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Rice is nearly absent of seasonings, so the tuna in my nigiri sushi fell flat, like soup made with no salt. Uni (sea urchin) was as buttery as avocado but lacked depth. "It's like a peach that isn't quite ripe, compared to one that has all this peach flavor and is dripping with juice," mused a friend, pausing to rest her chopsticks on the origami holder she'd fashioned from the wrapper. An eel-filled caterpillar roll, plated to look like it was inching along, with sprouts for antennae, also lacked flavor, tasting to one of us like cucumber, another like nori, and another like nothing at all, not even eel. And the yellowtail roll, which promised cilantro and jalapeño, seemed like a tuna roll switched at birth, with no discernible spice or heat. The papa bear roll did have heat in the form of habanero, but the fiery sauce overpowered the tuna, shrimp and seaweed salad tucked inside. Better was the sashimi sampler, with salmon, garlic tuna, halibut with orange and basil, and more yellowtail, though when she set the plate down, the server should have taken more care to explain what was what, since this was a special.

I can't imagine that this is what Pham had in mind when he sold his well-received Restaurant Fifteen Twenty-One in Pueblo and returned to Denver last year to open Epernay. Not this guy, who at the age of 24 earned raves at Denver's long-defunct Tante Louise, who keeps menu descriptions to a minimum so that he can surprise diners, and who refuses to keep a dish on the menu just because it's a crowd favorite. "I try not to fall into that trap," he told me. "If you do, you can't grow."

Location Info

Map

Epernay

1080 14th St.
Denver, CO 80202

Category: Restaurant > Asian

Region: Downtown Denver

Details

Epernay
Seared scallop and cauliflower $15
Beet salad $9
Lamb loin $31
Tuna nigiri sushi $6
Sea urchin nigiri sushi $9
Caterpillar roll $11
Papa bear roll $15
Yellowtail roll $11
Sashimi taster $10
1080 14th Street
303-573-5000
Hours: 4-10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 4-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday

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For Epernay to grow — and grow up — certain changes will have to be made. Some already have been: The new fall menu promises twice as many small plates as before, with less-expensive entrees and more familiar fare such as braised short ribs and chicken. These alterations will help, but they won't solve the service problems. And for Epernay to really earn a standing ovation, it will need to decide just what kind of restaurant it wants to be.

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7 comments
christinealling
christinealling

It's not just about the food, the dining experience includes service, presentation and ambiance as well. 

phifer1
phifer1

I have tried the new menu and it is well worth it. I also liked everything on the original menu. The service has never been and issue with me, maybe they were there on a off night. I would highly recommend to try it and try it again if you had a bad experience. Great place to start and or end up after an event downtown.

WillieStortz
WillieStortz topcommenter

This review sounds a lot more positive than my experience at Epernay....

drewq83
drewq83

Ill agree with good food and poor service.  To that, it worked out to my advantage as 6 out of 8 bottles of Saki were not available.  "My distributor failed to bring my Saki" said the GM.  Then when we changed to wine to help the poor man. Long story short, he was also out of the red wine we selected.  Free bottle of wine and a loss for the restaurant.   You cannot be successful with bad service. 

davidjhuff
davidjhuff

My meal there was equally rife with service snafus and hit and miss dishes. Duy is indeed an incredibly talented chef but he keeps winding up at spaces that try to be all things - high end lounge, dance club and fine dining destination - a concept we've seen collapse time and time again (including at the Jet hotel - another of Duy's stints). A reworking of the service would have a chance to save Epernay but it will never survive when the investors are more concerned with the scene than focusing on the restaurant itself. Case in point, my wife and I were seated directly in the path between the lounge and the bathrooms only to have several groups of drunk douches stop next us and filling the whole (empty) dining room with their blather. It was actually almost entirely laughable to the extent I decided I felt sorry for Duy for ending up at yet another spot destined to fail. He graciously heard me out and it sounds like the dishes have improved but, unfortunately, the service remains a joke.

peoplebasicallysuck
peoplebasicallysuck

Those that can, cook, those that can't, critique, and after a fabulous meal, complain how the wonderful food's mother isn't mowing the lawn up to snuff for the snooty neighbor.

 
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