Ever since I have lived in Wallingford, the restaurant Joule has been a hit, and so I assumed it had always been that way. I’ve been reading My Rice Bowl, Rachel Yang’s new book, which I eagerly purchased on the day of its release in late September. Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi are chefs/owners at Joule, Revel and Trove. I love their restaurants.
According to the book, Joule wasn’t a huge success initially. They opened in November 2007 on N 45th Street in Wallingford and initially had some popularity and good reviews. However:
One cold Tuesday in the winter… we had no reservations on the books. We called off the cooks and our two servers, and then we called off the dishwasher. It was just the two of us. We had one walk-in diner for the entire night.
We didn’t make bad food. We didn’t work less hard. It was the reality of the restaurant industry and being a small business… Tallying that we’d made fourteen dollars that day (a woman came in and ordered our grilled sweetbread dish and a glass of water) was something we couldn’t unsee.
But it was Revel in Fremont where the pair’s food really took off. Moving Joule to Stone Way also was a hit. Now, of course, they own Trove in Capitol Hill and Revelry in Portland.
In addition to the recipes, My Rice Bowl includes captivating stories of family and love. Yes, that’s right. There is romance too. I haven’t ever read a recipe book where the author opened up so much about their personal history. It’s a compelling read highlighting Rachel’s Korean upbringing and what it means to be American.
One of the reasons Joule is my favorite restaurant is that while I am a decent cook, I am flummoxed by the flavors I experience at Joule. It is not unusual for me to go to a fancy restaurant and think to myself that I could make the same thing or better. The experience I have at Joule is nothing like that — it’s usually: what is this and how on earth can I make it?
I’ve also appreciated the professionalism of Joule’s staff who have never failed to make me feel welcome. On more than one occasion, Rachel has stopped by our table or spoken to us at the chef’s counter. Having the chef recognize me doesn’t happen to me at other restaurants.
So why would Rachel give away all her secrets? I go to Joule because I can’t make her food at home, right? Can I really re-create Joule at home? Here is my attempt.
Yellow curry picked beets (figs, kalamata, pistachio oil)
Okay, she really gives away her secrets here. My husband and I were nodding our heads. This is exactly the Joule dish that we’ve been ordering. I used just a straight yellow curry powder even though the recipe specified Madras curry powder. It seemed to work fine. Wallyhood editor Katy tasting my attempt called it “sweet, tart, spicy — all perfectly balanced.”
Spicy pork rib hot pot (tomatillo, potato, perilla)
This is probably a Revel or Trove recipe. I’ve never had it. The ingredients are exotic: coarse Korean chili flakes, fish sauce, sesame leaves, perilla seeds (aka wild sesame), and perilla oil. All of these could be found at H Mart on University Way.
The perilla is on the pricey side so it’s a big investment if you are not eating it frequently. The book says perilla oil is the next big thing. It feels to me like a cross between sesame and seaweed. However, if that’s not your thing, I felt the dish works well without it.
I’ll reveal now that I actually don’t eat meat, but luckily I had two Wallyhood editors to help me taste. Katy: “There is a good amount of heat. I wanted to drink the sauce and everything.” Another taster countered that the spice may have overwhelmed the perilla oil. That’s the sort of balancing act Rachel has perfected in the restaurant but will take time to perfect at home.
Upside-down fig mochi cake with bleu cheese whip
Absolutely delicious and gluten-free. It is very much like the restaurant incarnation although I’m wondering if I over-mixed the batter. I remember a lighter and more delicate version at Joule.
I can’t wait to try making the smoked tofu or the Chinese broccoli with walnut pesto next. This book is fantastic. Editor Jack even commented: “If you wish you could eat at Joule every night, but know you can’t afford it, you should consider investing in this book!”
Having said all that, I think the restaurant is safe. While I could make many of the dishes at home, the restaurant experience is the real deal. Not to mention the fact that the menus are constantly evolving.