Saturday, June 8, 2024

Sepia Michelin Star Restaurant Chicago

 Sepia Michelin Star Restaurant Chicago for a spectacular food and wine dining experience

Son Sean and D-in-law Michelle invited us to dinner at Michelin Star Sepia Restaurant in Chicago. For the occasion, I pulled from our home wine cellar this ultra-premium birthyear vintage wine for Sean’s birth year. We took this BYOB wine despite the fact we also did the Wine Pairing option with the Price Fixe dinner. 

Sepia in the trendy west loop neighborhood on Jefferson Street is recognized with the coveted Michelin Star. We were fortunate enough to be seated in one of the private dining alcoves off the main dining room, a stylish warm intimate setting with a heavy curtain wall, brick wall, and photo galley wall adorned with Sepia photographs. 

The exclusive price fixe menu offers four courses of four diner’s choice options each, plus additional optional caviar and/or cheese courses. 

The wine pairing serves a select wine for each course selection from their Best of Award Wine Spectator wine list. Even the starter course matched three different carefully and thoughtfully selected sparkling wines with our three different starter selections. 

Prior to the starter first course we were served a delectable amuse-bouche of tartare on brioche with a sweet jam spread.

The First Course selection offerings:

Kanpachi Crudo, toasted rye chili crisp, pickled ramp,smoked cream cheese,

Caramelized Onion Consommé, delice de Bourgogne, sourdough selected by Linda,

Steak tartare toad in a hole, horseradish, brioche, dill, and, chosen by Michelle,

Roasted Foie Gras, ginger consommé, peanut, snow pea selected by Sean and Me.

The wine pairings for this course selections were distinctively different, matching the food selections.

Paired with the Foie Gras was Le Quattro Terre Franciacorte Brut

This is from the Franciacorte appellation in the Lombardy wine region in northern Italy, the Italian ‘Champagne’ district. It is made in the methods champonaise French style from traditional grape varieties Chardonnay 65% and Pinot Noir 35%. 

This label is sourced from five Chardonnay vineyards located in the municipalities of Adro, Corte Franca, Passirano and Ome and one Pinot Noir vineyard located in the municipality of Cazzago San Martino.

The pairing with Linda’s Consommé selection was Michel Arnould "Réserve" Grand Cru Verzenay Brut Champagne.

This is a blend of 75% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay, entirely from estate vineyards in the Grand Cru of Verzenay. The hazelnut Pinot character, so unique to the village of Verzenay, is pronounced in this wine. The texture is full and the bead is refined. 

The Brut Reserve Grand Cru owes the strength of its aromas and its affirmed body to the Pinot Noir from Verzenay, and owes its delicacy to the Chardonnay.

Winemaker notes - Hints of soft fruits (peach, apricot, plum) accompanied by a sensation of exotic fruits. A sharp attack on the palate and then transpires an impression of harmony and stability. Once again we find these hints of soft fruits but no longer crystalised, to which we can add flavours of almonds and hazelnuts. 

The Second Course

Lightly Smoked Ocean Trout, kohlrabi, mussel emulsion, selected by Sean,

Gai Yang Chicken Wing Zampone, blood orange, cilantro, smoked chicken jus,

Crispy Ricotta Gnudi, celery root giardiniera, belper knolle, sunflower seed, selected by Michelle, and,

Roasted Scallop, green curry custard, finger lime, english pea, selected by Linda and me.

Sean loved and raved about the Smoked Trout, one of the highlights of the evening, and the best such dish he says he had ever tasted!

The trout was an ideally paired with this crisp white from the Vinho Verde appellation from the Minho River area, close to the Atlantic in Northern Portugal. Known for concentration and depth, both mouth-filling and refreshing, these wines have depth and textures that are both elegant and energetic. The nose carries an airy effervescence with blossoms and fresh ginger, while the mouthfeel is like juicy white-fleshed stone fruits with a long wash of grippy mineral sensations. The only Vinho Verde that could be 100% Alvarinho had to come from Quinta do Santiago's specific area of Menção e Melgaço.

Michelle chose the Ricotta Gnudi for her second course.

It was paired with this Italian varietal Nebbiolo, native grape from the Italian Piedmont wine region. This was an ideal old world classic style with rich earthy notes of Piedmont soil, tar, savory herbs and Shittake mushroom with elegant, refined fruit. Written to be Ghemme at its best, elegant yet powerful. 

Linda and I both selected the Roasted Scallop.

The Scallop was minimally cooked and we both would have preferred pan seared, or, cooked slightly more. The highlight of the dish may have been the English pea, green curry custard with lime. 

The wine pairing with the scallop was a German Riesling Kabinett - Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Kabinett, Mönchhof 2021. 

This is produced from grapes harvested from the steepest vineyards along the Mosel River in northwest Germany. The Mönchhof estate has is known for expressing ripe stone fruit and slate flavors that represent the unique terroir of the area. We visited the Mosel River Valley during our trip back in the mid-1980’s. Our tastes in wines have evolved significantly from those days. 

Rather than a sweet full wine such as this, I would’ve preferred a more delicate crisp Sauvignon Blanc. Linda would’ve preferred a round buttery Chardonnay. In any event, part of the culinary journey is experiencing the Chef’s and Sommelier’s interpretation of the wine pairing. 

The third, main course:

Grilled short rib, morel mushroom crab rangoon, smoked béarnaise, crispy nori. This was selected by Linda, Sean and me.

Michelle selected the Lamb Loin, cauliflower, pistachio dukkah, curried jus, lamb belly doughnut,

The Chef’s, Sommelier’s wine pairing with the lamb was a Napa Valley Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon from Frog’s Leap Rutherford Vineyards from the historic 2020 vintage.

Frog's Leap "Estate" Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2020 

This is from the iconic Frog's Leap winery estate in Rutherford that has been farmed by John Williams since 1981, now in concert with his son Rory.

Frog’s Leap were fortunate to release full production of their flagship wine during the chaotic vintage of 2020. After a very dry winter over 2019-2020 with only half normal rainfall, the deep-rooted vines compensated by naturally producing a light crop, about 25% below average. Major heat waves set in during harvest in mid-August and early September. Vineyard practices helped protect the vines during the high heat. 

The bulk of their Cabernet harvest was complete and ready to be picked when the tragic historic Glass fire broke out on September 28th, just six miles to the north. The remaining five blocks to be picked were harvested within the next two mornings. The fire’s smoke stayed to the north on the 28th and through the the 29th, as they finished picking. 

Unlike many Napa producers, Frog’s Leap 2020 Cabernet was unaffected by the fires. Due to smoke damage from the fires, many producers were not able to produce any crop, or were severely limited to what they were able to pick before the fires erupted. 

The fruit for this release was sourced from Frog’s Leap estate Rutherford vineyards - 34% Red Barn vineyard, Rutherford, 40% Chevez-Leeds vineyard, Rutherford, and 26% from the Williams-Rossi vineyard, Rutherford. It is a blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cabernet Franc.

It was aged 20 months in new to 5-year-old French oak barrels, 10% new.

Relieved and confident that they had produced a fine wine for the vintage, Rory said about this release, “I intend to be opening bottles of the 2020 vintage 40 years from now with my daughter Alma, who was born in 2020.”

This release was awarded 94 points by Decanter and 91 points by James Suckling.

Bright garnet colored, medium full-bodied with classic rustic Rutherford dusty tannins, brambly black currant, raspberry, and black cherry fruits with notes of tobacco, spices and black tea.

RM 91 points.  

The other entree course offerings were: 

Roasted Monkfish, little neck clams, white asparagus, horseradish-hidden valle, and,

Potato and Gruyère Agnolotti, lamb bacon, crispy potato, parmesan butter.

With the Short Rib, we had two fabulous wine pairings, the Chef’s and Sommelier’s selection, a Spanish Rioja Tempranillo Reserva ….

Señorío de P. Peciña Tinto Reserva is from the La Rioja designation of origin produced by Bodegas Hermanos Peciña. It is a blend predominantly made up of Tempranillo (95%), with a small amount of Graciano and Garnacha (5%).

The grapes come from various selected vineyards in the San Vicente de la Sonsierra region. The soils there are predominantly clay-limestone, and the planting density is high to produce rich concentrated wines. 

It was aged for 36 months in American oak barrels with an average age of four to five years, then it was aged another year and a half in the bottle before release.

Luis Gutierrez of gave this 93 Points.

Bright garnet colored, medium bodied, bright vibrant full concentrated ripe spicy fruits, with notes of earth, leather and vanilla and a touch of smoke and dusty rose, with polished chalky tannins. 

RM 93 points. 

And of course, our BYOB special birth year vintage bottle from our home cellar, 1985 Chateau Léoville-Las-Cases, St-Julien, Bordeaux. The classic wine from the legendary producer is considered a crown jewel of the St Julien appellation. Many consider it on par with the iconic first growths, it is known as one of the ‘super seconds.’

The estate is the largest and highest regarded of the three Léovilles, the greatest in quality and, in the opinion of many, it should be among the first growths. 

This is one of my absolute favorite, revered wines. Our visit to the Chateau was one of the highlights of our trip to St Julien Bordeaux back in 2019. We acquired a case of this wine upon release back in the mid-eighties and have still hold a couple bottles.

At going on forty years, the fill level was high neck, the foil and label were pristine, and the cork was intact but a bit soft and spongy. 

In 2020, Jeff Leve of The Wine Cellar Insider wrote, “One of the stars of the vintage, this is drinking perfectly today.” In March 2022 Robert Parker wrote, “My favorite vintage from this château to drink today is the 1985 Léoville Las Cases. More giving than the brooding 1986, and more complex than the 1982, the 1985 is in its prime today.”

Tonight’s tasting was consistent with my last review in 2019 when I wrote:

Deep garnet colored, medium-full bodied, elegant, complex but nicely integrated dark berry and black cherry fruits with notes of floral violets, tobacco, oak and hints of graphite, cigar box and leather on a tangy black cherry lingering finish of supple smooth, polished tannins. Over the course of the evening, it opened more to reveal layers of floral and fruits and accents.

This release was awarded 98 points Vinous and 98 points by Wine Spectator, and 95 points by Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, Decanter and the Wine Cellar Insider. 

In their 98 point review, Vinous wrote, “The 1985 Léoville–Las Cases is not just one of the finest vintages from this Second Growth, but one of the high points for the entirety of Bordeaux in this decade. Here it eclipses the 1985 Lafite-Rothschild with ease. A perfect marriage of structure and a degree of elegance that maybe the property has not matched before or since.”

This is a classic Left Bank Bordeaux blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot.

We then chose the optional additional cheese course.

Tête de Moine, corn financier, huckleberry chutney, thyme.

This was an incredible, imaginative artful creation, the thinly and delicately sliced cheese was amazingly formed to resemble a flower.

The pairing was this Italian Moscato d’Asti from Lombardy.

Stefano Perrone is one of the region's large producers. Souring grapes from north-facing sites, limiting yields, annd strict grape selection, he makes wines delicate and balanced.

We then turned to the dessert course. 

I chose the Cannelé de Bordeaux, buttered rum diplomat cream, roasted pineapple sherbet, tarragon, a burst of flavors!

Cloud Cake, frozen sheep’s milk yogurt, rhubarb, chamomile was Michelle’s selection.

Sweet Pea Pavlova, white chocolate, coriander, meyer lemon sorbet was Sean’s selection.

And finally, Linda chose the Manjari Chocolate Torte, buckwheat, caramelized banana, coffee cocoa nib ice cream.

The dessert course wine pairings …

The Sepia team … professional, attentive, accomplished, and in the pursuit of perfection.

executive chef andrew zimmerman
chef de cuisine kyle cottle
sous chef brian daley & jayme cannava
pastry chef erin kobler
pastry sous chef melissa santiago
sommelier alex ring