There are some wonderful things happening with food over in Wallingford these days, and I credit chefs Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi for leading the way. Since opening Joule last year at 45th and Burke, the husband and wife duo behind the only French-Korean restaurant in Seattle have been consistently producing some of the most innovative cuisine in the city. At turns adventurous and elegant, their food has a serious mindedness that is belied by the playful menu (with course headings like Simmered, Crisped, Sparked, and my favorite, Staff of Life). This laser focus is almost certainly the result of Yang and Chirchi’s previous employ at the ridiculously high-end Coupage in Madrona (which imploded shortly after their departure) and before that at Alain Ducasse in New York City.
Joule is a contemporary space with lots of dark wood offset by soft yellow paint and the most beautiful wallpaper in town – an exquisite deep indigo backdrop covered with white leaves and pink fairytale hummingbirds. A pot of reeds filled with little white lights sits at the edge of the bar, where patrons can sit and watch Chirchi and Yang at work in the prominent open kitchen. There may be jazz playing on the stereo, and some of it may be French. It’s the perfect atmosphere to enjoy one of Joule’s seasonal cocktails. Try the pomegranate tarragon shrub, a vinegar-based drink served in a carafe filled with fresh pomegranate seeds and ice. Or the Parisian Sake, a mix of Kurosawa and St. Germain with a slice of grapefruit that is exceptionally bright and clean.
The menu at Joule changes with the seasons, and a recent visit found a strong emphasis on early winter greens. We started with a creamed Swiss chard with hazelnut salt, which was slightly bitter and buttery and warm (and just a little too salty, dammit Seattle). Even better was a zucchini pancake with shrimp and smoked chili vinaigrette – sweet and fluffy, with the occasional burst of cilantro. We also enjoyed a piping hot baguette with housemade seaweed butter. It was the perfect synthesis of East and West.
For the main course, I was compelled to order the wild boar spare ribs with spicy Korean barbeque glaze and collard slaw (more of that perfect chard with pickled daikons). The ribs were so tender that the meat slid right off the bone with a poke from my fork. The glaze was sweet and smoky with a little bit of heat, but nothing outrageous. Restraint was further shown in the pickled cucumber kimchi with shitake mushrooms that I ordered on the side. I’ve had some kimchi that was so far off the Scoville heat spectrum as to render it inedible. In fact, I’ve never had kimchi quite like this before, remarkably briny in flavor. Also unique: the housemade soy sauce, which tasted like it was mixed with sriracha or some other red chili paste. I could not get enough of it.
We ordered several other entrees and passed the dishes around the table, including an enormous whole mackerel with smoked tomato puttanesca. The fish was cut down the middle, but otherwise it was all about digging out the fragrant meat and dodging the bones (I’ll be honest, I appreciate the presentation of serving a whole fish, but it’s an awful lot of work to get through one). Additionally: bison and lamb. The bison hanger was served with a garlic chive chimichurri sauce, and while I found the meat a little too chewy for my taste, there was none of the gaminess that I usually associate with buffalo. The lamb sirloin was absolutely perfect, with a subtle spiced yogurt and quince-ginger chutney. Seldom have I experienced lamb that good.
For dessert, the signature “Joule” Box is imperative. Vibrant slices of ruby red grapefruit, bruléed and served over snow white tapioca pearls – utterly original and positively delightful. While we were savoring the sweet and sour of the grapefruit and tapioca, chef Chirchi came out from the kitchen to introduce himself, inquire after the meal and thank us for coming. It was a gracious and authentic gesture, and one that I genuinely appreciate.
All told, it was another wonderful and satisfying experience. I love this city.