THE LAST TIME I made a trip to Revelry, the buzzy new Korean-fusion bar-restaurant-hybrid in inner Southeast, Rider Strong (Shawn Hunter from Boy Meets World! Squeeeee!!) was there. Revelry is very much a be-here-now kind of place: a spinoff of Seattle’s popular Revel, from James Beard award finalists Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi.
The reception to this slick buildout from our frenemy to the north—complete with a late-night DJ on weekends, vibrant murals, and an art piece of decommissioned boom-boxes suspended from the wall—has mostly been welcoming. (At just over eight weeks in, it’s been called a 2016 “rising star” by Portland Monthly in a hail of breathless hyperbole).
With a fantastic cocktail program, service that shows how it’s done, and a menu coming into its own, Revelry will hopefully maintain its forward momentum. It’s just going to have to decide what it wants to be: a bar with great food, like Expatriate—or a restaurant.
If it’s the former, I’m sold. There’s a roster of fantastic plates that wave hello to Korea, then fold in flavors from wherever the chef prefers. After multiple visits, the already-famous Mrs. Yang’s spicy chicken ($14) isn’t my favorite dish, although it is very good: a sweet-spicy pile of bird waiting to be shared, coated in a peanut brittle that adds crunch to a sensory-forward experience. It can lean a bit heavy if there isn’t perfect execution, but it’s still worth sharing anytime you step in the door.
Personally, I live for the spicy beef black bean sauce and crunchy Chinese broccoli over Korean rice cakes ($15). Those rice cakes, which often traditionally appear in soups or stir fries, are oblong disks of glutinous rice molded to textural perfection—and here, when the kitchen is on, they have an unbelievable outside crunch that gives way to the toothsome cake. The sauce has more than a hint of cumin, making it taste like taco meat, in a very nice way. Christ, it’s good.
The other star is actually a dessert, so save room: The $7 Revel Motherload is an immensely rich miso caramel brownie with chocolate tempura puffs, in a swirling sea of lightly-toasted marshmallow crème.
All’s well on the cocktail front. Often cocktail programs at Asian restaurants struggle to create drinks that fit the flavor profile of the food, and wind up straying oversweet. Bartenders wisely play with mostly herbal flavors at Revelry, like the refreshing Kimm’s Cup ($11), with gin, Pimms No. 1, cucumber shrub, lime, shiso, and Rachel’s Ginger Beer. A Phogroni ($10), was a little gimmicky, mixing Campari and sweet vermouth with blackstrap and white rums and a pho vinegar, while the Café Olé ($10) was my personal favorite—a smooth blend of Reposado tequila, cold brew and bitter cynar. Also fun: the fortune cookie soju ($4), the Korean liquor infused with fortune cookies onsite, served cold in a shot glass with a fortune stuck to the outside.
The menu also winds through some falafel ($7), a Middle Eastern staple turned vermillion by mint and other herbs, with a Korean harissa. There’s a very good seaweed noodle ($17) with lightly sweet Dungeness crab folded into red curry and crème fraîche.
The rice bowls give the best bang for the buck: At $15-17, they’re certainly large enough to serve as an entrée, and actually don’t lend themselves to sharing very well, unlike the rest of the dishes, many of which are so flavor-forward, they almost have to be shared to avoid overload. The restraint of the barley seared tuna layered with an egg yolk, seaweed and kimchi over a generous scoop of white rice almost makes the rice bowl out of place at Revelry.
If Revelry is aiming to be a restaurant, it’s a got a bit further to go. Consistency has been a minor issue: Our mochi doughnuts at dessert were just this side of too doughy, and that signature fried chicken has been different each time we’ve tried it. The savory pancakes are small for their $12 price tag, and none are especially memorable. Also, if it’s trying to be a restaurant, Revelry has got to close the doors it shares with Seattle-based outdoor store Evo. I’m just not feeling the vibe of being peeked at by some dude looking for a Patagonia vest.
Revelry’s food is like its carefully-curated soundtrack (Yang and Chirchi are partnered here with Portland club owners Eric and Karen Bowler of Tube and Fortune): Not everything is a Top 40 hit, but it’s all going to keep the club jumping.
Sun-Thurs 5 pm to midnight, Fri-Sat 5 pm to 2 am. DJ Thurs-Sat 10 pm to close. Reservations for parties of four or more.