Already having dipped my toe into the waters of the Charlie Palmer empire in Las Vegas, it was time to explore what Charlie had to offer in a different location. The thing about CP, is that he doesn’t create one model and then replicate it in numerous locations. Instead, he creates different types of restaurants that are diverse in the types of food they serve and designed to capture the mood of the city in which they are located. Case in point, Aureole and Charlie Palmer Steak are restaurants whose only commonality is Charlie Palmer. Genre of restaurant, menus and decor are distinctly different from restaurant to restaurant. In addition, each restaurant has its own E xecutive Chef. While understandably under the tutelage of Charlie, these executive chefs bring their own originality to the table to really create a truly varied experience from restaurant to restaurant.
My next CP adventure took me to Charlie Palmer at Bloomingdale’s South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, CA. As with my visit to CP Steak in Las Vegas, I was with a large party, eight this time. Three of the party were repeat offenders from my Vegas excursion and in true fashion our party ordered a multitude of selections from the menu. Before I begin my discourse on our meal, I want to talk about the design of the restaurant.
While CP Steak in Vegas has a more traditional feel, the design of CP at Bloomingdale’s is unquestionably modern. Both the restaurant and lounge have very high ceilings, making it very open and spacious. The decor in the dining room and lounge draws subtly upon California’s wine country and “the west”. The flooring is made of reclaimed wine barrels, an oversized photograph of horses dominates the lounge area and western style slat wood benches serve as seating in the center of the dining room. The lounge area emphasizes modernity with red and citrine seating with a nod to the California theme with wrought iron partitions that mixes traditional materials with a mod feeling. The dining room is a very clean blend of white leather chairs, white modern walls and amber accents. Four amber glass panels with silhouettes of tree branches are the central focus of the dining room. All of these elements come together for a feeling of sophistication, yet it still maintains a relaxed feeling for enjoying a foodie adventure with friends or business associates.
Our table ordered a great number of appetizers for everyone to share, including: Duck Meatballs with parsnip, orange and pomegranate/Serrano Ham with Parmesan and Breadsticks/Cheese Risotto Cakes with Chorizo Aioli/Oysters with cocktail sauce and strawberry mignonette/Charred Edamame with Citrus Salt/BlueCheese Stuffed dates wrapped in bacon/Mussels in a garlic white wine sauce/Crisp Pork Belly with compressed summer melons, pickled pearl onion and sherry gastrique/Buttermilk Crisp Calamari with Lemon Honey Mayonnaise. Can you believe that all of that was ordered just as appetizers??? That’s what you get when a party of foodies gets together. Everyone concurred that each dish was a delicacy prepared perfectly. There may have been tiny portions left over in anticipation of the main course, but overall the plates were pretty well cleaned. As the sole vegetarian at the table, I sampled the Roasted Edamame and ordered the Roasted Heirloom Beet Salad with Goat Cheese Mousse, toasted hazelnuts and a beet port reduction. The presentation of the salad was beautifully presented. Long rectangular strips of beet served as a catwalk of sorts for round stacks of beets, both red and yellow, and the goat cheese mousse had a light airy whipped cream consistency with the tangy bite one expects from goat cheese. The mousse perfectly complimented the beets in flavor as did the crunchy nutty flavor of the toasted hazelnuts.
On to the main course, which while more restrained in the ordering than the appetizers was still extremely varied: Pan Roasted Sea Scallops, light and delicate with a spring pea risotto/Thyme Roasted Alaskan Halibut/ Grilled Smoked Pork Chop with a fruitful balance of apricot/New York Strip Steak grilled to perfection with a red wine au jus. Again, everyone sampled each other’s entree and again concurred that the interesting and innovative combination of flavors in each dish made them truly foodie worthy. Again as the vegetarian, the chef made me a special plate of fresh and beautifully al dente steamed asparagus with his Grilled Truffle Cheddar Cheese Sandwich. The sandwich was nicely toasted and me loving both truffles and cheddar cheese, it was a no brainer. I also had portions of some of the Charlie Palmer signature sides; crisp french fries, wild mushrooms and truffled mac and cheese. Compared to everyone else, I had eaten light, yet I was still thoroughly sated. And of course, we had sampled a good deal of the wine list, from Cabs to Zinfandels. I consider myself a wine aficionado, but I bow to one in our party who I consider to be an expert. He was very impressed with the wine list and with our selections.
As our meal wound down, we went light on desserts, sampling only the molten chocolate cake and the trio of creme brulee. The molten chocolate cake had a fudge center that was heightened with Kahlua and played with the hot/cold sensation by pairing it with a coffee ice cream.
So, after round two at a Charlie Palmer establishment, I admit to being sold and wonder why it took me so ling to dive in. I have already put on my “to do list” to visit Mr. Palmer’s other enterprises. I think that it is most fitting on my next trip home to New York that my next CP experience should be at Aureole. I can’t wait to report back to you on that anticipated dining experience.