With plans to visit Vancouver and Richmond in the following days and a notable agenda focusing on their oft celebrated dim sum, izakaya, and noodles scene I knew that the less adventurous half of my family would need some acclimation to less familiar foods, a charge that Seattle did not seem likely to accomplish in regard to Chinese or Japanese cuisine, but a task that seemed well entrusted to the hands of the classically trained husband/wife combination of Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi; owners of the heavily praised Korean/French fusion restaurant Joule and its newer more casual sibling named Revel – a perfect fit given our limited nights in town and less structured afternoons/lunches.
Having already noted the expected hesitancy, particularly of my aunt, regarding “Korean food” and without reservations available our arrival at Revel would be just after noon on December the 29th and having heard the space often fills to capacity I was not surprised when we walked up to the door to find a small line. Greeted by the hostess and told that it would be approximately twenty minutes of a table or that we could be seated immediately at the bar I gladly took the latter option not only because of our dinner plans at The Herbfarm in less than seven hours but because unlike a traditional “bar” this widely set wooden counter ran the length of the restaurant like an enormous table with a full view of the rapidly moving yet surprisingly quiet and cool kitchen.
Led to our seats by the hostess and shortly thereafter greeted by our server, Antoinette, menus were handed to us and the “tapas” format explained – even if none of it really was tapas at all, but rather plates large enough to be shared but also appropriate for one. With the selections divided up into salads, pancakes, noodles, etc we spent a bit of time deciding what sounded best (more or less everything to me, less to the others) and once choices were made six plates were settled on and our orders placed, water was filled, and we were left to watch the kitchen and browse the highly industrial but surprisingly warm and pleasant space.
With the chefs surprisingly chatty and approachable, showing off some of the ingredients and techniques while telling us what various dishes from the kitchen entailed I was admittedly impressed by the level of detail and care given to each dish – for a “casual” place serving rather rustic rice bowls, dumplings, and pancakes each dish went through prep stations where meticulous attention was paid to everything from the ingredients (lots of salad ends thrown away and fish cut delicately to remove skin and sinew) to the preparation to the plating – even to the point where a prematurely ruptured egg yolk led to a whole dish being remade from scratch.
With Antoinette checking in on us frequently and keeping waters filled while also passing out a tray of unique condiments ranging from sweet to salty to intensely spicy our first dishes would arrive approximately fifteen minutes after our orders were placed beginning with a plate entitled “Shrimp, Bulgur, Kale, Dukkah, Raisin Vinaigrette Salad” – a plate that we actually ordered only after we saw it coming across the counter en route for another table, but a plate that for myself would be one of the best of the afternoon. Beginning first with the kale – some crispy and some raw but both an excellent foil to the tender snappy shrimp I was first surprised by the bitterness of this dish, but moving forward I found its balance in the toothsome bulgur heavily scented with nuts, sesame, cumin, paprika, and pepper. A nicely balanced medley on its own, the final addition of a nearly plum-wine flavored dressing added just the right touch of sweetness and a touch helping to smooth out the rough spots in a manner that had everyone at the table interested in what would be next.
With cooked dishes comprising the rest of our lunch, “Albacore tuna, King Oyster mushroom, Escarole Rice with Egg Yolk” would follow next and though I generally would have opted for one of the other rice bowls this actually turned out to be another resounding success even with the less adventurous at the table as the pearly white rice gracefully topped with seared and blackened tuna, pan tossed softened escarole mixed with woodsy mushrooms, and a serving of house made Kimchi plus a single egg yolk that had been resting in a container of soy. Clearly unable to “separate” the flavors in such a bowl and instead opting to mix before serving I actually loved the way in which the flavors served to compliment and soften one another – particularly how the kimchi and mushroom/escarole combination worked to be neither too acidic nor too vegetal – while the egg yolk helped to make up for a bit of overcooking on the part of the tuna.
Our third dish would be the only lackluster option of the afternoon, a plate of “Pork belly, Kimchi, Bean Sprout pancake” that although savory and spicy enough really did not do much for me in part due to the chewy texture of the pork and in part due to the grease factor that although expected proved overwhelming to the subtleties of the sprouts and swine leaving only the vinegar tones of the kimchi in a nearly deep-fried lingering note. Overall a definite miss for my tastes although admittedly a fun item to test out the four sauces…the hottest of which required just about 8oz of water and a few bites of leftover white rice to quell.
Moving next to a pair of dumplings, clearly a “sharing” sort of dish with five nicely wrapped pockets each our selections would include “Shrimp and bacon, pickled ginger, cilantro” and “Cauliflower ricotta, black sesame truffle, pickled leek” – both exemplary, packed by hand as we watched, and with a light sear on the exterior giving way to a delicate interior with great texture and balanced flavor, particularly in the case of the cauliflower ricotta – a creamy yet mildly vegetal concoction with savory undertones and the heady aromatics of black truffle coming through on the finish.
Moving to our final plate, the best of the afternoon, “Dungeness crab, Seaweed noodle, spicy red curry, crème fraiche” would prove to be a dynamic flavor profile with sweet and tangy in a delicate balance while the heat of the red curry was only faintly detectable on the tip of the tongue. Surprisingly selected by my mother who doesn’t fancy curry in general it was Antoinette’s suggestion that this was a “mild” heat and her advice was thankfully well received. A large portion and plenty filling in addition to the rice, bulgur, and sprouts this dish went a long way with everyone having plenty and although the crab was largely gone by the bottom of the bowl I particularly loved the last few bites where the house made pasta with just a bit of texture and brine from the seaweed was absolutely swimming in the tangy crème fraiche and sweet juice from the crustacean.
With six shared savories surprisingly filling largely in part to the hefty amounts of carbohydrates and with more substantial dining plans as yet to come (The Herbfarm with an impromptu stop at Serious Pie) Antoinette stopped by and complimented our clean plates as only some of white rice from the bowl remained and inquiring if we would like to try desserts – stressing that they are *small but delicious* – we gave in to the suggestion opting to order two, a pair of Mint snowballs and a pair of Chestnut kumquat crescents, each plate $4 and both familiar…shockingly quite like the traditional Christmas cookie recipes handed down by my grandmother for Russian Tea Balls (in this case with added mint) and Hungarian Apricot cookies with the kumquat nearly indistinguishable from apricot in the golden buttery pastry.
Asking if there was anything else we would like before departing we declined and with the modest check paid we thanked both Antoinette and the young male chef with whom we’d chatted throughout the course of the afternoon. While certainly not “authentic” or “down n’ dirty” like many prefer their ethnic cuisines I can say without a doubt that Revel is a spot worth visiting in Seattle both for the quality of the food and the quality of the service – factors that “foodies,” gourmands, and even the most finicky eaters can appreciate.