A day trip to Seattle for business ends in a new restaurant for me. Our hosts are local, and one a self proclaimed foodie. They both have been eying the place, and tonight proved it to be the best time to try.
The building is a recently renovated and a long time historic commercial building, located in Seattle’s Ballard neighbourhood. It isn’t very visible from the street. The entrance is a turn of the corner, and a wee sign in a dimly glowing, “revel” is your only indication of direction. Down the alley is a weave of strung up lights. They shine, like stars against the city’s black back drop; hanging over a space that is blocked off. There is no way of passing across the literal “bed of grass”, as one of our hosts points out. It’s an old bed frame either naturally or purposefully converted into a lawn. I enjoyed this well placed and well timed pun. So the only way to the outdoor patio is around and through the bar at the back.
Inside, the restaurant was surprisingly busy, and without reservations we were estimated a 45 minute wait. On which we spent at back, by the bar with drink in hand. Though realistically it was Saturday: the city was out, this was downtown, and the nearby establishments were popular lounges and dancing halls. The bar area was packed to capacity, additional add ons, like ourselves were forced to stand and wait until a table freed up. Dark and cramped, those drinking didn’t seem to mind. Two tenders saw to the bar. A backdrop of shelves and bottles at one end and a mirror with bar’s ledge at the opposite. We found a spot to loiter, by the jacket hooks and adjacent to the patio entrance. Looking out through the glass door I could see a group sitting comfortably on wooden stumps. They kept warm by means of their down jackets and the elevated fire pit that they surrounded. These were the best seats in the house. The novelty of this was most appealing.
“Revel’s” drink list included wines, beers, and unique cocktails. One of our hosts appreciated fine spirits and enjoyed a “Black manhattan”. As a former bar tender he was able to order off the menu with this one. I was craving a Caesar, confusing both our host and the actual bartender. With clarification I got a “Kimchi Bloody Mary”. Guess Caesars are only popular in Vancouver? (Where I am visiting from). The drink was spicy with a touch of tomato. Thankfully I didn’t get too much of the afore mentioned kimchi taste, I don’t like kimchi. There were plenty of garnishes to tide my hunger over. Two pickled beans, a spiralled cucumber slice, and an olive.
Eventually we passed the 45 minute wait mark. We wandered back into the dining room to check on the status on our would be table. A minimal wait here gave us a four top. This dining space was well lit and new, neat with its recent renovations. The open space included a very unobstructed kitchen, visible right when you walk in. It gave you a very at home feel, with the chefs preparing your meals as your waited patiently. Chefs dressed in black or grey restaurant branded tees. With navy and white striped aprons around their waists, they worked feverishly and a sped up pace. Those seated by the crisp wood counters were given a very honest look into their food preparation process. Guest ate here on swivelling high tops; dining at the bar, or what would be island in any home.
The decor included pop art portraits of familiar celebrities. A very moustache-full Tom Selik, Arnold’s youthful portrayal of the terminator, and Sean conery ‘s suave pistol packing James Bond. Our focus was on Randy “macho man” Savage. Done in his is glorious youth with Stars and Stripes and a whole head of wild and curly hair. These must have made for quite the conversation starters, it certainly got the looks.
Our tabled seats, like all others came with its own low hanging lamp. It highlighted the bold colours found in each dish and was more than adequate for fine food photography. We sat along the wall on grey booth seats, in front of dark wooden table. Here we were almost sweating, with moisture inducing heat. With all the bodies and the continuous cooking from multiple stoves, the open space was more than adequately heated.
Our server educated us on their family style approach to dining. Bowls and plates offered to be shared, allowing multiple tastes and the trying of new things. As needed he took then time to spell out dishes and embellish on ingredients. Well versed on this menu he was able to help us with our selection process. There was a seasonal hot pot menu offered, though we stuck with their regular listing to gain a better grasp of the place. Korean fusion was on tonight’s menu. Take what you know about Korean flavours and mish and mash it to fit the bounds of North American style fine dining. Salad with octopus. Dumplings stuffed with truffle creme. Noodles boiled with Dungeness crab. And rice dishes served with runny egg yolks. As one who loves trying new things I was most intrigued the young jack fruit curry. A fruit common to my native birth place, done up in a new way. Though when dining to share, you never want to be the one who orders the dish no one else wants or likes. We all stuck to safer bets.
As in most Asian places we were presented with a tray of sauces. The garlic soy, Korean spicy fermented chili paste, savoury red bean, and salty fish sauce came in their own individual glass shots and scooping spoons. Without tasting I got overly greedy with the quantity, and as a result sullied a few bites. The sauces were far too salt filled for the already salty dishes.They didn’t really add any value, nor did they really go with anything. After sampling them through the appetizers stage, I left them be for the remainder of the meal.
“Pork belly pancake with kimchi and bean sprouts”. I always imagine kimchi being incredibly spicy. So was appreciative of this appetizer and its only mild kimchi taste. Not focal in taste, it was present in colour. Each a neon orange red, indicative of kimchi. You were able to taste the flavouring of the spices used, but not its heat. It was well fried, not fluffy, with slightly crisp edges. Though overly oily, a good blotting would have easily helped rectify this. Overall this dish contained too much salt. It perfectly foreshadowed the rest of our meal. The pork belly made things salty enough, without the need for additional side sauces.
“Potato & leek dumpling” with a Gruyère truffle crème”. With its soft outer dough and its pillowy off white appearance, it reminded me of a Korean perogy. Soft inside and super crispy on the bottom. The filling was smooth with salted cheese and whipped potato. The surrounding cream was decadent, and similar in taste and lightness to a heavier sour cream. Also quite salty, the pickled onions topping this gave the things a nice break in taste.
“Short rib dumpling” with shallots and scallions. From looks alone you could tell the parcelled dough varied from the perogy above. This tasted more like an Asian dumpling. The skin was seasoned differently: savoury. The filling was tender and well seasoned strands of meat. With the slightest hint of vinegar, each bite was packed with great flavours. More so when combined with the freshness of the garnishing green herbs.
“Smoky pork dan dan noodles” with collard greens and green onions. I asked for the ground peanut and crackling pork skin on the side. I like the texture of coarse cut thick noodles. With its great eggy taste they are fun to lap up. This dish had a sweeter taste, one a could not put my finger on. The collard greens balance this with its bitter essence. The saucy segments of pulled pork gave the dish is smoky barbecue-ness.
“Dungeness crab with seaweed noodle” served with creme fraiche and a spicy red curry. With green coloured noodles and a sunny side egg this was already visually appealing. It was a shame that its taste did not marry up with is presentation. It certainly had a unique flavour profile. Slightly sweet from the crab and spicy from the curry. Contrasting, not in an enjoyable way. Also with as many noodles as I slurped up I could not make out the seaweed essence in the noodles. Though I appreciated their unusual colour and their rich and creamy texture.
“Short rib rice bowl” with sambal daikon and mustard greens. You mix the lot up before you set about eating it. Like every dish before that and all the ones after, this too I found too salty. Thinking back now, it may just be their style of cooking? Or a Seattle thing? I clarified with our hosts to conclude, that they found things too salty as well. The perfectly pink cuts of meat had a great smokey aroma and flavouring. They were tender cubes, that we did not have enough. This is when compared to the generous portion of the hard and pickled kimchi daikon; and the flowing abundance of the slightly sauced greenery.
“Albacore tuna rice bowl” with fennel kimchi and escarole. This was my favour of the bowls, as it was the least salty and the best paired. Up to this point all the elements in each bowl felt forced. They individually tasted ok, but together as a whole felt muddled. Here the mild mild tuna paired well with the picked rice and the sharp ginger. The tuna tasted of its salted seared crust, subtle until taken with the pink ginger common in many sushi platters.
Single stalled washrooms were located in the short hall betwixt lounge and dining room. Each door labeled with a gender specific stick man, but available for either man or woman then waiting. I always find their being not enough washrooms at a bar, a point of contention. The last thing you want is a lengthy wait after you over drank and broke the seal.
Full, but not where near satisfied we passed on desserts. But based on description they would have proved to be the highlight of the night. “Blood orange granita, ginger ice cream, jasmine tapioca”. “Calamansi semifreddo, thai chili shortbread, toasted marshmallow”. And “Chocolate ganache, peppermint snow, chocolate crumb, shiso gel”.
Would I come back? – Seeing as I am a tourist from Vancouver BC, and merely visiting; it would prove not to be in my best interest to revisit when I return to Seattle. I rather try somewhere else, somewhere new.
Would I recommend it? – No. I honestly did not enjoy the food. I was excited to try it, and looking forward to my first dabble in Korean fusion. The flavours printed on paper were exciting and the elements plated were well prepared. It is their compilation and their pairing I question. Individually nothing complimented or added to what already existed, and nothing had the ability to stand alone. We left smelling of Asian kitchen, with the longer after lingering taste of ginger in our mouths. The bright side, we got close to our suggested eight glasses of water a day, with the amount we needed to balance the saltiness of everything else. Though if this review has you peaked, don’t deny your cravings.