Experience: A Taste of Revel

According to Google Maps, the journey from my office to the front step of the Revel Resort in Atlantic City is a relatively short 1 hour and 34 minute trip.  An invitation to join the Taste of Revel event, paired with the opportunity to cut out a little early from work last Friday, seemed destined to create the perfect gateway to the weekend.

What could possibly go wrong?

Two hours after leaving work, I had only just crossed the Walt Whitman Bridge into New Jersey.  Having experienced the rare joy of sitting in rush hour traffic both into Philadelphia and out of it, I was looking at arriving at the event exactly as it was scheduled to start, at 7pm.  Indeed, I pulled into the parking deck of Atlantic City’s newest casino hotel at exactly the three hour mark, with ten minutes to spare.

It took me twenty minutes, however, to find my way through the hotel, pick up my tickets, and find the venue.  Worth playing for?  Absolutely.

Taste of Revel was billed as a culinary showcase for much of what the new resort had to offer from a talented team of renowned chefs that includes Jose Garces, Marc Forgione, Robert Wiedmaier, Alain Allegretti and Michel Richard.  From what I was able to taste on Friday evening, it’s definitely a recipe destined for greatness.

Having grown up in New Jersey, I have a fond familiarity with Atlantic City, with memories of looking out at the hotel towers filling the horizon from the backseat of the family car.  But as I got older, my initial fascination with the buffets, boardwalk food, and cloned Asian/Italian/Deli/Seafood concepts offered by each casino gave way to a sense of frustrated limitation.  Built to appeal to gamblers and no one else, the casinos got away (for decades) with serving overpriced, standard fare to a captive audience that just wanted to cram their maws with food before heading back to the gaming floor.  The dining options at Revel are a clear step away from that formula, and a positive sign that the resort is reaching out to a new demographic that may never wager a single dollar at the property, yet drop just as much coin on food and entertainment.

I was able to secure a few moments with Nilou Motamed, Features Director and Senior Correspondent for Travel + Leisure magazine, the sponsor, along with its sister publication Food & Wine, of the weekend’s events.  Unlike my experience, Motamed had never really been to Atlantic City, so she was seeing Revel’s debut from a completely different perspective.  After sharing our surprise at such small details as the availability of Mexican Coke throughout the resort, we talked about Revel’s impact and what this cadre of chef-driven restaurants means for the future of dining on the Boardwalk.  Motamed noted that the public’s exposure to chefs as public figures, through reality television and increased food-focused programming in general, has increased the demand for the type of innovative, high-end dining that Revel offers.

So what’s good at Revel?  I made my way through the crowd, performing quick, surgical strikes to relieve the tables of their burdens, one plate at a time.  The Amada crew offered Jose Garces’ take on the traditional “grilled beef on a stick” concept, a spice-forward presentation that was tender, assertive, and the perfect introduction to the new level of dining now available on the Boardwalk.  From Azure by Allegretti, a cup of classic bouillabaisse, stacked with snapper, monkfish, shrimp, and mussels in a tomato broth tinged golden with saffron. One, Revel’s American grill restaurant, offered a playful take on a lobster roll, heaped high atop a miniature bun and topped with diced mango and avocado.  Standout dishes included a mini crabcake, along with crab mac and cheese accompanied by an onion-bacon tart, both courtesy of Mussel Bar by Robert Wiedmaier.  Other passed hors d’oeuvres, of no particular affiliation, brought a lobster corn dog and a small ice cream cone filled with pearls of raw tuna.

After the initial kickoff event, I headed to a different part of the resort for a Pastry Party hosted by chef Michel Richard.  Richard, a multiple James Beard Award winner,  worked the room as attendees noshed on passed plates of eclairs, caramel mousse, and a signature “chocolate bar” – a crisp chocolate truffle base topped with a rich whipped chocolate ganache, dusted with cocoa.

As I was about to leave to head home, Michel Richard paused in front of me just as I placed one of his desserts into my mouth.  Like a larger-than-life culinary Alfred Hitchcock, he watched me  and waited patiently for my reaction.  Unable to speak, I gave the chef an enthusiastic thumbs up.  A silent nod of agreement from Richard, and we headed our separate ways, both pleased with the results of his efforts.

My Twitter coverage of this event can be found at Storify.