Sunday, March 2, 2014


Nashville Restaurants and Food
2902 12th Avenue South
There’s a delicate touch to just about everything at the new Lebanese restaurant Epice. The style starts with the tiny metal sign in front of the unassuming building. The miniscule signage makes it easy to miss Epice in the hubbub that has become 12 South. That will change in the warmer weather when they can open up the front doors and serve on the small patio. In the meantime, just look carefully. This is one bistro that you want to find.
Inside, you’ll find a minimalist d├ęcor and a sleek, modern design. The dining room is made up of stone, marble and blonde wood. It’s a treat in and of itself. During the day the skylights bathe the room in enough sun to illuminate the space without lights.
It’s wonderful to see the Nashville culinary scene expand to offer something more refined in ethnic restaurants. Don’t get us wrong; we love the mom and pop joints. It’s just nice to have new choices in global cuisine. The food at Epice is a nod to the native country of owner Maher Fawaz. The Lebanese bistro style is bit different from his other establishments, the highly regarded Kalamattas Mediterranean restaurants. The high quality ingredients are familiar and yet there is greater latitude in dishes and the execution is more precise and refined at Epice, thanks to executive chef William Zaitz. You can see that in the presentation and plating- a grace and elegance to each dish.
There’s a light touch to just about everything on the menu, including the Muhamara roasted red pepper soup. Such a soup could be heavy in other hands. Here it is rich and yet crisp and tart. Adas Be-silik is also a delight- lemony soup with lentils and Swiss chard. Hummos is straightforward and creamy. However, when it serves as the bed for braised ground sirloin and pine nuts, the entire dish is elevated. Makanik, spiced sirloin sausage, comes inside thick cut bread, for a sandwich of sorts. Despite the heavy-sounding fare it’s also a delicate dish with wonderfully complex flavors in the herbed lamb and beef.
Perhaps the favorite dish of the visits proved to be the julienned roasted garlic potato slices. They are exceptional. Crispy, zatar pita slices and toasted pita accompany many of the dishes. Even the garnishes have pop, as exemplified by the violet colored pickled turnip or the sliced cornichons.
It would be a mistake to skip the dessert at Epice. Kat ayef are crepes featuring sweet cheese, walnuts and an orange blossom infusion. Combined with a cup of coffee it’s a delicious finale to a fine meal.
Veggie Eater:  There appears to be pride in the fact that there are quite a few veggie items on the menu. Ask and you shall be appropriately steered.  I have developed a full blown labneh obsession based on the sandwich offered here-fresh pita surrounds yogurt that is the consistency of cream cheese, but tangy and tart.  The labneh is studded with a tiny dice of cukes, tomatoes, and olives and is completely satisfying.  Meat eater has already sung the praises of the side item, the garlic potatoes, so I shall not repeat.  Second time out of the gate was the Mujadara-lentil and rice pilaf.  It is a visually stunning dish that is plated with great care.  The pilaf, studded with bay leaves,  is formed into a square with thick, roasted veggies redolent of smoke, on the side.  A crispy microplaned slice of eggplant adds some texture.  Combine this with caramelized onions to add a little bit of sweet and earthiness.  I’m normally a left over hoarder during my meals out-nothing makes me happier than a good meal at work several days later.  However, I had nothing to show after either of my visits, not because portions are skimpy (they are pretty fairly sized), but because I was not willing to delay additional gratification until a later date.  A side note, the un-sweet mango tea is a lovely accompaniment-it’s nice to have tea that can be fruity without being cloyingly sweet. 
Meat Eater: Epice means spice in French. We think this little Lebanese bistro puts some nice spice into the 12 South strip. We paid $52 with tax and tip on one visit and $55 on another. Each was well worth the money.

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