Great DCPA location & terrific food marred by slow service
I have been wanting to try Epernay ever since I learned that Duy Pham, once chef at Tante Louise who left Denver to try to make a fine dining beachhead in Pueblo, returned and was the opening chef at this stylish lounge and sushi-plus restaurant at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. People I know who were there for the opening raved. My friend Claudia and I went to Epernay on Tuesday before seeing “Peter & The Starcatcher,” but I seem to have waited too long. Duy Pham is no longer in charge of the kitchen, except sometimes on busy weekend nights.
Michael Degenhart, who was Pham’s opening sous-chef, is now top toque and appears to be continuing the sushi-heavy but not sushi-exclusive menu. We arrived in plenty of time for happy hour, which features half-price drinks and a mostly-$5 small plates menu. Asian-oriented Epernay is mysteriously named after the capital of the Champagne region of France, so I ordered some bubbly. Happy hour is only available in the bar/lounge area, which is hip looking and energetic feeling. The look is jazzy, while the adjacent dining room is an oasis of elegant tranquility.
Despite a great location on the 14th Street side of the DCPA garage that should have theater-goers lining up before the show, Epernay’s signage is pathetic. You can read it if you are looking straight at the front of the building, but nothing noteworthy juts out over the sidewalk. The Four Seasons, The Curtis and the Hotel Teatro occupy three close-by corners, but I’m wondering whether guests who go out of the house to dine are heading straight for Larimer Square.
The lounge features high-backed, white booths surrounding knee-high can accommodate groups of 6 or 8. This design, while encouraging guests to lean toward one another, makes it virtually impossible for the servers to glance to see whether anyone wants attention, has empty plates or anything else that they ought to notice. Maybe that was responsible for the slow service, or maybe it was just our waitress who seemed to suffer from attentiveness deficit disorder. She didn’t look, she didn’t come over to check on us and consequently, she didn’t impress. The food, however, made a positive impression.
Price check: At happy hour until 6:30 p.m., most small plates are $5.