When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out -- and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).
Restaurant: The Revival Location: 603 W. University Drive, Tempe Open: About five months Eats: Mexican Price: $25+/person
It's been a roller coaster of a year for the restaurant located at 603 West University Drive. In June, it closed as Mucho Gusto, a longstanding neighborhood Mexican spot, and reopened a month later as The Revival. Owner Chad Withycombe brought on chef Kelly Fletcher, formerly of House of Tricks, to introduce an eclectic New American menu. It was interesting, but as the summer wore on, the restaurant struggled to find its identity. Finally last month, Fletcher announced he was revamping the menu and bringing back Mexican cuisine.
To put it bluntly, that was a very good decision.
Fletcher's new "All Day" menu breaks things down into four sections. There are two soups and four salads, and the rest of the menu is split in half: small plates and big plates. The small plates can be enjoyed as starters or shared tapas-style among the group.
The braised duck taquitos ($10) are a good place to start. The order comes with three fried taquitos stuffed with a simple but enjoyable braised duck and served under a pile of lettuce, cheese, cilantro, and radish. There certainly are a lot of flavors going on, but that doesn't mean you can't appreciate the spicy-creamy blend of tomatillo sauce and poblano crema.
The empanadas ($8) also are a hit. The two cheese-filled pastries come smothered in salsa verde, baja sauce, and cotija, meaning there's lots to taste besides just the gooey melted cheese inside. An artful pile of green onions cuts through the layers of sauce in a perfect way.
But if you're going for anything off the small plates section, don't skip the steamed mussels ($13). Served in a creamy chipotle broth accented with pieces of housemade chorizo, this dish delivers a subtle heat that builds up on you as you eat but never quite overpowers the briny flavor of the mussels themselves.
You'll need the entire side plate of salted and buttered bread to sop up the extra sauce.
On the big plates side, we love the pork osso buco ($21). Calabrian chile gives the tender piece of bone-in red chile pork just a touch of spice, while roasted corn salsa provides sweetness and texture. We didn't even use the side of slightly dry tortillas, opting to spoon up bites of black beans, red chile sauce, and cotija cheese instead.
The chipotle-guajillo braised short rib ($18) also is a success, combining a beautiful hunk of fork-tender short rib with corn and sauce. Individually, the red sauce tasted like generic enchiladas sauce, but together the flavors make a satisfying dish.
It's worth mentioning that with just two diners, we polished off all five of these dishes almost entirely, which is to say the portion sizes at The Revival aren't large at all. This fact and the price point mean the dinner/all day menu doesn't lend itself to student diners -- though the lunch menu consists of a short selection of cheaper options.
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The drinks menu still includes some of the cocktails that were on the menu when The Revival opened and it still remains one of the weaker points here (perhaps even more so now that the kitchen has found its groove). The Green Machine ($7), a blend of gin, cilantro, coriander simple syrup, lime, and pickle will be good if you like botanical flavors and the tartness of lime and pickle. There's little sense of the cilantro or coriander as far as we could tell.
And the house Vanilla Orange Margarita had similarly elusive flavors. If you close your eyes and think of Dreamsicles while you drink it, you might be able to pick up notes of orange and vanilla. Regardless, it's a still a solid margarita for the $6.50 price tag.
If one thing's for sure after a meal at The Revival, it's that Fletcher is in no way reviving the tired old Mucho Gusto. With this new menu in place, it seems The Revival is ready to take a place in the forefront of the exciting and expanding Tempe dining scene.