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Revel Raises the Bar

The deCarions’ hot new downtown spot is their hipster complement to Esin Restaurant.


Photography by Mitch TobiasAs I walk into Revel, expecting a nice restaurant, I have a revelation. Revel is a bar. The wraparound river-washed granite counter defines the space, its right angles echoed in the recessed ceiling. Floating glass shelves carrying small-batch spirits glow against the black back wall. Lights that look like shot glasses dangle over a communal table of rich stained maple.

You get the idea. Downtown Danville’s new Revel is slick, hip, and cool. And its light and modern Cal-Med menu makes one take it seriously. Passersby are drawn to the action by Revel’s transparent facade. It’s quite a change from the leaded-glass front of the former tenants, Crown and Anchor pub, commonly known as “The Crown.”

Sixteen years ago, Esin and Curtis deCarion opened a café in a San Ramon shopping center featuring ingredient-driven cuisine based on the best local products. That culinary style is a prerequisite for any serious restaurant today. But in 1998, it was as rare as ahi tartare east of the Caldecott.

Now, with Revel mirroring trendsetting urban bistros, the deCarions are once again revitalizing—perhaps revolutionizing—our restaurant scene. You might say Revel, which stays open until midnight, is the hipster complement to the stately Esin, located in the Rose Garden center across the freeway. (Café Esin relocated three times, increasing capacity with each move.)

Revel and Esin have different culinary imperatives. At Esin, dine on lamb loin; at Revel, share a pair of Mediterranean lamb sliders. At Esin, tackle a grilled New York steak; at Revel, split a “hot small plate” of ethereal pork and veal meatballs.

And at bar-focused Revel, you can choose a wine from the 50 under $50 list, an IPA from the line of craft beers, a nine- or 18-ounce carafe of fine wine on tap, or a cocktail from the Revel ‘Riginals list—including the delightful In Giverny, perfumed with jasmine and elderflower. If you’re not sure what to order, just ask for help. When we considered a glass of Pinot Noir with tender, grilled baby octopus, our server steered us toward an Italian Salento Rosso, an illuminating choice.

There are several seating options other than the central bar, including front and back patios where Curtis envisions spit roasting pigs for private parties. On this visit, we’re sitting in a recess of cushy booths—dubbed “lovers lane”—alongside a sleek display of 600 wine bottles.

We order one bar bite, two small plates, and lobster sliders, which turns out to be plenty. The dishes
arrive one at a time, starting with garlicky hummus slick with sweet paprika oil. The delicate octopus rests atop a mélange of fritto misto starring chickpeas
and cauliflower florets (think popcorn). A dish of smoky grits with head-on shrimp offers soulful satisfaction; a dash of sherry adds intrigue. Expensive lobster sliders are tantalizing, too, but the sweet meat is lost in the buns.

On a second visit, we find a niche alongside the bar and opt for two entrées. My house-made spinach tagliatelle completes a rich and saucy tumble of braised rabbit and whole Alba mushrooms. Meanwhile, flecks of green olive and creamy caramelized fennel enliven my companion’s supple salmon. These “larger plates” are utterly delicious and well complemented by Revel’s heavy silverware, black linen napkins, and fine glassware.

Despite these adornments, Revel has no attitude. When, after paying the check, I step into the kitchen to say hi to Curtis, he’s butchering chickens, not carrying a clipboard. “We’re just cooks,” he says.

Esin deCarion is known throughout the county for her desserts, but for Revel, she’s put aside her pies, cobblers, and bread puddings. Here, she serves tiny beignets with dual dipping sauces, and she uses Twinkie molds for her meringue-filled devil’s food rolls coated in dark chocolate.

These desserts are a great example of how Revel continues the quality of Esin Restaurant, but packages it in a fun and modern way. Or as Curtis puts it: “This is not a second Esin. This is a bar.”  

But it’s a bar not limited to the young and single. On Revel’s opening night, I asked a slightly rumpled, professorial-looking gentleman if dinner had met his expectations.

“Yes,” he said without hesitation. “And when you’ve eaten at Esin for as long as we have, you expect a lot.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Contact: 331 Hartz Ave., Danville, (925) 208-1758, revelkitchenandbar.com.

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