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Feb 5, 2008 07:04 PM

Epic Roasthouse Report

Epic Roasthouse Report

I first heard about the Pat Kuleto ventures, Epic Roasthouse and Waterbar, about a year ago (why didn’t they keep the original names though? “By Land” and “By Sea” were great names.) and I have been eagerly awaiting the opening. I ate at Catahoula, Epic Roasthouse Chef Jan Birnbaum's former restaurant in Calistoga, three or four times and I loved it, and I have eaten twice at Farallon and enjoyed it both times. I was out of town during the opening, so I had to wait until last Friday to visit Epic Roasthouse (I was so much hoping for an invite to one of the pre-opening dinners but no luck.)

Overall I was quite happy with the experience. Summary review: food very good, atmosphere very good, service mostly good.

We arrived perhaps two minutes early for a 5:30 reservation and were asked to wait upstairs in the bar; this was ok since we wanted to see the bar and have a drink, but after about 20 minutes it became clear that we were forgotten; a brief word to the bartender and the hostess immediately appeared (no apology though). We were seated right at the window - maybe the best deuce table in the restaurant; it was raining and foggy and the bridge and the water looked spectacular. Speaking of atmosphere, the room was nice - the entire building is nice - the pumphouse theme is maybe a little contrived but it's a Pat Kuleto restaurant, so it has to look great. Ok, the meal: I ordered Marrow Bones for appetizer and Short Ribs for main; DC ordered squid salad for appetizer and Lamb "T-bone" chop for main; I ordered "butter cake" for dessert. Details:

Roasted Marrow Bones with Tomato Jam and Garlic Toast: I have never ordered marrow bones before; I did order osso buco once (back at Socca; wish that place was still around!) and I had marrow risotto once at Delfina which was one of the best entrees I've ever eaten; so I had to try it. But I can't claim to have much experience with marrow so I don't know what it is supposed to be like. It was three large bones (lamb) standing on the plate; each about 6 inches tall and about 1.5 inch diameter. Was served with tomato jam and small "toasts" - think slices of acme sweet baguette toasted - I don't remember any garlic on the toasts, but I wasn't looking for it at the time, it may have been there; I tried the marrow alone and it was ok; but it really shone with the jam on it. I would rate it a good to very good appetizer, perhaps I'm not as thrilled by marrow as I thought I was; The tomato jam really made the dish.

Wood Oven Roasted Chili Squid Salad with White Beans, Olives, Tomato Confit - I had a few bites, and this was good but didn't rock me; my DC liked it a lot but thought there was too much dressing; he finished the squid but not the greens I think.

Long Bone Beef Short Rib with Whipped Truffle Potatoes, Brussels Sprouts and Caramelized Carrots: First off, it was one large short rib (this is short?); Not that I'm complaining about the size, it was certainly a good size portion. Was sitting on the potatoes, but if there were any truffles or truffle oil on the potatoes – or on the plate for that matter, they eluded my (truffle appreciating) nose and taste buds. And I *was* looking for the truffle flavoring. (Just to be clear, I was not expecting slices of truffle, but I was expecting the flavor you get from truffle oil and that was not there.) There also were no brussles sprouts, although there were a couple of small parsnips (think smaller than your pinky finger); maybe they made a mistake, or maybe it was an intentional omission (which is worse? I'm not sure. Like the wait at the bar, there was no apology or even admittance of mistake. I did not call this to anyone's attention.) I'm not much of a brussels sprouts fan, so I wasn't crushed by this, but it is interesting. Perhaps the carrots and parsnips were caramelized, but I didn't discern any special caramelization flavors. The meat itself was ok – tender but not the most flavorful short rib. The potatoes didn’t thrill me either – a weird combination of light texture and yet a little bit gluten-y; edible but not great; I love mashed potatoes, so it was disappointing to only get “ok” potatoes. (I have Chow’s short ribs as my baseline and these were not as good. I expected better.)

Aged Lamb T-bone Chop with Arugula Pesto: This was the "winner" of the evening (well, ok, after dessert, that is). I tried a few bites of this and it was great. It was quite rare - and it was a little fatty but the fat was crispy and tasted great with the meat, so no complaints from me. I think my DC liked it quite a lot also.

Speaking of red meat, I should mention that we had a bottle of Orin Swift's "The Prisoner", a blend of Zinfandel and Charbono and something else I'm not remembering; having had this on a couple of occasions, we were very happy to see it sitting on the back of the bar upstairs; I didn't see this on the menu, although I may have missed it; at any rate, the waiter immediately confirmed that they did have it by the bottle and the price ($60) is a very good restaurant price for that wine (I think retail is around $40 if I remember correctly.) It went very well with both of our entrees. (I am pretty sure this is another winner we discovered at the Ferry Plaza wine bar– how do they do it?)

Sides: Green beans (nothing to speak about) and scallopped potatoes - nothing special, and the potatoes were not cooked quite enough. Wouldn't order either again.

Dessert: The butter cake sounded intriguing - note that it is not on the web site menu, so I can't give you the precise name – and it was fantastic. Wow, and it was sitting in a large pool of very thick caramel sauce that was the perfect accompaniment. Yum. This is what I want in a restaurant dish: something somewhat unusual - or at least not something I can get every day – that tastes so good I am still thinking about it days later.

Oh, I almost forgot the breads: three choices were offered: sourdough (looked a bit like a slice of Acme Batard in shape/texture, but I don't think it was based on DC comments - I don't think I tried it). Other choices were mini popovers (disappointing) and cornbread madelines, which were fantastic. Let me repeat that: if you go, even if you are not a big corn bread fan, try these.

Our waiter was enthusiastic - he was clearly happy to be there and excited about the restaurant. Jan Birnbaum did stop by the table to say hi, which was nice.

So in summary, it was a very good meal, with a couple of forgivable blips in service and the food ranged from good to very good. I am eager to return to try some of the other items, particularly the risotto with pork belly and the steaks; I think it's a worthy restaurant for SF and for that particular location, but they are going to have to work hard to keep from any blips - at their prices I expect top notch everything.

Oh, I almost forgot, fantastic press-pot coffee; I think it may have been blue bottle, it was really good.

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  1. Thanks for the detailed report.

    Epic Roasthouse
    369 The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA 94105

    2 Replies
    1. re: grishnackh

      I finally made it over to Epic on Friday night.

      We arrived ten minutes early for our 5:30 reservation. After being informed that the kitchen wouldn't be serving for another ten minutes, we headed upstairs. Once in the crowded bar, it took nearly ten minutes of concerted effort to get the attention of one of the harried bartenders. No sooner than our drinks were being poured, the stunning hostess had come upstairs and located us. Grabbing a tray to carry our drinks, she transferred the tab to our check and escorted us down to a beautiful round booth with a spectacular view of the Bay Bridge.

      While I am accustomed to good views of the Bridge from Boulevard and even better ones at Chaya, this view was something else, and only got better as the sun faded and the bridge's lights became visible.

      Service throughout the meal was great. Our waiter was friendly, knowledgeable, and never over-bearing. Despite staying over three hours in a rather prime table, we never felt rushed at all.

      The meal started with bread service. The three types of bread were all fine to good, but none of them struck me as especially amazing. The cornbread madeleines might have come close though, had they been served warm. The froufrou salts provided did go great with the bread and butter.

      A dozen oysters were a steal at just $1.75 and all but the vegetarian in our group enjoyed them [and yes we did make her try one]. The large salumi platter was a tad scant, but featured some choice selections including a delicious duck prosciutto and amazing slice of cold roasted porchetta. The salami, pheasant rillettes, and carpricola were all fine.

      The salads we ordered were all good to great.

      As for the entrees, most of our table was very pleased. DC#1 loved her salmon and finished every bite. DC#2 professed to greatly enjoy his prime rib and didn't leave a scrap. DC#3 was a vegetarian and opted for a meal of sides.

      The porterhouse I ordered, however, was a disappointment. While it wasn't a bad steak in any particular way, it was far too short of marbling, even around the edges. While the noticeable mineral tang of a well-aged steak was present, this cut didn't taste quite juicy enough to have been USDA Prime. The menu makes no mention of what grade or provenance of beef is served. I'd also quibble with the size of the steak served. While it looked about big enough to be the 26oz claimed by the menu, the porterhouse is, by nature a large and wide cut. When you serve a porterhouse that is 'only' twenty and six ounces, you will perforce be serving a steak that is not exactly cut 'steakhouse thick.' You see, only with a truly thick steak can you fully enjoy both a charred exterior and a soft and sumptuous rare to medium-rare center. While I realize this is an expensive entree at $52 as is, perhaps Epic should consider serving a larger porterhouse for two, priced and sliced for two, a la New York's Peter Luger.

      The sides our table chose were all at least passable, though some had problems in their execution. The grilled garlic broccolini was fresh but tasted, by all accounts, steamed. The truffled cauliflower had a lovely smell and the discernible taste of real truffle oil, but was quite underdone. The mac and cheese was fine. The potato onion pie was the only truly standout side, and, at $25, not a cheap one.

      A plate of cookies and the Epic Sundae made for a nice sweet end to the meal. The coffee was served in a good-sized French press and tasted great. The total bill was $366 for four people and included a two rounds of drinks.

      While Epic certainly wasn't a bad meal, my first visit suggests that, meat-wise it might have quite a ways to go before it can compete with the best steakhouses of San Francisco. Heck, I've had better steaks at Alfred's, and they serve USDA Choice [as indeed, Epic themselves might...].

      1. re: grishnackh

        Sorry to hear about the steaks. I expect prime at those prices, although, IMHO, choice is pretty good. I used to go out of my way to buy prime when grilling steak at home - fairly hard to find retail - but I've switched to choice with no complaints (the choice filet at Costco is really very good and a great price too).

        BTW, I like your handle. LOTR fan?

    2. The original names "By Land" and "By Sea" might sound better but in the internet age they would be horrid to search. Thanks for the nice report. Looking forward to hear about what try next time there.

      Epic Roasthouse
      369 The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA 94105

      1. We ate at Epic last night. Had a 6 PM reservation and the restaurant was almost empty, yet they still didn't give us a table by the window. We should have asked to be moved.

        While my BF's porterhouse steak was spectacular (and huge, and hugely expensive), my veal porterhouse chop was just very good -- and at $45 (nothing included except a garnish-size amount of brussel sprouts), reminded me of NY prices. I've had marrow bones before, unlike the OP, and found these ok but not spectacular. Our sides were good but not great (no discernible taste of truffle in the truffled cauliflour, in common with the OP about the potatoes)And the bread pudding -- we shouldn't have ordered it, as we were stuffed, but it was nothing special.

        We had a terrific waiter, I have to say.

        For $287 (includng a $90 bottle of wine), I wouldn't go back any time soon.

        2 Replies
        1. re: goingoutagain

          Were there two-tops by the window? Did any of them remain empty throughout your meal?

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            Yes there were two-tops open, but they filled up during our two hours there. However, whether they were specifically reserved in a restaurant that had to be largely filled with first-timers, I don't know. I fault us for not asking to move -- I know restaurants have to scatter the diners to balance waiters' loads.

        2. I had a very mediocre lunch there yesterday:

          Hostess greeting was prompt and friendly. Server arrived to the table promptly to take drink order. Specials were recited knowledgably and with great detail. Bread came around and each diner was offered ONE selection - the huge slab of butter served with it is laughable as they did not offer to replenish the bread. I had the roasted chicken entree salad which was described as being served with apples, walnuts and cabbage; salad arrived on a huge pile of shredded red cabbage with 4 thin slices of pear and 4 walnuts. I found 2 odd-ball croutons that I think were an oversight. The salad included what I estimate was barely 1/4 pound of carelessly-pulled chicken (too much fat). I wish the cabbage had been chopped rather than shredded as it was somewhat difficult to eat. The 3 types of salt on the table were not identified - to go to that kind of trouble it is probably worth the server's time to explain which one might complement a given dish.

          I couldn't recommend this place to anyone - afraid it is destined to become another tourist-focused place that doesn't have to worry about impressing potential repeat customers.

          1. Our two and half hour lunch experience was very memorable.
            I had a well-made Sazerac. The oyster was only $1.75 a piece. That is a steal.
            We were able to identify all 3 salts: hawaiian lava black salt, Himalayan Pink and Sel Gris. Love the wine glasses. Love the water bottle. Sambonet silverware - love it.
            I love my Veal Liver with Onions and Scallops.
            We enjoyed the Beignets as well as the coffee served in the french press.
            We will definitely go back again.
            Jan and his wife(lovely couple) were eating together and he dropped by each table to say hello.
            That was nice.