It’s rather trendy of me and not particularly novel given all of the hype, but I have more than a little food crush on Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi and all of the innovative and utterly delicious food this pair has brought to Seattle. I first sampled Joule at the original Wallingford location, then waited with breathless anticipation for the opening of sibling restaurant Revel in Fremont. I was hooked on the Korean comfort food from the start, then really fell head over heels in love when they rolled out the summer grill shack. Make full use of a single animal, in all different cuts and preparations, until there isn’t a serving left to be had? Sign me up! In fact, we loved the meat/Revel combo so much that we jumped on the chance to take a butchering class at the restaurant when it came up for offer. The chicken I had (inexpertly) butchered was made delicious by the TLC of Revel’s talented griller, but it was the enormous pig that was (expertly) butchered in front of us that yielded, without a doubt, the best pork loin I’ve ever had. Ever.
So when I drove down 45th one day and saw the “closed” sign on the Joule space I was momentarily crushed, only to discover that Chefs Yang and Chirchi would be reopening elsewhere soon. Of course it wasn’t soon enough for any of us keeping tabs, but well worth the wait considering that they were opening in a renovated space in Fremont and teaming up with uber cool retailer evo and even uber cooler Seattle restaurant maven Renee Erickson. The space shared by Joule and Erickson’s new restaurant, The Whale Wins, is akin to her joint space venture in Ballard with Walrus & Carpenter and Ethan Stowell’s Staple & Fancy. As if each restaurant wasn’t dining destination enough on its own, the chance to sample both on a single visit – if only visually – is a double draw.
The new Joule is a big departure from its previous location in terms of capacity, with a sizable bar area up front whose double height windows and tall ceiling will do beautifully capturing the light of a sunny summer day. Long, grey, tall-back benches wrap around the dining room and into the back nook, whose lower ceiling makes it feel just that much cozier. The room could be in danger of appearing too industrial, what with the requisite exposed beams, but the blonde wood, joule/jewel patterned wallpaper, and pools of light from the sconces that run the length of the wall bring considerable warmth into the space. They’ve brought the open kitchen and eating counter over from Revel, or maybe it’s a hybrid of the current Revel and former Joule. Narrow counter like the latter – not like that lovely big prep slab at Revel – but the wall that separates diners from chefs is lower than before to give you a better view into the action.
Pre-opening I read that Joule’s new menu would feature steak, and surely there was a solid number of offerings from the cow. In fact, we had a delicious short rib steak sweet with kalbi, perfectly pink in the center and accented by grilled kimchi.
I’m a meat eater from way back, so it surprised me that several of the other dishes, many straight-up Korean or Korean-influenced, were my favorites of the night. The smoked tofu with honshimeji mushroom confit and soy truffle vinaigrette was the big standout, in fact. For the most part creamy in flavor and texture, until you get to the slight crispness of the green onions. Incredible flavors, with a subtle texture contrast. There was that same texture contrast in another surprise favorite, the white stuffed kimchi. A bit sweeter and more mild than other versions you might have tried, this one enclosed a center of currants, carrot slivers, and pine nuts, a combination I wouldn’t have thought to choose but was the perfect complement to the kimchi.
Also from the cow, though starter rather than main, was the delicious beef tartare. Done in confit form with Asian pear, and spicy cod roe aioli, it was both spicy and sweet, a flavor combination I was coming to expect from Rachel Yang’s food that evening. The pork belly ham threw me for a loop in that regard, as with salted shrimp and chili aioli it was spicy and salty, rather than sweet. And if you think the pork belly looks a bit like uncooked bacon, you’d be right. It continues to amaze me all of the forms in which pork belly appears on my plate!
Vegetables made additional appearances in another two of the best dishes of my night, the wide rice noodles with shitake mushrooms and broccoli rabe. Sometimes I find that the noodles at Revel get a bit gummy but these were perfectly singular and the ideal foil for the slightly bitter rabe. The creamed swiss chard lived up to its name, brightly green with another texture contrast from the crisp celery.
Though I’m not often a fan of whole fish preparation, the mackerel might make me reconsider that position. It was less crispy than I expected, and absolutely stunning graced with a green curry cilantro crust, black currants, and broad slices of pickled carrot for contrast.
Dessert was just the right exclamation point on a dinner that was as beautiful in presentation as it was delicious. We sampled the chocolate sesame cake, a tall stack of multi-layered chocolate cake accented with a think crisp of toffee brittle. The ube cheesecake – or purple yam, as I discovered – was slightly grainy in its yam-ness and not overly sweet. The cheesecake’s almond ginger crust was so good I nearly separated it from its cake and ate it on its own, but in the end gave in and forked them together. Maybe more than my fair share, truth be told.
Joule (and its especially accessible chef, Rachel Yang) is the sort of place that you want to succeed, and succeed mightily. If Revel and the attendant press is any indication, this new venture will be given a deservedly warm reception and that long queue of hungry diners that we passed on our way out won’t diminish any time soon.