From the welcome to dessert, Epic stands tall
|Photo gallery: Restaurant Epic|
By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Food Editor
By Wanda A. Adams
Restaurant Epic, at the corner of Nu'uanu Avenue and Pauahi Street in the former Havana Cabana location, has been open only four months, but it already has a storied history, having suddenly closed in March mere weeks after opening, when the original chef resigned; then reopened a short time later with a new chef.
But that young man, David Hoffman, a Kapi'olani Community College graduate who formerly worked for Roy's restaurants, has gotten off to a good start. At dinner the other night, my girlfriend kept saying, "Happy, happy," as she ate. I yummed along.
The restaurant is a refreshingly tranquil place amid the rash of new busy-busy, loud-loud restaurants in Honolulu. It's done up in shades of orange, rust, rich brown and peach, with muted lighting and music. The windows looking out on Nu'uanu are half-frosted so that all you see are the period building roofs and the heads of passersby; this gives the place an urban feel that's rare in Honolulu. I felt as though I was sitting in Edward Hopper's famous "Nighthawks" painting — only in not so melancholy a mood. It's yet another sign that the long, long talked-of gentrification of the Nu'uanu/Chinatown border is actually taking place.
My first visit to Epic was a lunch with a friend. We split an order of Alaskan king crab cakes ($7) and, on the recommendation of our waiter, I ordered the Epic Kobe burger ($12). (You can add soup of the day or a house salad to any entree for $2.99 at lunch.) The exceptional crab cakes were not dry and packed, as many are, but crisp outside, moist and falling-apart tender inside. The crab was sweet and fragrant, not fishy. The flavorful, hearty-meaty burger (with melted cheese, lettuce, tomato and a schmear of avocado) came with a small salad and fries. Only the fries — skinny ones that looked like the kind you buy in the frozen food section — didn't live up to the quality of the rest of the food.
The next visit with my girlfriend was dinner, to celebrate the completion of a project we had worked on together. We had been told to try the trio 'ahi — 'ahi poke, unagi and 'ahi roll and sizzling 'ahi sashimi with shiso leaf. If you are a fan of raw or rare tuna, don't miss this combo. My favorite was the inside-out sushi roll with rice and 'ahi on the outside and crisp fried unagi (eel) in the center, dressed with a delicious drizzle of soy-based sauce and a lacing of crisp radish sprouts. The little morsels just sing in the mouth.
The silky-textured 'ahi poke was garnished (oddly) with a grilled shrimp. And the sizzling sashimi, a sort of 'ahi salad with grated vegetables, grapefruit and avocado, was interesting texturally and in its play of flavors.
I ordered the Saikyo miso-style butterfish ($26), a generous portion of the Island favorite served with a garnish of locally raised crunchy sea asparagus (aka sea beans) and tomatoes, a wedge of braised baby bok choy and a cute triangle of rice dusted with furikake. I have a habit of falling in love with side dishes, and this time it was the bok choy, which to me was better than the fish (pretty good, but not as flavorful as some I've had). The bok choy was moist, with a beautiful flavor balance from salt to citrus (I later learned the chef used soy, garlic, ginger and fish sauce and slowly braised it). The fish sauce probably lent it what my friend called "twang."
My friend had the blue cheese-crusted deep sea papio ($22), again on the recommendation of the server, who took care to make the point that you had to like blue cheese to appreciate this dish. My friend was intrigued but wondered if the cheese would overpower the fish. It didn't. She demolished the mound of fish, which came with greens and poached pears (sounds odd but tasted great). My friend commented that this chef understands garnish: That is, it should be a part of and make sense with the dish, not just be there for appearance's sake.
I should mention the service: On both occasions, the host and the server really seemed to care how we were doing, checking back frequently, showing up with whatever we needed without being overbearing. Of course, the restaurant wasn't particularly busy on either occasion. As of this writing, by the way, Epic has been granted a liquor license but is awaiting the official paperwork; in the meantime, you can take your own wine or beer; there is no corkage fee.
For dessert, we chose traditional Irish Bailey's cheesecake ($7), an Epic signature, and the blueberry and mango panna cotta ($8). Oh, the cheesecake. It's a little round of heaven on a bit of crumb crust; rich as sin and perfumed with that ineffable Bailey's Irish Cream flavor. The panna cotta, a pyramid of silk, whispered of almonds and was dotted with blueberries and raspberries.
Sweet, which pretty much describes our whole Epic experience.
Reach Wanda A. Adams at firstname.lastname@example.org.