ATLANTIC CITY - By noon, dozens of people at Revel were sitting on neon-colored stools at Jose Garces’ Distrito Cantina, doing shots of tequila, drinking Dos Equis beer and waiting for their fish tacos to arrive from the adjacent Guapas Tacos truck.
It was a similar scene at the truck, where a line of people waited to order modern Mexican cuisine from the Philadelphia-based Iron Chef and then devour them on picnic tables placed on faux green grass carpeting.
Across the hall, Robert Wiedmaier’s outdoor patio at Mussel Bar was even more packed.
“There’s an hour wait to sit outside the Mussel bar and it’s not even 12:30,” the Washington, D.C.-based chef said. “I’m just amazed at how many people are here already. There’s probably 100 people sitting out on the patio.”
Distrito and Mussel Bar were the only two restaurants open for lunch at Revel’s soft opening Monday. And only one other would be open by dinner: the New York-based Italian restaurant Lugo Caffe.
People were told it was a soft opening, so they shouldn’t have been surprised by some kinks being worked out.
Lunch at Distrito, for example, took a long time - more than 30 minutes to receive an order of pork tacos – delicious, but a bit on the cold side - and even longer to receive the accompanying nachos, which were hot and tasty but arrived without meat as ordered. There was a brief power loss. And Wiedmaier couldn’t even serve mussels.
“They came in and they were these little, bitty things that I just wouldn’t serve people,” said Wiedmaier, who only opened the patio of Mussel Bar to control the crowd, promising a full opening by next week. “That’s not how I run a restaurant. We are actually lucky to be open today. We are basically serving pizza and whatever else our kitchen gets out. You might get a filet. You might get a ribeye. You might not be sure, but it’s going to be great whatever it is.”
All three restaurants open Monday pushed hard to open. And workers, despite the issues, seemed eager to please, offering suggestions, apologizing for slow food service and offering smiles through difficult moments. When the power went out, for example, it shut the gas off in the Guapos truck, causing further delays. In turn, Distrito’s restaurant’s manager bought those sitting at the bar a round of frozen margaritas, eliciting a response as if everyone there won a jackpot.
“I thought that was nice and the way it should be,” said Al Jewitt, 57, of Margate, who came to have lunch with his girlfriend and chose Distrito. “I thought the food was good, but I was a little put back by plastic cups. You can’t be serving $11 or $12 margaritas and get a plastic cup.”
By midday, things seemed more under control. Tacos were being delivered faster. And more than pizza was coming out of Wiedmaier’s kitchen. Inside the restaurant, he hosted internationally-acclaimed chef and longtime friend Michel Richard, who will have three concepts inside Revel, to a late lunch consisting of flatbreads, salads, crab cakes, steaks, champagne and beer, with the highlight being the braised short rib with homemade biscuits.
“This is a fun, exciting place,” Richard said. “I can’t wait to open my restaurants.”
By dinner, things were running smoothly. Luggo was open, offering everything from pizza to pasta to Mediterranean branzino, and handling a very crowded restaurant with amazing grace for a first day.
The modern trattoria’s serving times for dinner was above average. An order of ravioli with ricotta, spinach and butter sage arrived in less than 10 minutes. And it was exceptional. Lugo not only makes its own pasta, but it makes different dough for the different types of pasta it offers. The overall experience was exceptional for an opening night.
Part of the reason for the experience is that management played it smart, not accepting too many reservations and making sure the experience was a pleasant one.
“Could we have done 500 covers tonight? Yes,” said assistant general manager Alex Fiorentiono. “But we wanted to make sure our first night wasn’t overwhelming. We wanted to do it right.”
When Revel “officially” opens Memorial Day weekend, all 14 restaurants should be open, including American Cut steakhouse from New York-based Iron Chef Marc Forgione, three restaurants from Richard including Central, a Mediterranean restaurant by New York’s Alain Allegretti, three eateries from Garces, including the casual Village Whiskey that specializes in burgers, and another steakhouse that will be more female friendly, named One, and more.
Revel promises more restaurants will come online each week.
“The buzz of this place is so fantastic, we really pushed hard to open for the preview, but we’re not going to overdo it. We are going to do it right,” Wiedmaier said. “When you have an opening of this magnitude, you always have problems. But it’s all good – it’s great, actually. Hopefully, this morning was the last time you’ll ever see empty seats outside Mussel Bar.”
WHAT TO EAT AT REVEL THIS WEEK
Revel may not have a lot of choices for diners yet, but that doesn’t mean you can’t eat well. Here are some suggestions of what to eat this week.
Distrito Cantina/Guapos Tacos
Drink: Roboto Guapo ($11), a frozen margarita served as a Prickly Pear or Pomegranate.
Appetizer: Nachos ($8) with black beans, tomato, queso mixto, jalapeno, chile de arbol and radish. Add meat for 4 bucks. And the guacamole ($8), creamy mashed avocado, jalapeno, Cotija cheese and homemade tortilla chips.
Entrée: Al Pastor ($8), two pork tacos served in flour tortillas with black beans and pineapple salsa; or the signature Pescado ($9), two crispy mahi mahi fish tacos served in flour tortillas with chipotle remoulade, pickled red cabbage and avocado.
Drink: Antigoon, a Belgian-style beer brewed for Wiedmaier
Appetizer: Lobster and asparagus flatbread ($20) with crème fraiche, fontina cheese and lemon; black angus steak tartar ($18) with Kennebec kettle chips, quail egg, horseradish and toasted country bread; and Mussel Bar Caesar salad ($12) with crispy chickpea croutons and anchovy parmesan.
Entrée: 52-ounce porterhouse ($110) that is herb-crusted and good for four people for an appetizer or for at least two people for an entrée; and East Coast jumbo lump crabcake ($36) with mustard remoulade and frisee salad.
Drink: A bottle of wine or Peroni beer.
Appetizer: Kobe meatballs ($12) on baked polenta with marinara sauce; and pancetta-wrapped prawns ($14) with rosemary lentils.
Entrée: Homemade ricotta and spinach ravioli ($20) with a butter sage sauce; and braised short rib ($33) with creamy polenta.
Dessert: homemade tiramisu ($9) with a caramel sauce