Pork Belly Pancakes, Duck Meatballs, and Hangover Soup
Fremont's New Grown-up Dining Hall for Korean Food
Until recently, the website for Revel read "Urban. Comfort. Asian. Street Food." Once you saw this, it was difficult not to Divide. Every. Thought. Likewise. (Extra. Fun. Out. Loud.)
You can imagine the copywriters' huddle: "Bullet points are completely played. Pipes aren't even the new bullet points anymore. Wait—periods! Between the words! It'll read so urban. 'Urban'—YESSSSS! What else!"
You can also picture husband-and-wife team Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi—of Wallingford gem Joule—deciding to ax this pretension. Revel, new in Fremont, is quite slick; it's got a graffiti mural and weathered metal outside, a concrete floor and wide-open kitchen inside, and an adjoining bar named after an architectural term meaning "cornerstone" (Quoin). But Revel also has a sense of humor: the literal bed of grass near the entry, the Michael Jackson and Hulk Hogan portraits on the walls. And Yang and Chirchi just want to make good food: Virtually everything, from curing bacon to rolling out yards of dumpling wrappers, is done on-site. Revel feels like a grown-up dining hall—loud, crowded, fun. But, you know, with tasty updated Korean food.
My very favorite thing at Revel so far is the brunchtime kalbi burger, which is so good it's depraved—or, more accurately, so good because it's depraved. The house-ground Painted Hills patty is imbued with the salty-sweetness of soy sauce, garlic, ginger, and whatever other magic Revel's kalbi involves; this is one of very few hamburger innovations that make immediate, clear, habit-forming sense. The addiction-patty is topped with planks of Revel's outstanding bacon and a fried egg. Yolk and juice drip all down your hands; this is the kind of burger that people call "messy and indulgent," when what they mean is that if you eat the whole thing, you're going to (a) need a bath and (b) feel kind of sick. It costs $14, which might be too much, but not if you share it with a friend, then eat an apple and go back to bed, which is what you should do anyway.
Also at brunch, also fantastic: Korean hangover soup (real name). Its broth is so dark and deep as to be opaque, with an ideal level of sodium; its kale suggests all might be redeemable; its house-made blood pudding provides protein in a tasty, fortifying, mild format; its rice soothes. It costs $13, and tested against a truly epic hangover, it is far, far more efficacious than any grease-based remedy.
On the dinner menu, the pork belly pancake ($10) is already a hit, with big chunks of belly embedded in it and crispy, blackened edges giving the taste of barbecue. The kimchi involved is unusually mild; if your server doesn't bring you the four accompanying sauces (and service here can go somewhat off the rails), go get them at the huge kitchen-counter table yourself. This pancake should be eaten hot, with added spicy-heat. (In other pancakes: Potato with crème fraîche is perfect and a joy and only $7, while the shrimp one, $9, is rather squishy and bland.)
Those who like chorizo will love Revel's—house-made, stuffed into dumplings bathing in orange grease ($9). The short-rib dumplings ($9) also enjoy their oil, and the meat inside is soft and slightly sweet; a little more of the promised shallot and scallion wouldn't be amiss, but it's doubtful anyone will complain. The final dumpling option is black-pepper wrapper filled with Earl Grey ricotta, sitting on a smear of squash puree, strewn with candied pecans ($8). It's a total departure: The tea and the squash and the nuts are faintly reminiscent of Christmas, and the ricotta is cooked to a curdlike texture. This is a divisive dumpling—I love it, but even if you hate it, you've still got to admire its spirit.
People inhale the noodles with duck meatballs ($15) all around the room—it's already become Revel's signature dish. I'm in the minority on this one: The noodles were gummy, the meatballs wanted more five-spice, and the smoked chili sauce was heavy in amount and cloyingly caramelly in flavor. This was, however, a night when neither Yang nor Chirchi was in the house; later, I wanted to give it another shot—it sounds so good—but there was just too much else to try.
In short: The rice bowl topped with slices of albacore, an egg yolk, sweet fennel kimchi, and charred escarole ($13)—Rare. Tuna. Overall. Very yummy. The rice bowl with little medallions of rare short rib, super-spicy daikon, and peppery mustard greens ($14)—Unrendered. Fat. Squick. Cultural Bias? The cold shrimp and long-bean salad with tamarind "ranch" (more like a slightly tangy vinaigrette) and wild sesame seeds for crunch ($8)—Refreshing. Excellent. Balancing. Get It. For dessert: various fancy ice cream sandwiches. Sounds. Good. But. Too Full.
This article has been updated with a noodle-related correction.