Wednesday, January 29, 2014

First Bite: Epice

Posted By on Wed, Jan 29, 2014 at 7:37 AM

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Last week, Dana Kopp Franklin wrote about Epice, the new Lebanese bistro in 12South opened by Maher Fawaz of Kalamatas. I stopped in for lunch recently to check it out.

The lunch menu includes starters of soups and appetizers as well as salads, sandwiches, and appropriately sized entrées. I started with the adas be-silik, a lentil, lemon, and chard soup with a vegetable stock base. (As a vegetarian, I was pleasantly surprised to see both soups currently available are vegetarian options; chicken stock is a very common base in Mediterranean cuisine.) The soup was rich and hearty without being too heavy — the lemon zing helped to lighten it up.

My friend ordered the al-raheb appetizer, which is roasted eggplant, lightly puréed and topped with tomatoes and pomegranate seeds. It was served with both fresh pita triangles and deep-fried crispy pita slices that were seasoned with za’atar. It was very different from the more familiar baba ghanouj, since it was a bit chunky instead of uniformly creamy. It was also quite good. Don’t be shy about asking for more of the crispy pita bread; you'll want it.

For my main dish, I had some trouble deciding among the salads, sandwiches and “traditional fare.” It’s not often that I have so many tempting vegetarian options on a menu. But I decided on the labneh sandwich, a pita cut into quarters and filled with the housemade labneh (yogurt strained to a soft-cheese consistency), cucumbers, tomatoes, and spring onions. The sandwich plates come with a small “peasant salad" and an order of cilantro-roasted potatoes. Though it was quite a large plate, I managed to finish most of it.

The housemade labneh was divine. And the roasted potatoes were cooked perfectly. Note to cilantro haters: my friend has the cilantro aversion, but she actually enjoyed the potatoes. I suppose roasting the cilantro diminishes the "soapy" taste. My friend also gave two thumbs up to her tawook sandwich (grilled chicken and pickles wrapped in pita bread).

Overall, our lunch was a really enjoyable experience. Fawaz was on hand to make sure everything was running smoothly and made sure to visit each table to chat with patrons. The entire staff was warm and friendly, as well as helpful and knowledgeable. As for the restaurant’s “feel,” despite all the concrete and marble, the noise level was moderate. The light from wall of windows up front and the skylights in the back combine with the cool interior to give the atmosphere a casual elegance as well.

See the restaurant’s Instagram feed for more photos, and follow them on Facebook and Twitter, too.

Epice
2902 12th Ave. S.
615-720-6765
Tuesday-Saturday 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m.-9 p.m., closed Monday.
Reservations not accepted, though accommodations can be made for large groups with advance notice.

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