The food-trend mill spins so fast these days, it's hard to say whether Revelry is ahead of the curve or behind it.
The new Asian-fusion spot on Southeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard comes from Seattle's Beard-nominated Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi. Revelry borrows much of the menu from the much-lauded Revel, which opened in Seattle's Fremont neighborhood in 2010. Revelry has that early Instagram aesthetic: Sparsely modern aside from a stack of boom boxes, the restaurant bumps '90s hip-hop, keeps bar hours and makes great use of fried chicken.
It's also Portland's most high-profile project from an out-of-town restaurant group in recent memory, and shares space with a chic outdoor store based in Seattle. Revelry's Korean influence feels very of-the-season, arriving on the heels of the Han Oak pop-up and just before the new Kim Jong Smokehouse.
Six weeks in, Revelry still feels a little slippery—and not just when it comes to the big picture. It opened with a bang—we had a near-perfect meal in the first week—but subsequent visits haven't been as impressive. In Portland, that's an odd trajectory.
Which is to say I've had a tough time sizing up Revelry, a place that's great when it's good, but merely average when it's not. Are things headed downhill as the Seattle-based chefs return to hometown projects? Or is the Portland crew going to iron things out?
Revelry's one must-order dish is Mrs. Yang's spicy fried chicken with peanut brittle ($14). On our first visit, it was perfectly crisp and candied—if you'd told me it was fried, lightly dressed in a sugar sauce and carefully brûléed with a torch, I might have believed it. The crackle and nutty punch of the brittle enhanced the experience so much you wonder why fried chicken isn't always nutted.
But on a later visit, the breading had an unwelcome heft, with heavier sauce. It wore its peanut-brittle coat like garish attire meant to distract from physical flaws. It's hard for fried chicken slathered in peanuts to go too wrong, but it paled in comparison to its better self.
Another high point was the rice cakes—poker chips of pan-fried starch dressed with umami-intensive beef and black bean sauce. I've had it three times, and though it didn't have quite the same snap on the third visit, it's remained consistently very good. It's the most reliable thing on the menu alongside the excellent cocktails, especially the house Old Fashioned with miso maple ($10).
On the other hand, the rice bowls at the bottom of the menu were uneventful. The bowl with short rib, mustard greens and chili-sauced daikon ($17) gave off a yoga-cafe vibe—even with charred ribs and a cured egg yolk. The same went for a bowl with tuna in black sesame sauce, served up with seaweed salad and escarole.
Revelry's desserts tilt unexpectedly hard toward rich and creamy. Get the Motherload ($7) with toasted marshmallow and a rich miso-caramel brownie, which was great both times we ordered it. For now, avoid the mochi doughnuts topped with caramel corn, which were fantastic on our first visit but soggy on the third.
The near future of Revelry will be interesting—for all of us.
EAT: Revelry, 210 SE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 971-339-3693, relayrestaurantgroup.com/restaurants/revelry. 5 pm-midnight Sunday-Thursday, 5 pm-2 am Friday-Saturday.
Order this: Mrs. Yang's fried chicken ($14), rice cakes ($15), cocktails and the Motherload ($7).