The Contender Around the Corner, Fantastic Fusion, and Moto's Little Sister | Restaurant Review | Chicago Reader

The Contender Around the Corner, Fantastic Fusion, and Moto's Little Sister 

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Sepia

123 N. Jefferson

312-441-1920

Opening hype can strain any restaurant, but Emmanuel Nony's month-old Sepia, just around the corner from Blackbird, is holding up quite well. Creative chef Kendal Duque (Everest, Tru, NoMi) is running the kitchen, and out front savvy servers seem happy to be there. The total redo of an 1890 print shop--in shades of black and sepia with sage and burgundy accents--gives vintage furnishings new life, among them reupholstered Knoll chairs by Bill Stephens and ornate chandeliers encircled by sheets of Mylar. Semiprivate seating areas with a different design scheme help make the space visually interesting. Two of the ten appetizers ($8-$13) suggest the chef's range: nuggets of moist rabbit paired with delicate ricotta dumplings in a Riesling reduction are minimalism made edible, while ultratender charred octopus piled on a toasted baguette slice in tomato sauce is as robust and rustic as the cast-iron pot it comes in. The succulent slow-baked veal breast on wide, lightly minted noodles ($23) has become a signature entree not simply by default (what other trendy restaurants serve veal breast?) but because it's delicious. I also liked the thick Berkshire pork chop complemented by crunchy pickled wild onions ($25). Flatbreads, which head the menu, should be a natural with cocktails, but I didn't have much luck: the little one topped with applewood-smoked bacon and falling-off diced peaches didn't go at all with the Sepia Mule, which features house-made ginger-infused vodka. Dry flourless chocolate cake without the promised mint ganache was the other disappointment. Sage-lemon bread pudding, on the other hand, was like the best French toast ever, and I loved the melting sweet corn and blackberry jam ice cream. The eclectic, affordable wine list ($30-$80 bottles, $8-$12 by the glass) rounded out an enjoyable experience. --Anne Spiselman

Shikago

190 S. LaSalle

312-781-7300

Shikago, the most recent venture from Kevin Shikami (Jimmy's Place, Confusion, Kevin), is at ground level in the canyon that is the LaSalle Street financial district. On a relatively slow Saturday night, we were rendered breathless by dish after memorable dish. Roasted quail with braised radish, hazelnuts, garlic chives, a maiitake mushroom ragout, and Shaoshing wine sauce was remarkable, but even commonplace appetizers like tuna tartare and salmon maki with avocado and cilantro were brought to life by a caring hand and premium ingredients. The pan-Asian fusion entrees on the constantly changing menu created subtle harmonies: red snapper in a sweet galangal sauce balanced slightly bitter Chinese broccoli and earthy chanterelles; sugary bulgogi was paired with delicately sharp daikon, peppery arugula, and scallion pancake straws; Alaskan salmon, sweetened with papaya, was perked up with lemongrass and peekytoe crab slivers in flowery jasmine rice. Flavors amplify one another in a lime semifreddo served with a nectarine tart, and the pineapple trio displayed variations worthy of a Bach fugue: vanilla-poached and soy-caramelized pineapple, a cinnamon-sugar pineapple "doughnut," and a refreshing pineapple-cinnamon sorbet. Though sophisticated, this place puts on no airs: tables are cross sections of centuries-old trees and the decor is Zen-like. There's a take-out counter at lunchtime. --David Hammond

Otom

951 W. Fulton

312-491-5804

If every move Homaru Cantu makes for the rest of his young life isn't burdened by the expectation of sharks with frickin' laser beams on their heads, he'll be a lucky cookie. So I wondered if the early indifferent reports about Otom, Moto's loungey little sister, were a matter of his high-tech asylum lowering the property values of his bungalow next door. Nah--Otom has real problems. Moto's former sous chef Darryl Nash came on late in the game, burdened with a program of upscale comfort food--already the most cliched kitchen reality show plotline ever. The relatively affordable new menu, perhaps designed to exploit the sizable population that departs Moto feeling peckish and poor, has plenty of riffs on grandma's repertoire: chicken pot pie with egg noodles and sweet corn, apricot ribs with slaw and pickles, grilled sirloin with mashed potatoes. An otherwise satisfying grilled cheese sandwich trio was knocked off balance by the Virginia ham and unmelted cheddar. Sea bass with grits and ham hocks was tough, overseared fish mounted on too-salty greens and pork. Items that didn't disappoint still failed to impress: brasiola, apple, and arugula salad was a formidable pile of shrubbery mined with chewy bits of cured meat and julienned fruit; mac 'n' cheese with anise and andouille in a cast-iron trough was filling if forgettable. But Cantu-esque theatrics livened up dessert: a scoop of vanilla ice cream slowly sinks its way through a pastry pagoda roof until it plops into the stewed cherries below. Voila!--cobbler. On the brightest possible side, the waitstaff crack encyclopedic about the tiny menu and more rounded wine list, no doubt under the tutelage of the excellent sommelier who produced a perfect off-menu Rieslaner for the cobbler. --Mike Sula

Other recent openings

Cafe Bionda Wicker Park 1467 N. Milwaukee | 773-342-2100

Koko Sushi Bar & Lebeche 3140 N. Lincoln | 773-248-2988

MetroKlub 733 W. Madison | 312-602-2104

Mexx Kitchen at the Whiskey 1015 N. Rush | 312-475-0300

Su-Ra 2257 W. North | 773-276-9450

Table 52 52 W. Elm | 312-573-4000

Tavern at the Park 130 E. Randolph | 312-552-0070

For more on restaurants, see our blog The Food Chain at chicagoreader.com.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Semiprivate dining area, veal breast, chef Kendal Duque, and sage-lemon bread pudding at Sepia.

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