Drink of the week: Ms. G.G.'s East Egg Cocktail
Where you can find it: Sepia
The damage: $10.
Why here? Sepia's without a doubt a special-occasion spot, and I couldn't have dropped any more hints that I wanted to spend my birthday there than if I had made the reservation myself. I had wanted to dine at the West Loop eatery ever since it opened to much critical acclaim last year. And finally, one celebratory August evening, I found myself entering the posh restaurant that I now proclaim to be my favorite in the whole city. The ornate chandeliers encased inside what looks like retro lamp shades, the brick and wood accents, the black leather tables and one-sided booths with a red floral pattern, the private room with a light fixture that looked like woven twigs—it all created a sublime setting for a decadent meal and rave-worthy cocktails.
How it went down: I don't need an excuse to imbibe freely on any given night, but seeing as it was my B-day and I was at a restaurant with one of the most lauded mixologists in the city, this particular dinner was going to be heavy on the booze. Peter Vestinos is such a trailblazer in the art of cocktail crafting that he even has a drink column in TimeOut Chicago. His cocktails manage to be classic but innovative at the same time, with refreshing twists to the most predictable drinks, like adding cucumber-lime ice cubes to a Pimm's Cup. I studied the cocktail list for a good 10 minutes before finally settling on Ms. GG's East Egg Cocktail, named after the town in The Great Gatsby and inspired by two drinks the characters would've drunk during that time: chamomile tea and gin.
For Ms. GG's, Vestinos starts by filling a Collins glass with ice, then mixes one ounce of lemon juice with equal parts chamomile tea, using twice as much tea as normal and letting it steep for 15 minutes for a stronger flavor. He also adds a housemade thyme-infused honey syrup, which he makes by simmering honey, water and a handful of thyme, and 1.5 ounces of the locally made North Shore Distillery's No. 6 gin, which he likes for its dryness. He stirs it all together, adds a splash of soda water and then garnishes the concoction with a sprig of fresh thyme and a lemon wedge. The result is a complex yet clean cocktail that starts off sweet and lemony, followed by a slight bite of sour. The chamomile settles in slowly, adding an earthy element to the refreshing drink.
Would I want to become a regular? I polished off Ms. G.G. well before the first course arrived—perhaps the most fantastic pasta dish I've come across outside of Italy. The whole-wheat pasta came topped with a smoky, rich carbonara-style sauce, with chunks of tender duck meat and a gooey egg capping it off. I almost cancelled my entree and ordered another round of it; it was literally that good. But, I stuck it out for the walleye, which didn't disappoint with a light cashew sauce and charred asparagus spears. Until the big bucks roll in, I'll have to save eating at Sepia for special occasions, but at a reasonable $10-$12 a pop, Vestinos' libations just might become a regular staple in my going-out repertoire.
Dana Kavan scours the city for drink deals so good you'll offer to buy a round and creative libations that outshine your average on-the-rocks concoctions. Want to give Dana tips on where to rack up a bar tab? Share your finds before her next night out.