There are two basic strategies when contemplating the menu at Revel, the popular new Danville gastropub opened by Esin and Curtis deCarion, the duo behind the acclaimed Esin Restaurant: Either pursue a drinks-driven evening punctuated with an assortment of nibbles, or focus on a hearty helping of tavern fare, such as burgers or fish and chips. Either way, one should save room for dessert.
We opted with the sip-and-graze approach. Revel offers a serious drink menu, along with wines by the glass, bottle and carafe, and its 50 choices are literally all over the map -- from New Mexico sparklers to Alsatian rieslings. Its beer menu doesn't disappoint either, with offerings such as Houblon Chouffe on tap ($10) and Hitachino Nest White ($10).
We went for a couple of their signature cocktails, including the flowery "In Giverny," an admittedly girly cocktail with the essence of violet pastilles and the hues of a Monet garden ($11). On the other end of the spectrum, "The Belafonte" featured St. George's Terroir Gin, and the potent flavors of bay laurel, sage and eucalyptus made us feel like we were quite literally drinking in the sun-warmed East Bay hills ($12).
Cocktails in hand, we were tempted by the oysters (small, smooth Kumamotos, plump Miyagis, and savory Chapman Coves -- served by the half-dozen; prices vary) but skipped to the bar bites, which include nibbles such as lemon and herb-marinated olives ($4.50) and deviled eggs ($7).
The deviled eggs were humble in appearance but were topped with a dash of white truffle oil and a sprinkling of minced bacon, the light crispiness of which was almost toastlike in texture.
This is luxury-meets-comfort food, a theme that was echoed throughout the menu. For example, Revel's chicken wings, instead of being slathered with Frank's Red Hot and served up with bottled blue cheese dressing, are coated with a cumin-tinged Calabrian chile glaze and served with a chunky, garlicky blue cheese aioli for dipping ($10 for eight).
Similarly, the fried oysters were a far cry from your jumble of wrinkled, cornmeal-dusted bivalves. Revel's Champagne-battered oysters ($11 for four) were puffy, golden and looked like a party in a half-shell. Garnished with microgreens and gribiche sauce (instead of ordinary tartar sauce), they were juicy, sweet and briny.
For those wanting to tuck into a proper dinner, Revel offers several larger plates, from posh tavern fare such as Sun Fed Farms flat iron steak with truffled fries and red wine butter ($22) to the more humble fish and chips, made from local cod ($19). Judging by the tables around us, a popular choice is the boneless short ribs with mascarpone polenta in a zinfandel sauce ($19).
We went with the cassoulet with duck confit, duck sausage and ham hocks ($19). It arrived steaming hot -- as did most of our dishes (it's surprising how many restaurants just don't nail that) -- in an earthenware dish reminiscent of a traditional casserole. We wondered why our server also brought us a steak knife, as we simply used our forks to dig into the tender and rich duck leg. As much as the confit was the center of the dish, we loved the meltingly tender Rancho Gordo heirloom beans.
Of all the items we tried, only the chopped salad ($10) was underwhelming. With romaine, Nicoise olives, slivers of pickled peppers and diced salami, it reminded us of a pizzeria salad. Not bad by any stretch, but we'd rather save our appetites for other things. Such as dessert.
Given Esin's notoriety for top-notch sweets, we had a hard time choosing from the five options. Ultimately, we settled on the moist, delicately flavored and pleasingly springy olive oil cake ($8.50), served with a modest dollop of strawberry rhubarb compote (we can be forgiven for wanting quite a bit more of that).
We also opted for the lokma ($8.50), Mediterranean beignets that arrived piping hot with a demitasse of gorgeous cinnamon and orange blossom honey syrup. The syrup was so fragrant it left a trail of perfume from the kitchen to our table, as our server wound her way through the crowded restaurant.
We had happily encamped ourselves on the heated front patio, but if you want to sit in the understated but sophisticated dining room, reservations are essential. The interior, with its modern lines and refined shades of charcoal, espresso, slate and taupe, is a fitting match for the upscale food. The vibe is convivial if not downright celebratory. Libations punctuated every tabletop, and the space was filled with happy chatter. With top-quality ingredients, solid execution and service that does not skip a beat, Revel is affable enough for everyday merrymaking but worthy enough to mark a special occasion.
WHERE: 331 Hartz Ave., Danville
CONTACT: 925-208-1758, www.revelkitchenandbar.com
HOURS: 4-11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 4 p.m.-midnight Friday-Saturday
CUISINE: New American
PRICES: $$ (small plates)
VEGETARIAN: Bar bites and small plates such as hummus and truffled fries
BEVERAGES: 50 wines, plus beers and cocktails
RESERVATIONS: Strongly recommended
NOISE LEVEL: Medium, loud when busy
PARKING: Lot and street parking
KIDS: Burgers, fish and chips
PLUSES: Top-notch ingredients, great service, lovely desserts
MINUSES: Make sure to reserve in advance
Five within five
Looking for other places to dine in Danville? Scan this code with your smartphone or go to www.mercurynews.com/restaurants for a peek at five other great places -- casual, swanky and in between.