Mini-review: City Tavern
Rating: !!! (out of 4) Off to a good start
The backstory: When chef Kendal Duque cooked up the opening menu at
The crowd: A mini-manifesto on City Tavern's menu says it's inspired by the 18th century tavern, "a meeting place for poets, artists, government officials and the common man." During my visits, the modern-day South Loop version of that was a fussy couple accosting the bartender with cocktail questions and gray-haired diners using their smart phones as flashlights to see the menu (it wasn't really that dark).
Likes: Salmon with lump crab and asparagus comes ($16) with a blood orange bearnaise that's lick-the-plate delicious, while whole-wheat pasta with porcini mushrooms, smoked duck and a raw egg yolk ($15) is a fun spin on the classic Italian carbonara. Other new hangouts are focusing on whiskey, gin or absinthe, but City Tavern has a lengthy list of rums, true to the time period it's channeling. A rum and Coke made with the amber-hued, subtly flavored house-made cola is a simple winner, while house cocktails (all $10) such as Mrs. O'Leary's Summer Milk Punch (rum with ginger liqueur, citrus juices and clarified milk) are brilliantly balanced and seriously sippable.
Gripes: Though our server talked up the flatbreads ($7) for the table to share, one topped with baby octopus, tomatoes and ricotta salata (salted, aged sheep's milk cheese) wasn't especially memorable, and the fennel-anise vinaigrette dressing the baby beet salad ($10) was too subtle to live up to the advertised flavors. Pork belly sliders with duck fat-fried chips ($9) could have been mistaken for that of any number of bars with less capable chefs.
Bottom line: City Tavern doesn't have the same destination-worthy pull that Sepia did under Duque, but South Loopers are lucky to have it in the neighborhood.