The vision of Rebel Restaurant owners Bo Porytko and Dan Lasiy is finally a reality. The reinvention of the longtime dive bar on Brighton Boulevard and 38th Street began last March on Kickstarter as a plan for a restaurant inside Black Shirt Brewing and came to fruition on Thursday in the RiNo location they chose after realizing they would need more space. The remodel is a dramatic one, catapulting the dingy dive into its new standing as a modern eatery. Porytko says finishing touches took up until literally the last minute before Rebel's soft opening. The duo has created a bright and welcoming space with a menu that stays true to their Ukrainian background in taste and presentation while also exploring carefully chosen international flourishes.
Those include Lasiy's favorite on the menu — raw pink snapper with herbal, floral and fragrant components of herb jus, olive oil, cucumber, green tobiko (flying fish roe) and a dash of sea salt. One diner said it was like "eating a lilipad." Lasiy explains that there will always be a raw fish dish on the menu, varying depending on the quality and freshness of fish available throughout the year.
Also balancing Asian ingredients is the fried kimchi croquettes, also known as kimchi-in-one-bite, a creamy shrimp and pasta pocket covered with crunchy tempura, spam, seaweed and seated atop a fried-egg aioli sauce. Minimalist and charming vegetarian confit potatoes utilize purple and yellow fingerlings highlighted by black garlic aioli and grilled mushrooms and spring onions to let a more rustic side shine through. And in a creative, Ukranian twist on trendy chicken and waffles, Lasiy shows off with crunchy fried chicken liver paired with a soft rye pancake, honey butter, and topped with an over-easy egg.
Rebel's menu will always include a whole, roasted animal head; a meaty lamb skull is the inaugural menu's audacious offering that shows how Lasiy (who's also the chef) plans to use the tiny kitchen to balance the accessible and homey with the daring and bold. But vegetables also get their due, something that may not seem obvious at first — especially with a lamb head staring at you.
The dining room features a series of community tables surrounding a button-up black and red bar. A chalk board in the bathroom hallway welcomes artists to scribble their truth but at the moment is mostly covered in congratulatory messages to Lasiy and Porytko. A common thread woven through the space is the owners' appreciation for local art, including an exterior mural by local artists Jaime Molina and Pedro Barrios.
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Rebel is open Tuesday through Thursday from 5 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 3 to 11 p.m, and Sunday 3 from 9 p.m. (and is closed on Mondays).