Restaurants, Contemporary American River North
3 out of 5 stars

Perhaps I’m partial to a certain crispy-edged South Loop burger patty, but my first clue that this River North restaurant was no homegrown experiment was its all-too-familiar moniker. Why else would it risk constantly being confused with Epic Burger, which, ultimately, is a fast-food joint?

Then again, if the four levels of this restaurant (including a first-floor lounge and a rooftop deck), expense-account prices and earpiece-accessorized managers are any indication, how could you call it anything other than Epic?

Its factory-like proportions only furthered my suspicion that a hunk of New York’s meatpacking district just landed in River North, and the chef’s CV confirmed it: Stephen Wambach spent the last two years as the corporate chef of chef Laurent Tourondel’s BLT mini empire, and his menu bears a strong resemblance to BLT Steak’s: raw bar, steak corner, the usual chops, all served à la carte to make room for a selection of sides.

Epic hasn’t been marketing itself as a steakhouse, and the sleek patrons and Vampire Weekend tracks playing inside more aptly recall the Sunda crowd than Gene and Georgetti regulars. But if there’s a finer NY strip or filet in this city, I haven’t had it. These are flawless cuts of beef, eagerly seasoned, the exterior seared to beautiful crispness, the interior cooked to dead-on temperature.

Start with the gnocchi, the substantial dumplings tossed with coins of aggressively seasoned lamb sausage. But be warned: The brand of take-charge seasoning that makes the gnocchi work gets the kitchen in trouble elsewhere: Hefty grains of salt assert their dominance over lamb sliders. Moreover, the kitchen doesn’t seem to have nearly the control over seafood that it does over meats: Oysters were bitter, scallops were bland, and a shaggy, watery pile of snapper relied too heavily on the accompanying grapefruit-butter sauce for flavor. Vegetable sides seem sucked dry of their earthy notes: Brussels sprouts were awfully sweet; cauliflower puree was gummy and tasted mostly of butter.

And through it all, there’s a profound lack of place, a sense that you may as well be in Miami Beach or West Hollywood. So props to Wambach for bringing on pastry chef Christine McCabe, formerly of the dessert bar Sugar, whose treats burst with the heart and soul that feels absent from nearly everything else here. She takes the homespun flavors that people actually want to eat—a banana split over moist pineapple upside-down cake; a Chartreuse-touched semifreddo; a combination of milk-chocolate mousse and hazelnut shortbread—then re-creates them with whimsy. Call it a surplus of hometown pride, but the playfulness and distinctiveness of these desserts finally made me feel at home.

By: Julia Kramer


Venue name: EPIC (CLOSED)
Address: 112 W Hubbard St

Cross street: between Clark St and LaSalle Dr
Opening hours: Lunch (Mon–Fri), dinner
Transport: El stop:Brown,Purple(rush hrs)to Merchandise Mart;Red to Grand. Bus:22,36,62,65.
Price: Average main course: $35
Do you own this business?
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