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.