Epic Casual Dining
707 E. Fort Union Blvd., Midvale ; 801-748-1300
Greatest hits of current trends on and off the plate. Perfunctory service.
Cuisine: American, Eclectic
Hours: M-S, 5-10 p.m.
Liquor: Full Service
Recommended Dishes: Artichoke appetizer, pineapple sorbet.
April 7, 2006
If food is a painting, Epic is a poster
By Mary Brown Malouf
MIDVALE -- I knew I had never been there before -- the purple neon sign on the building is distinctive enough to be remembered. But somehow, I had that feeling of déjà vu when I entered Epic.
The restaurant is in a freestanding building in the parking lot of a strip mall on Fort Union Boulevard -- as I said, you can't miss the sign blaring "Epic Casual Dining."
From the outside, the place promises big excitement, a hip and happening nightlife scene, perhaps even a bit of glamour. But on the bland and noisy inside, it feels like an IKEA room display -- inoffensive, but lacking personality.
Perusing the menu, I understood my sense of déjà vu: Epic is the everyman of restaurants, a kind of greatest-hits of current trends on and off the plate. We have seen it all before: the menu-for-the-masses at P.F. Chang's, the manufactured wholesomeness of Applebee's and the mainstream cosmopolitanism of Romano's Macaroni Grill.
If food is a painting, Epic is a poster.
The menu features a section devoted to flatbreads, the fad that has replaced '80s pizza and '90s Caesar salad as a carrier for myriad toppings. At Epic, you can choose from basics like hummus ($2) to combinations of smoked salmon, cream cheese, capers and sweet marinated onions ($7).
We sampled two. Olive tapenade and hummus ($3), as traditional for flatbread as peanut butter is for Wonder Bread, was marred by grainy, bland hummus. The flatbread with marinated and Kobe skirt steak pieces, portobello mushroom strips, roasted red bell pepper flecks and a balsamic reduction, as thick and sweet as molasses ($8), was a heavy load for the crisp flatbread to bear, but when I asked our server which flatbread was best, he assured us this was the most popular combination.
"Popular," not "best," seems to be the kitchen's aspiration. We weren't surprised that every entrée plate rim was sprinkled heavily with chunks of parsley, a tired practice that has never been a good idea.
"Pop's" Caesar salad -- all the salads are named after people -- was a watered-down version of the pungent classic ($7). Half a lemon-thyme roasted chicken ($13), its burnished skin tough as a drum head, had the expected problem of dry white meat and the unexpected problem of dry dark meat. The natural jus had been thickened and the accompanying au gratin potatoes were as bland as baby food.
It is nice to see local products used, but the undercooked fettuccine ($13) with Colosimo's Italian fennel-flecked sausage in a chunky tomato sauce had no seasoning except what was in the sausage. Steamed clams ($8) swam in a broth missing the headiness of the promised garlic and white wine.
"Mr. Martinez's Salad" ($6), a plate of mixed greens with poblano chiles, pepitas, Manchego cheese and mango slices dressed with balsamic vinaigrette, was grossly oversalted. All the salads, except the Caesar, featured a wild festival of additions -- rice noodles, candied almonds, red grapes, apples, pecans -- and all of them had the overly sweet undertone that plagues many Salt Lake restaurant dishes.
Seared salmon ($15) also had a sweet sauce, this one syrupy ginger-soy, ladled over rice noodles and undercooked vegetables. Our server assured us that grilled beef tenderloin is the most popular entrée; it is also the most expensive ($21). The beef was soft, not tender, and its brandy cream sauce exaggerated the meat's mushiness. The big exception to the mediocre dishes I sampled is a house specialty listed in bold on the menu: a grilled artichoke holding a pool of melted butter ($7). The preparation wasn't expert, but simple honesty made it shine.
The sweet salads and entrees obliterated any craving for sweets at the end of two visits. Duty prompted our order of pineapple sorbet, which was deliciously refreshing after the cloying sauces and salads.
Service was either perfunctory or flirty. Water glasses were filled, wine bottles opened, plates delivered; on one occasion inaccurately.
The wine list is unexceptional, but there are some decent by-the-glass selections. Live music -- upbeat and jazzy one evening, inappropriately mournful another -- was in either case an appreciated addition to dining out. Epic feels as if it came from a build-your-own restaurant kit entirely aimed at the common denominator. I keep asking myself why an independent restaurant is trying to come off like a chain restaurant.
Why didn't these folks just buy a franchise?
Tribune's rating system
1 star Good
2 stars Very good
3 stars Excellent
4 stars Extraordinary
$ Entree under $10
$$$$ Above $25
1 bell Quiet (under 65 decibles)
2 bells Can talk easily (65-70)
3 bells Talking somewhat difficult (70-75)
4 bells Raised voices (75-80)
A bomb Too noisy for normal conversation (80+)
The Tribune covers the cost of all meals at reviewed restaurants. Star ratings are based on a minimum of two visits. Ratings are updated continually based on at least one revisit. There is no connection between reviews and advertising.