GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Lunch crowds will have to find someplace else to go now that Epic has temporarily closed for reorganization. Patrons complained about everything from food to service to lighting that was fine by day but too bright for nightowls.
Epic changes definitely needed
Whew! It's not my fault there's a sign on the door of Epic reading, "Closed until further notice."
1131 Nuuanu Ave. / 587-7877
Closed under further notice.
It's a relief because restaurateurs often accuse me of closing down restaurants, which is so not true. Believe me, I don't want to shut down any restaurant. I understand that many livelihoods are involved in each endeavor, and I try to offer a perspective similar to what any diner would have. It's those diners, or lack thereof, that close restaurants in partnership with the restaurateur who pushes forward with no regard to what diners really want.
In Epic's case, according to one of its principals, David Chang, they listened to customers and heard about all that was wrong, from the lighting to the menu, and are in the process of reorganization.
Change, in this case, is a good thing, and I hope they consider these words, started on Thursday, the same time our photos of the restaurant were taken and, apparently, a few hours before the sign went up.
In picking a name for their baby, restaurateurs veer from the forthright, like Leo's Taverna, to the evocative La Mer, Azul, Black Orchid. Restaurant Epic is a name that fits into the latter group, suggesting grandeur of monumental proportion. Problem is, with a name like that, you've got to deliver the goods, and Epic sags primarily from the weight of its name and much-watched location in the heart of the downtown arts district. Gaffes that might be forgivable at a place called Tony's Cafe cannot be overlooked in one called Epic.
There's nothing wrong with great ambition, but it can be suffocating, causing one to lose sight of what matters, the food. This restaurant started with the promise of a "great adventure" and introduction of New American Cuisine in a place "where art, culture and cuisine meet in perfect harmony."
Sensitive diners can't help but feel the stress of living up to that promise permeating the room. It's difficult to put guests at ease when a host is trying too hard. It's a shame, because all the public wanted was something better than the debacle that was the short-lived Starpoint Cafe.
My best advice to all parties involved is, relax. Forget about living up to the name and just imagine the restaurant as a humble, casual bistro halfway between Tony's Cafe and Epic. It'll be much more comfortable for everyone involved, including the most important people, the customers.
It's too late for the space itself, which is less about art 2007 than '80s artifice. Its best feature is the row of windows in front, which helps people feel connected to the area's lively street life. Frost treatment obscures some of the view for those who would rather not look out.
THERE IS A model that would suit this space, and it's called Town, in Kaimuki. I urge every young chef and would-be restaurateur to go there for a master class in restaurants of the future, for the price of a single dinner. Restaurants like Town, which combine farm-fresh ingredients with simple treatments that bring out the essence of those ingredients -- thrive in every major American city, but it stands alone in Honolulu.
The dark side of the Pacific Rim revolution nearly 20 years ago is that -- out of the hands of its original masters -- it's led to a generation of chefs that play with food and attempt to pass it off as art. Without the grounding in culinary principles that guided their predecessors, new menus tend to register as nonsensical mishmash, such that chain restaurants like the Cheesecake Factory and Yard House, as well as from Japan, are putting better food on the plate than our home-grown restaurants.
Epic's menu tends to be fussy, when the area calls for food that's simple, vibrant and quick. Everyone in Chinatown is on the move, so asking them to stay for a long sit-down dinner is asking too much. There are a lot of people who just want a quick bite to get them out the door and on their way to Hawaii Theatre or the latest gallery show, and I think most people would prefer the simplicity of a great salad or burger done right, for example, than choking on overpeppered scallops ($11). Scallops are one of those ingredients that require little tampering. Most dishes were accompanied by a muddied melange of bell peppers, onions and mushrooms more closely associated with home-cooked stir-fries than restaurant-worthy fare, or blue cheese mashed potatoes.
It's moot now to talk about missteps. Here are the menu items to keep:
» Crunchy calamari ($7): Who can resist a deep-fried combination of fries and fry-cut calamari?
» Truffled arancinis ($8): This is one of the house's appetizer specialties, truffled risotto croquettes named for their appearance as "little oranges." While the rice balls are standouts, the accompanying tomato ragout could be toned down to avoid any conflict with the delicious truffle oil.
» Chilled seafood mojito ($13): This appetizer confection could be mistaken for ceviche, but it's so much better with rum, mint and a touch of yuzu vinaigrette.
» Napoleon of roasted vegetables ($15): Vegetarians will thank you for this one.
» Cola-braised short ribs ($18): The very best on the menu; fall-apart tender, rich and savory. Don't forget the gnocchi. Mashed potatoes were a disappointing replacement.
» Fire and Ice Mousse ($6): A lovely pots de creme of Mexican dark chocolate with the bite of cayenne and topped with caramelized orange compote will send people out the door happy.
Good luck! I'll keep my eyes open for a reopening, and as a backup, many are salivating to see what chef Mavro will bring to the area.