GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
There are second acts but there hasn't been much improvement since this photo was taken at Epic in March.
Chapter 2 adds little to Epic tale
After Epic opened and closed in March, I thought the first step toward rebirth would be a name change to purge as much of the old as possible and start fresh.
1131 Nuuanu Ave. / 587-7877
Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday to Friday; 5 to 10:30 p.m. Monday to Thursday, and to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Cost: $70 to $80 for two without drinks
The name didn't change but the chef did, supportive diners did return to give them a second chance, and at least two other publications raved about the new Epic.
Yet, something was wrong. Despite the praise, every time I passed by in the evening, the restaurant was virtually empty.
I felt suckered, and remembered why I hate to read the competition. It almost always ends with my flicking them away and wondering, "Were we even at the same restaurant?" I can almost read the subliminal pleas: "Please like me, and buy some advertising while you're at it."
Unfortunately for them, a public more discerning than that knows how to separate reality from fiction, and the truth passes quickly person to person, computer to computer, without the help of such spin.
I DID FEEL prepared to go into the new Epic and like it. The restaurant had nowhere to go but up, I thought. I was wrong. There was another direction they could travel, and that would be laterally. The chef change didn't do much at all except increase entree prices. In my last review I specifically wrote that due to area demographics, it would be wise to offer quick bites at reduced prices.
Sigh. I only try to help and ...
A quick introduction seemed promising when I took the first bite of a sambal-citrus-grilled prawn served on a skewer over a salsa of Shingo pear and tomato. The lone prawn was served on the base of an upside-down martini glass covering ahi poke ($12), hence the name of the dish, Shelltini. Unfortunately, having just visited Uncle's Fishmarket last week, to me this slippery, grayish poke was a letdown. Epic's staff would be better off heading off to Pier 38 every morning and picking up $5.95 poke off the shelf at Uncle's and re-plating it.
Following this was En Papillote ($12), papio served with a mince of lup cheong and slices of shiitake in a black bean Manila clam broth. Presentation is part of the thrill of dishes cooked en papillote, but there was no parchment in sight when it arrived. The fish arrived looking dark and lumpy enough to be mistaken for teriyaki chicken, and as it turned out, had the flavor and dry texture to match its appearance. En papillote treatment is usually reserved for the most delicate fish, allowing it to bake quickly in its own juices to avoid that very result.
The meal didn't proceed much better with the macadamia nut-crusted rack of lamb. I'd never had lamb with a mac nut crust, and still haven't. But forgetting the crust was the least of the problems. The meat, encased in sinews, was difficult to saw through, making it unappetizing.
I didn't mind the shellfish combination in the back of the menu, but its tangle of flavors made it hard to savor any one. For $34 you get plump kabeyaki-glazed U-10 sea scallops topped with pickled cucumber and mango sunomono, served over roasted kabocha purée and a soy-caramel and wasabi-butter duet; plus king crab legs glazed with peppercorn and Chinese soy butter; and cilantro-crusted black tiger shrimp over garlic-fried rice with a sweet chili tomato and rice wine emulsion.
In March I described the old menu as being overly fussy, but instead of streamlining, Epic has taken fussiness even further. It's Hawaii Regional Cuisine food gone awry, in which, if a few tricks are good, maybe 10 are better. It's not. A mix of sauces and disparate ingredients don't so much enhance as bury the scallops.
The end result might be comparable to letting a child loose with a computer program to create a monster. Not content to stop with a basic Godzilla-like creature, he applies every appendage and color available to him: fangs, yellow hair, pink polka dots, blue eyes with red pupils, a snout, wings, rooster comb, talons, pig tail, etc., ending up with something more ridiculous than scary. That's overkill.
Meanwhile, those two king crab "legs" were closer to antenna size, although I did enjoy the surprising heat of the peppery sauce.
If you do want to drop in for a quick bite before or after a theater date and want a safe bet, stick with sushi like an unagi and ahi roll ($12) or Epic roll of minced scallop and shrimp with avocado, cumber and masago yuzu aioli ($12).
AFTER DESSERT of an undercooked chocolate soufflé, I ran into a couple of friends who were passing by en route to Du Vin. They asked me to join them.
"Oh, no, I can't," I said, weary from my just-completed ordeal.
Of course, no one takes no for a first answer, and with more begging I decided to tag along.
At Du Vin my friends proceeded to rub it in, ordering plates of oysters, cheese, escargot and a chocolate soufflé. Simple, yet so much more inviting than Epic, and I was too full to attempt a bite.
Thanks a lot, guys!