Closed Captioned For The Thinking Impaired

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Restaurant Review: Epic Roasthouse, A Preliminary Report

The Epic Roasthouse Bar Area & Open Kitchen

It was a beautiful Tuesday afternoon; so despite having reservations to another "see and be seen" hot lunchspot as well, (I confess I double book everything but I always cancel the unwanted reservations at least an hour before) yours truly and a friend decided to go and investigate San Francisco's most controversial steakhouse, Epic Roasthouse. This posting is not intended as a critique but only an initial peek at the city's latest waterfront dining experience. It's too early to pass judgment; but, if the crowd is any indication, Epic Roasthouse is already a raging success.

View of restaurant from the bar area

When you are bold enough to emblazon the word Epic across the front of your door, you'd better be prepared to back it up or expect a few slings & arrows of outrageous critiques shooting at you. Time will tell if there's truth in the advertising but one thing's for sure: Pat Kuleto, as usual, pulled out all the visual stops.

While the decor does verge on the kitsch, its fantasy of a pumphouse whose water could have saved San Francisco from the 1906 fire is far from objectionable & much less obtrusive in person than in photographs. The wall finishes are hard, but the seats are soft and the bay views are spectacular. It's a great space.

I wish I could say the same for the service & the food; but, it's early yet. Chef Jan Birnbaum & company must be given some latitude to right the wrongs.

While Waterbar restaurant, the yin to Epic Roasthouse's yang, already seems to have a handle on both the customer & culinary service front; Epic's staff and food still has some growing pains to undergo.

A 1:15 reservation turned into a 1:40 seating. Nowhere to wait without stepping on other toes proved less of a challenge that it might have because of the lovely weather & location which allowed us to wait outside by the bay. If, however, the weather had proved inclement, we would have been very unhappy with the 20 minute wait, particularly since both the waiting area & the bar area were crowded and rather small for a restaurant of this size.

Our inattentive server who forgot a side dish (we never did receive it) & failed to refill empty glasses was ably assisted by other servers who proved the ability to rise to the occasion & seemed more willing to attend to us.

The Signature Pump House Wheel

View of the Bay Bridge from our table

The lunch menu covers a wide range of midday meal classics: soups, salads, burger, fish, chicken, steaks with prices ranging from $1.75 per oyster in mignonette or cocktail sauce to $38 for a 14 oz cut of Prime Rib. Most entrees are in the low $20's. Sides ($8) are cheekily named "Things You Want In a Steakhouse" and include the usual suspects: garlic fries, onion rings, mac & cheese, etc. Desserts ($10) include Epic cookies, beignets, bread pudding, creme brulee & a sundae.

There is also a 3 course pre-fixe "Multi Tasker's Lunch" for $29 or $32 which promises to expedite service to 50 minutes ( I assume that doesn't include the time spent waiting for your table) with a dessert of Epic cookies to go. A good idea considering how many business power lunches are likely to take place here with the Embarcadero Center in such close proximity & a valet to park those Mercedes-Benz's.

A 4% surcharge is added to the bill to provide for "the very best health benefits" for Epic employees. A laudable sentiment but why should patrons bear the burden of Epic Roasthouse investors costs; we won't be receiving any of the profits, will we?

French Onion Soup

Clam Chowder

The Fixings for the Epic Burger

The Epic Burger

Chocolate Souffle with Warm Chocolate Ganache & Sea Salted Caramel Cinnamon Scented Ice Cream

As to the food itself:
Both soups were flavorful & plentiful for $3.50 per cup.

The Roasted Onion Soup with Raclette cheese was a deconstructed French onion soup with a rich broth and a large crusty crouton with unctuous raclette cheese melted over it.

The Clam Chowder with Hobb's Bacon & Classic Mire Poix had neither the bacon nor a truly classic mirepoix (just a few carrot cubes cut by someone with inadequate knife skills); but, it had great flavor, plump juicy clams & a savory broth with a slight hint of cream to round out the soup &, happily, none of the roux that usually mars a Boston clam chowder. It's a light riff on the classic. Yummy!

Unhappily, the house breads, which arrived well after our first courses, instead of before them, were tiny leaden bricks purported to be a cornbread madeline, a gruyere popover & a slice of ciabatta. Needless to say, I didn't eat them but then again I didn't need to.

Lunch was a rather lackluster Roasted Chicken Salad ($15 ) with a suspicion of walnuts, a few slices of apple & dark chicken pieces that included the hip joints, tendons and other unsavory chicken parts. The simple vinaigrette & seasonings were balanced which is about the best you can say about the dish.

The Ultimate Burger ($20) was far from epic but was perfectly cooked to medium rare, I thought I detected breadcrumbs in the meat but I can't really be sure. I hope I'm wrong. it would be silly to stretch a burger that way; especially an "ultimate" one. The burger was accompanied by excellent house-cured pickles with a hint of sweet spice (cinnamon, allspice?), crisp house-made waffle chips & an array of trimmings (bacon bits, mushrooms, corn relish, coarse-grain mustard & mayo) artfully presented on a separate wooden tray in porcelain cache pots. A side of a chili-tomato paste was served in lieu of ketchup. I must say I missed the cheese but the brioche bun was flavorful & sturdy enough to hold it all together.

Dessert was a warm Scharffenberger chocolate souffle ($10) accompanied by warm chocolate ganache & sea salt caramel (& cinnamon, according to our server) ice cream. The souffle was too dense & rich for my tastes especially with the unnecessary addition of warm chocolate ganache. It was less souffle than puffy molten lava cake. The ice cream, however, was luscious. A hint of salt with the creamy caramel flavor (cinnamon was barely detectable to this palate) was like manna from heaven. I would order that ice cream again & again & again & again! Would you say I like it?

Overall, food underwhelming but not completely disappointing. Wine list looked okay with many varietals from excellent wine producers: some wines by the glass & several bottle format options. Good atmosphere. Some servers committed, like the fabulous Felix who rescued us from restaurant purgatory; some not so committed, like our table's server, the M.I.A. British ex-pat whose name escapes me.

So far, I prefer Waterbar to its brother, Epic Roasthouse for it's stellar service, fresher than fresh food, free filtered tap & sparkling water, and great variety of non-alcoholic drinks at lunch; but, hey, it's early yet & too soon to tell. Hopefully, Epic Roasthouse will rally & deliver more fully on the promise that the magnificent site & early hoopla offers.

Damn it, guess I need to visit them both a few more times over the next few months!

Oh woe is me, woe is me! These trials are meant to test our mettle; we must rise to meet the challenge!

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