The Tampa Tribune’s food writer since 2005, Jeff Houck covers the way people live through their food. He also hosts the Table Conversations food podcast and believes that everything crunchy is good.
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Elevage Pops-Up, Offers Taste Of Epicurean Hotel [Duck Duck Goose Burger Blows Minds]
Posted Oct 19, 2013 by Jeff Houck
Updated Oct 19, 2013 at 03:01 PM
Food blogger Logan Crumpton wanted dessert. So did the other four people dining with him Tuesday night at the Elevage pop-up restaurant at SideBern’s.
But the group built a tasting menu of sorts, ordering dish after dish of such items as escargot tortellini, lamb flatbread, a steak sandwich and a burger made with ground duck and foie gras. Dessert was out of question. They were too full.
Still, Crumpton couldn’t help himself, so he ordered an omelet carbonara made with pecorino cheese, guanciale Italian bacon, sage and salted egg yolks.
The rest of the table joined in to put that one away, too.
“I wasn’t pleasantly surprised,” Crumpton said. “I expected it to be amazing and they exceeded that.”
The culinary team creating the food program at the highly anticipated Epicurean Hotel on South Howard Avenue built a restaurant-within-a-restaurant of sorts to train employees and give customers a week-long sneak peek at what the posh, food-themed resort will offer. The pop-up ends five nights of sold-out reservation-only dining tonight.
For Chad Johnson, executive chef at SideBern’s and the Epicurean, the pop-up is a chance to test-drive dishes he contemplated more than a year ago. The concept: Classic American comfort food with a fine-dining touch.
That meant matzo ball soup filled with foie gras instead of schmaltz. And lasagna filled with lamb shoulder, Taleggio cheese and Greek oregano. And fish and chips composed with seared sushi-grade tuna, house-made pickle chips and a Ranch-style tartar sauce.
Johnson said he put a few relatively safe items on the menu, acknowledging that not everyone enjoys a terrine of veal tongue and goat cheeks. The surprise: Diners went for the unusual items with gusto. Including omelets from the upcoming breakfast menu.
“We had four-top tables ordering 10 appetizers at a time,” he said. “That’s kind of a lot.”
Once the hotel opens on Dec. 23 following a soft opening a week or so earlier, Johnson will oversee operations at both the Epicurean and SideBern’s. Chef de Cuisine Courtney Orwig will take over day-to-day operations at SideBern’s while sous chef Price Evans will move to be chef de cuisine at the Epicurean. The event gave kitchen staff and servers a baptism by fire, forcing them to launch the equivalent of a new restaurant overnight. Several new hires for the hotel worked along with longtime SideBern’s staff.
Johnson interviewed kitchen applicants during the week, complicating the Elevage pop-up. Hotel general manager Tom Haines said applications to work at the hotel are still being accepted. When fully staffed, the Epicurean will have about 100 employees.
“We were trying to give customers the essence of the restaurant from the price point, presentation and flavor side,” Haines said. “We feel pretty good about the result of what we were trying to accomplish.”
Crumpton, who writes about local food on his Eat A Duck blog, said the food made him want to book a room.
“The time and care they took to make that menu show,” he said. “It was fantastic. I came away impressed.”