On the waterfront: an epic

Pub date February 12, 2008

The city of night on a night of rain still offers its spectacles, and one of them must be the Bay Bridge as viewed from Epic Roasthouse, the brand-new restaurant (starring Pat Kuleto and Jan Birnbaum) that, with its sibling, Waterbar, sits on the narrow strip of land between the Embarcadero and the water. The bridge soars through the mists overhead, like the arc of a rainbow, and one has the sense of inspecting it — peeking at its underbelly, as if at a used car that might or might not be leaking coolant.

Not even a generation ago this neighborhood was entombed by an overhead freeway, and when Boulevard opened in the Audiffred Building just a few blocks away in 1993, the Embarcadero consisted mostly of granulated, ghost-town asphalt. But the visionaries could see what was bound to happen — what indeed was already happening, slowly but inexorably, because of the 1989 earthquake — and in that crumbled pavement a farmers market took root. Eventually it found a home in the resurrected Ferry Building, while on other plots of land liberated from elevated-freeway strangulation, hotels and parks and housing developments sprouted; restaurants too. What was an urban wilderland is now a glossy district both commercial and residential, a crown for the city, with a couple of gaudy new jewels.

Like all view restaurants, Epic Roasthouse is bound to attract tourists, both out-of-towners and suburbanites, but it also stands to develop a city constituency. Although parking in the area is hellish, Muni’s T line stops just steps away, and meanwhile, the blocks immediately behind the waterfront are filling up with residential towers, which will soon fill up with people of means who will be able to walk over to the Embarcadero for dinner.

With all due respect to the bicycle lobbies, the great city pleasure is walking — and the great luxury of our time is also walking, since it frees us from the tyranny of machines, at least if we’re not listening to an iPod or yakking into a cell phone as we stroll. Walking to or from work? Priceless! Walking to or from Epic Roasthouse? Also priceless, with appetite kindled on the inbound leg and calories usefully spent on the other.

Paul Reidinger

› paulr@sfbg.com