People who have never been inside Epicure Bistro make the mistake of assuming it’s only a French restaurant. They have many excellent French touches, such as a wide menu of delicious crêpes and a full absinthe presentation with a four-spouted fountain at the table, but the culinary creativity coming out of the Epicure kitchen reaches far outside of the initial French influence.
The interior evokes a casual modern bistro with a crisp white and navy color palate, large abstract prints on the walls, and colorful café curtains at every window. The bar glows cool neon blue, casting an urban ambiance and features several flat screens for watching the sport of the season.
Our evening started with the Shrimp & Crab Cakes. The shredded crab and shrimp are mixed with diced red pepper for an excellent zing and there’s a little celery bite that gives the cake a gentle lobster roll savor. It carries a tempting pan-fried crispness to the outside and is topped with a zesty Cajun aioli sitting atop a bed of sautéed spinach. The real inspiration comes from a perimeter of pesto. It mixes particularly well with the fresh crab flavor and adds an unexpected dimension that one doesn’t usually see with a crab cake appetizer.
One of the appetizer specials on the night of our visit was Hen of the Woods Mushrooms, Duck Strudel. This was the polar opposite of the light flavors in the Shrimp & Crab Cake, with a dark, rich, woodsy essence. Flavorful duck confit leg meat is shredded and mixed with spinach, mushrooms, and creamy goat cheese; wrapped inside of a delicate puffed pastry bowl; and topped with Hen of the Woods mushrooms. As with the pesto and aioli from a dish before, the Duck Strudel is paired with a pitch perfect red wine sauce that elevates every bite and lends the proceedings a red meat demeanor that bounces beautifully off of the sweetness of the goat cheese.
Another of the rotating weekly specials, the Wild-caught California White Sea Bass with Saffron Sauce, was our first foray into the entrees. The fish was beautifully prepared to flake at the lightest suggestion from a fork. It was served over a bed of cous cous inside a Parmesan cheese basket. Taken together from top to bottom, the bass, cous cous, and cheese basket walk the ladder of textures from exceptionally tender to extremely chewy. It’s very satisfying. Though the basket is difficult to cut through, the Parmesan flavor absolutely belongs in every bite. The saffron sauce that tops the fish is delicate, floral, and creamy. This dish also comes with a bevy of crisp vegetables in the form of carrots, broccolini, and golden beets.
The Dijon Encrusted Rack of Lamb was the entrée we recounted for friends and family for the next several days. The whole grain Dijon mustard saps the lamb of any gaminess and delivers a succulent, buttery flavor akin to steak or ham, cooked to medium perfection and panko crusted. The tang of the mustard and the herbaceousness of the accompanying rosemary sauce are the top notes to the rich juicy meat over a helping of delicious mashed potatoes and crisp, al dente vegetables. This is the one. From the beautiful plating to the unforgettable flavors, this dish is a classic.
The first dessert was another of Epicure’s inspired seasonal creations. At the time of our visit, it was still full-fledged autumn and the Pumpkin Crème Brulée couldn’t have been more charming. A baked edible mini pumpkin was hallowed out and filled to the brim with creamy crème brulée underneath a crunchy caramelized cap. The remaining soft, baked pumpkin meat inside combines with the vanilla tones of the crème brulée to create the impression of oven-warm pumpkin pudding.
A dessert classic, the Crêpe Suzette came to our table with a little extra panache. Miguel, our waiter, heated a metal pitcher of Grand Marnier tableside and lit it on fire, pouring crawling blue fire across the top of our fluffy crepe, infused with the flavor of beurre d’ orange, or orange butter. Between the delicacy of the pancake; the sweet citrus bite; the warm, boozy flavor of Grand Marnier; and the push and pull of kiwi and raspberry sauces; this was an exceptionally tasty, pleasantly light way to close out our tour of Epicure Bistro’s delectable take on reasonably priced gourmet cuisine.
For those who prefer their crêpes in the morning, Epicure Bistro also has extensive breakfast, brunch, and lunch menus with a full bar. Epicure Bistro is located at 718 W. Northwest Highway in Barrington,847-382-1677, epicurebistro.com.