Not much joy to be taken from Revel's offerings, says Edmonton AM food critic

The dishes at Revel look and sound good in theory but perhaps, on this night, too complex for whoever was cooking in the kitchen.

Dishes look and sound good in theory but are perhaps too complex for the kitchen to execute

Stonefruit salad with roasted quail (Twyla Campbell)

The 115-year-old Alberta Hotel on Jasper Avenue has a lot going for it: location, looks and all the trappings of modernity within a beautiful historical setting.

Since completing a massive restoration in 2013, the hotel has seen two short-lived restaurants occupy its large street level space, each of them holding tenancy for just around 12 months. Chef Tony Krause and his partners behind Revel are hoping that the adage — third time's the charm — will ring true for them.

Krause and his crew have been cooking and serving for seven months now; enough time has passed for the foibles experienced during media night last October to be long corrected.

At least, it's what I hoped for (and expected) when I visited in May. 

The setting remains mostly untouched from when Tavern 1903 first occupied the space in 2013, save for some low tables in the bar area now switched out for high tops. The paintings of cartoonish, bare-shouldered, large-eyed waifs still — unfortunately — hang on the wood panelled walls. At only five years old, the room feels tired and dated. If you go, take a seat in the more interesting, truer-to-era cocktail lounge.

The hotel is in Edmonton's downtown core, making it an attractive lunch option for office workers and business executives.

If they order the chicken sandwich, though, they'll be sure to return to the office with chipotle mayo and coleslaw splatter on their bespoke suits and ties.

Chicken breast sandwich with double cooked potatoes (Twyla Campbell)

It's the chewy pretzel bun and slippery components that are the annoyances of this deep-fried chicken sandwich. A hefty amount of cheddar cheese, coleslaw and a chicken breast between the halves of a thick bun, the sandwich requires two hands and an unhinged jaw to wrangle it into one's mouth. Filling goes everywhere except where it's intended. One is soon tempted to throw in the napkin and concede defeat.

Too bad really, because the chicken is wonderful and if the chipotle in the mayo was more present and the bun was brioche and the coleslaw put on the plate instead of the bird, and if there was an acidic ingredient in the mix, well, this would be a fine sandwich, for sure.

The Mumbai sandwich doesn't fare much better, at least in the flavour department. In India, this popular street food is served as a grilled sandwich; packed with fresh vegetables, a generous slathering of green chutney and seasoned with chaat masala, a potpourri of pungent spices. Revel's version is a dismal version of tomato, cucumber, onion and cheese layered between a room-temperature ciabatta bun (instead of on the glorious sourdough they make in-house).

The dinner menu features the usual Prairie suspects (duck, chicken, pork and beef) with a few seafood offerings, and the rarely-seen horse, in the form of tartare on the appetizer menu. We skipped the horse, opting for the stonefruit salad topped with a full roasted quail instead.

Perhaps the tartare would have been a better option. At least the meat in that preparation is meant to be served raw.

The bird — its skinless limp neck protruding on one end, its legs spread wide at the other — was pale, grotesquely undercooked and as off-putting as anything you could imagine on a plate.

Pan roasted chicken with gnudi (Twyla Campbell)

Thankfully, the backup starter, plump P.E.I. mussels in a coconut, cilantro, lime and tomato broth fared better though a little shy on depth of flavour considering the ingredients. The house-made grilled sourdough made up for any deficiencies, and you'll be tempted, as we were, to order a second helping.

A well-prepared braised short rib is a thing of beauty, and the meaty, gochujang-glazed rib here is exactly that. It is liberally crowned with fruity pink peppercorns and served with a piping hot block of fried chickpea cake called panisse. The steamed rapini adds a punch of brightness to the plate and the aerated hollandaise does a fine job of tempering its bitterness.

The chicken dish makes the cut, but barely. The thigh on top of unusually large gnudi (ricotta versus potato-based Italian dumplings) is miserly in portion but perfectly roasted. The delicate gnudi quickly disintegrate into the accompanying thin broth and the king oyster mushrooms, marinated with southeast Asian ingredients, only serve to add more beige to the earth-toned presentation.

The dishes at Revel look and sound good in theory but perhaps, on this night, too complex for whoever was cooking in the kitchen. For me and the other five diners in this 98-seat room on a Thursday night, I guess that was just our rotten luck.

Revel is located at 9802 Jasper Ave.

You can hear Campbell's reviews on Edmonton AM every second Friday. You can also see more of her reviews on her blog, Weird Wild and Wonderful, and can follow her on Twitter at @wanderwoman10.


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