It’s been a wild year-and-change for James Beard Award-winning chef Carrie Nahabedian (Brindille, Naha) and her newest venue Kostali, a coastal-themed Mediterranean restaurant inside the Gwen hotel. Opening just months before the COVID-19 pandemic began, the team designed Kostali as an antidote to the drab dining venues often associated with hotels. Now, as locals and tourists tentatively venture back out for dine-in service, Nahabedian is presenting another twist on a classic: Tipsy Tea Parties, her boozy take on high tea.
Nahabedian’s food and drink menus aim to lure cabin fever-stricken Chicagoans with creative (and Insta-friendly) presentations, like the eye-catching three-tiered “tipsy tea tower.” Kostali patrons will find a smattering of sweet and savory snacks like brioche with caviar cream cheese and radish, saffron cake with huckleberry jam, and candied beet with pistachio. Rather than relying on old teatime standbys like scones, Nahabedian has taken the opportunity to highlight slightly more opulent, modern versions with hints of the flavors featured on the restaurant’s other menus.
Though the boozy tea concoctions are served in quaint floral teapots, this is not grandma’s tin of Twinings: options include the Barely Functioning (Japanese whisky, matcha, honey liqueur) and High Maintenance (masala chai, spiced rum, frothed coconut milk, cinnamon syrup). There are also bottles of bubbly a la carte, plus a menu for customers who’d rather sip sans alcohol, in more traditional flavors like English Breakfast and Earl Grey.
Kostali first opened in late 2019, just months before the COVID-19 pandemic touched down in Chicago. Empty office buildings and a near complete absence of tourism have devastated downtown restaurants and hotels. Short-term specials like this one give Chicagoans a reason to visit the Gwen and whet their appetite for a lunch or dinner visit.
Tipsy tea parties are open with reservations available on the Gwen’s website.