Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Epic Restaurant, Chicago

"Industrial and refined, contemporary and traditional. Epic merges these elements with subtlety and spirit. Filling a void in Chicago's Food and Beverage scene, EPIC is a single venue where guests can enjoy outstanding food in a dramatic dining room or relax on a roof terrace with great views of the city, and hang-out late into the evening in a hip and energetic lounge. A restaurant of epic proportions, Epic is led by acclaimed Executive Mark Pollard, who offers an award winning Contemporary American Cuisine, ranging from a raw bar to classically inspired entrees. Epic’s distinct dining areas allow for several dining options. A casual lounge menu, cocktails and 15 wines by-the-glass will be offered in the first floor lounge while a multi-course dining experience awaits on the second floor dining room. And Epic’s 3,000-square-foot rooftop, a destination unto itself, offers spectacular city views, specialty cocktails and a rooftop menu."
Another opportunity to try out a restaurant via food and wine pairings, we were excited to try out Epic Restaurant, based on their online menu, gallery, and description. We knew it would be sleek and sophisticated, but I wasn't too certain about the food, as the menu is not vegan friendly -- barely vegetarian friendly, definitely not their focus. I'm always eager to see how much a chef is willing to work with his/her clients and, happily, I brought along my omnivore partner Laima, who is willing to try all those dishes I do not. :) One other oddity regarding their menus -- no wine menu online....very strange.

Epic Restaurant Chicago

From the beginning, we were not disappointed. Epic Restaurant stands out with its aggressively modern design, starting with the exterior. The very contemporary, almost hard-edged design is evident throughout the space, from first floor (bathrooms) to fourth (rooftop deck). Stairs going every which way (with an elevator for those requiring assistance), what could be a cavernous space is instead divided into more comfortable, human-sized spaces. An upstairs dining loft, overlooking the main dining area, can also be used for large group get-togethers. The front of the building is top to bottom glass, so plenty of natural light gets in, with views up and down the street of a variety of movement, from people to vehicles to the clouds in the sky. Two places I would have liked to have more light were the bathrooms and the stairwells, both on the noir side of comfort.

The rooftop deck is a mix of South Beach and SoHo, yet retains its more friendly Midwest edge, making it a very appealing space to lounge, have an alfresco meal, or hang out with friends and explore what the bar has to offer in the way of drinks.

We got seated, and proceeded to have an amazing dinner with, once again, insightful and thoughtful wine pairings -- there wasn't a single misstep, beyond one that illustrated how masterfully this meal had been planned. Really amazing job by the manager, Jason Finn!

Epic Restaurant Chicago Food Collage

Course 1: Potato Gnocchi with lamb sausage, swiss chard, and fennel butter (mine without the sausage), paired with the Gruet Blanc De Noirs NV (New Mexico), really a tasty pairing. We had started with glasses of Louis Bouillot 'Perle D'Aurore', a sparkling rosé (Cremant de Borgogne), which was also complementary -- in both wines, the bubbles and acidity played off well to the lushness of the butter and texture of the gnocchi.

Course 2: Heirloom Tomato Salad, with an amazingly deft vinaigrette, paired with the Bieler Pere et Fils 'Sabine' Rosé 2011 (Provence), which might just be one of my favorite rosés ever! Amazing balance, deeply flavored, yet a refreshing dryness that cut through the dressing with assurance. Here's where the misstep comes in. Our server accidentally brought a Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay (planned for Laima's halibut dish that was substituted at her request with Braised Short Ribs) -- while the wine was perfectly fine on its own, it did not go well with the salad, perfectly illustrating how superior Jason's choice of the rosé was.

Course 3: For Laima, Braised Short Ribs (topped with braising sauce with broccolini, cheddar grits, pearl onions, and a horseradish cream alongside), while I got the Mushroom-Farro Risotto (with English peas, roasted corn, hazelnut verjus, and dry jack cheese). For this course, Jason pulled out a big gun, pouring a SuperTuscan, the Capezzana 'Monna Nera' 2007, an inspired choice that stood above and yet mated perfectly with our respective entrees. Not a sipping wine, this was deep, dark, and mysterious, proudly marrying its provenance with an assuredness and poise that few wines could match.

Epic Restaurant Chicago Dessert Collage

It didn't stop there, as along came dessert, featuring coffee and espresso, along with some goodies from Pastry Chef Jessica Ellington. Our dessert was made up of a selection of house sorbet along with a chocolate ganache cake (with sour cherry chocolate chip ice cream and creme fraiche). The sorbet was a surprise as a dessert (I usually think of it earlier in the meal, as a palate cleanser), but the sorbets really complemented the wines that were paired with our desserts. The wines we had were the Novus Ordo 'Limitata Serie' 2010, a late-harvest Chardonnay from Argentina, along with a 10 Year Tawny from Taylor Fladgate (Portugal). Each wine would have been a pleasant dessert on their own, but were improved by the skillful pairing with the desserts. Next time we'll definitely make sure to try the S'Mores Tart, with the delectable sounding toasted marshmallow ice cream!

While wine was a star of the show, the food certainly didn't lag. The Chef created some wonderful dishes, barely missing a beat to make existing pieces vegetarian/vegan. Everything we ate was fresh and full-flavored, with the Farro Risotto the star of the show to me, incredibly dense and filling, while balancing flavors and textures, yet complementing the wine rather than fighting or overshadowing it. From the rosemary potato bread brought to the table to the skillful dressing on the salad to the simple yet elegant desserts, the food was the equal to the amazing wines chosen for us by Jason. While the wine would not be necessary to fully enjoy the dinner we had, it certainly provided a counterpoint and addition to the food we enjoyed.

Service was good, though slightly uneven, with several pauses between courses -- nothing onerous, though noticeable. This was more than made up for by the friendliness and charm of the service, with everybody from the manager to the waitress to the busboys working with a cheerful manner, eager to please and doing their jobs with skill. One thing we both noted was how much both the manager and waitress knew about the wine, yet there was no pretentiousness in their presentation, simply the sharing of facts and experiences.

We got to the restaurant just as it opened for dinner, so it was quiet at first, which is to my liking, as I can take photos unmolested and without explanation. After several hours of wining and dining, the space was nearing capacity, yet the noise never got above a dull roar, allowing for conversation. If you want to mix and mingle, head there later rather than sooner, but if you're interested in a more intimate tête-a-tête, get there early and relax through your meal in quiet comfort.

More info can be found on the Epic Restaurant website, by liking on Facebook, and following on Twitter.

Epic on Urbanspoon

Disclaimer: This wine tasting meal was comped for me for review purposes, courtesy of Epic Restaurant. I was not compensated in any other way for the review, was not obligated to give the restaurant a positive review, and all opinions are my own. Some information in this review was taken from the company website.

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