at any price, but this week — let's just say I called for an early, midweek reservation and was lucky to get seating in the lounge. Actually the lounge, with its intimate tables, soft lighting and large picture window, isn't a bad dining venue at all.

Sepia, 123 N. Jefferson St., 312-441-1920.

Chicago Restaurant Week continues through Sunday. To view restaurants and make reservations, go to eatitupchicago.com.

pvettel@tribune.com

Twitter @PhilVettel