Revel is the more casual younger sibling to sister restaurant Joule. Cozy up to the long butcher-block counter (the barstools are my seats of choice), and you're basically right there in the kitchen while eating your dumplings, Korean pancakes, rice bowls, and noodle dishes.
I always learn something while watching Beard-nominated chefs Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi put their own twists on classic Asian food, like the Smoky Pork Dandan Noodles ($15). Dan dan noodles are one of my emergency foods at home. They're quick, easy, and I never get tired of eating noodles covered in a spicy pork sauce, complete with pungent preserved vegetables and crunchy peanuts.
At Revel, dan dan noodles get an upscale, Southern-styled update. Instead of ground pork, you'll find five-spice-rubbed pork butt that's slow-cooked overnight and then smoked. Turmeric-pickled collard greens add earthiness, while cracklings are mixed in with peanuts as a topping to accompany green onions. (Note: Revel also has a version of dan dan noodles on the current weekend brunch menu, served with smoked chili, eggplant, Thai basil, and peanut.)
The springy, wide-cut wheat noodles are made in-house, and they're a good vehicle for the sauce —and what a sauce it is. It's a little tangy, a little spicy, and a little earthy. The most prominent flavors come from black vinegar, chili, sesame oil, and Szechuan peppercorn. In fact, there's also Szechuan peppercorn in both the wheat noodles and the crackling/peanut mixture, providing subtle numbing effect that complements the slight spiciness of the dish for a typical "ma la" effect. Overall, the balance of flavors is ideal, though you can certainly request Revel's popular condiment tray to spice things up as you wish.
What I love about dan dan noodles is mixing everything up and then getting different flavors with each pull of the chopsticks. With Revel's Asian/Southern fusion version, some bites have pulled pork, some have collard greens, some have crispy crackling, and more. One thing's for sure: no matter how you eat them every bite is delicious.
About the author: Jay Friedman is a Seattle-based freelance food writer who happens to travel extensively as a sex educator. An avid fan of noodles (some call him "The Mein Man"), he sees sensuality in all foods, and blogs about it at his Gastrolust website. You can follow him on Twitter @jayfriedman.