Last Friday we were in Wallingford with no particular idea of where we would have dinner. Or rather, I had ten different ideas of where we might have dinner, but no reservations had been made and I wasn’t craving anything in particular. I’ve been seeing some intriguing reviews of a place called Joule, so when I caught sight of it tucked in beside the Teahouse Kuan Yin, we thought we’d give it a try. It features small plates with a combination of French and Korean flavors and techniques, which sounded fascinating.
Given the amount of press the place has gotten (the chefs are semifinalists for two James Beard awards!), I thought it unlikely we’d get in without a reservation, but there were just two seats left at the bar when we arrived. The hostess and the waiter were very gracious, and we settled ourselves happily. The bar looks over the spotlessly clean open kitchen, and we were able to watch much of the food prep, although it wasn’t on stage the way it was at Sel Gris. The mood felt casual, and the chefs seemed relaxed and comfortable, occasionally coming over to the bar and asking the customers’ opinions on various dishes.
The first thing to arrive was a little dish of something handed to us by the chef. Even after she explained what it was (a deep fried rice flour bun?) I still wasn’t sure I could identify it, but it was like…the ultimate fried thing. It was crisp on the outside, soft on the inside, beautifully greasy with a good amount of salt and hot pepper. Lordy. Good thing there were only three pieces.
Our first dish was a salad composed of halved, boiled eggs, soaked in soy and topped with a sprinkle of scallions and tiny fried anchovies, accompanied with a swirl of mustardy dressing. I have to say I adored this (did someone say fried anchovy?), although it was intensely salty. It reminded me strongly of the delicious sludge left in the bottom of the bowl after eating soba with boiled egg pieces and lots of soy sauce.
The second dish was a small pan of shiitake mushroom lasagna. It was rich and creamy, the pasta was delicate and tender, and the pictures we took are absolutely hideous so you can’t see them.
Next up, J got a short rib. This proved amusing, since as soon as the order was made we could see the short rib get placed on the grill, where it sat quietly next to a pair of whole fish while we ate our first courses. When it finally arrived it was juicy, with a full beefy flavor – but what really blew J away was the little tangle of enoki mushrooms with whole mustard seeds. Not only was the flavor excitingly pungent, but the texture of both the mushrooms and the seeds really “popped” in the mouth. Very cool.
While J polished off his short rib, I got a bowl of spicy beef soup with leeks and creme fraiche. Oh my, this was good. After two bites it shot up onto my Best Soup of All Time list. It was spicy, creamy and salty, with bits of incredibly tender beef and some sort of julienned vegetable lurking at the bottom of the bowl.
At this point we were mostly full, but feeling a certain lack of vegetable, since we hadn’t ordered any of the side pickles or salads. We asked for an order of wilted spinach, which arrived quickly in a little pot with a pool of hazelnut-scented cream. It was a very welcome foil to all the salty, spicy meat. Next time we’ll know to order pickles or vegetables with the other dishes.
We looked fondly at the dessert menu, but we had a concert to get to. We are absolutely coming back to Joule, though – I need to know what everything else on the menu tastes like!