Joule Shines For a Monday Night Diner

It was finally time for me to allow Joule a chance at redemption. I had wandered down to Fremont with the vague intention to sup at Renee Erickson’s The Whale Wins, but a long-ish wait drove me across the hall. Where Whale was white and bright, Joule was dark and moody, with intricate designs covering some walls. The Whale menu does its winning in vegetables and seafood, light food designed to pop colors out from the plain décor. Joule trades on the meatier side, a steakhouse at its heart, wearing a cloak of Korean influence. Joule was not what I had come out for: I had studiously avoided it since my previous few poor experiences at the previous Wallingford location.

That was then and there, and now here I was, at the shiny new Fremont location, where the bar seating was all that was available on a Monday evening. The menu was full of tempting options, stacked with sexy ingredients from near and far, like a salmon caviar dip with yuzu aioli. To start, I picked a shrimp cocktail. The description on the menu barely did it justice, offering just hints at what was to come: ginger beer and Chinese celery. In fact, the stack of gently-cooked shrimp was glazed in a tangy cocktail sauce and dotted with roasted grape tomatoes. Then, at the bottom, a dark green pool of sauce, barely identifiable flavors, pesto-good looks, and a reminder of what delightful intricacy can hide behind simple menu descriptions.

Despite having avoided Joule’s Wallingford location after two mediocre, over-priced meals, and one inedibly bad Urban Barbecue experience (to this day the only meal so bad I paid for it and walked out without eating it), I knew from my many excellent meals at Revel what chefs Seif Chirchi and Rachel Yang were capable of. I just wasn’t sure why they didn’t cook those meals for me. This trip to Joule turned that corner. The first of my vegetable side dishes, Chinese broccoli with walnut pesto, was tauntingly vegetal, glowing with the virtue of greens, crunching with freshness, and yet harboring unending nutty, complex flavor from the sauce. The creamed Swiss chard took the opposite tack, burying the pristine earthiness in a barrage of richness. Even small spoonfuls were overwhelming, flavor, texture, all of it laden with intensity. A side dish that stole the tastebuds’ attention from the supposed star of the show, the steak.

The steak was the lone disappointment of this new Joule, not because it the meat didn’t taste great (it did), nor because it wasn’t perfectly cooked (it was). It simply retained, more than the other dishes, the biggest mistake of the other Joule: too much sweetness in the sauce. Somewhere in the translation from Korean to steakhouse, somewhere between Revel and Joule, the perfect balance crumbled, and the Sichuan peppercorn sauce on my steak brought back memories of saccharine kim chi, and strangely sugary noodles. There were odd hints of sweetness in the other dishes, but only the steak was strong enough to trigger the memory of old Joule. Thankfully it was but a minor hiccup in an otherwise smooth meal, a meal that in my book has earned Joule redemption—and my return business.

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