Restaurant Charlie / Bar Charlie

While the main restaurant remains open, it is with a heavy heart I report that Bar Charlie is on its last legs. As of February 2010, Bar Charlie is only open Fridays and Saturdays. In addition, the 14 course meal, described below, is no longer available; only a fixed menu, 10 course meal is available. Once the New York branch opens, Chef Hiroo will move on.

Update as of March 19, 2010: Well, it happened. Restaurant Charlie has shut its doors for good. It would just be too painful to move this restaurant to the list of the dearly departed, so I'm leaving it here for now.

Hiroo Nagahara
Chef Hiroo Nagahara, presiding over Bar Charlie

Palazzo (last visit: November 2009).
Seafood / Japanese.

Restaurant Charlie is Charlie Trotter's second restaurant. His first - Charlie Trotter's in Chicago - is highly praised, although there are a few criticisms. Gayot notes that "Trotter exhibits flashes of brilliance [but] sometimes...his creations can be so esoteric that explanations are needed." Still, it sounded like a very interesting place.

The Menu
Restaurant Charlie describes itself as seafood and vegetable focused, using seasonally driven ingredients. The main dining area offers three course meals, with entrées such as Slow Poached Char with Savoy Cabbage and Poularde with Venezuelan Chocolate & Hazelnut.

If you're looking for something a bit different, the other side of the restaurant - Bar Charlie - "offers a true Japanese Kaiseki style dining experience. With an emphasis on the ocean, the menu will also incorporate warm seafood selections as well as meat and game dishes. Unlike a traditional sushi bar, our Kaiseki 'tasting menu' follows a natural progression of flavor which goes from light to fullest that is also customized to your preferences." Wine or sake pairings are available. Bar Charlie offers five, eight, and fourteen course meals. The five and eight course meals have fixed menus; the fourteen course meal has no set menu; it is set after discussion with the diner about his or her tastes.

Not to be outdone, the main dining area also offers tasting menus, including a fourteen course meal that includes some items from Bar Charlie.

The Atmosphere

Bar Charlie:

Bar Charlie  Bar Charlie
The restaurant is divided into several areas: main room; semi-private 15-20 person area; semi-private 8-10 person area; Bar Charlie; a private table overlooking the kitchen.

I've eaten at Bar Charlie many times. It's a food bar very similar to a sushi bar, with about 15 comfortable stools. The bar is made of gray and black stone. Some walls are made of a mottled gray, tan and white stone, perhaps marble or granite; other walls are of dark wood. The floor looks like thin strips of wood arranged in squares, but might be ceramic.

During my first two visits, Bar Charlie was very quiet and serene. This was in part due to its emptiness. I was sometimes the only diner; a few others came and went, but it was never crowded. This worked to my advantage, as the chef, maitre d' and hostess all gave me considerable attention. Music played at a moderate level, yet somehow seemed to softly blend into the background; it matched the setting well. On my third visit, things were a little different. There was a dining special on offer, and as a result the bar was almost full. Nonetheless, service did not suffer, and the atmosphere was still serene.

After my first visit, I wrote: "Maybe it was because I expressed interest in many of the courses. Maybe it was because they saw me taking notes. Maybe it's my dashing good looks and sparkling personality. OK, maybe not. Maybe it was because they'd just opened, and the Bar Charlie area was nearly empty. In any case, I got the royal treatment. The chef spent a long time describing the dishes in loving detail. The maitre d' stopped by frequently. The hostess spent much of the evening attending to me, and at the end provided a tour of the restaurant, including the kitchen. I was impressed by the cleanliness of the kitchen, and the private table overlooking the kitchen seems like a lot of fun."

My opinion remains the same after multiple visits. Service is attentive and friendly, and chef Hiroo Nagahara is a delight. If I weren't so terrible with names and faces, I'd mention many other people, but I think I remember a couple of names. Alexandra, who seems to have multiple responsibilities, is very knowledgable and personable; I hope it's not impolitic to note that she is also quite attractive! Conrad is a sommelier who seems genuinely interested in finding wines I'll enjoy, and describing them in a way understandable even to an almost non-drinker like myself.

The Meals
If you have the time, reading about the meals in order will give you the best overall feel for the restaurant. However, if you're into immediate gratification then skip to Meal #2. Not only was it even better than meal #1, but there are pictures! You can also skip to Meal #3.

Since meal #3, I've continued to eat at Bar Charlie. The food is as good, and as inventive, as ever. I don't think I can provide much value by adding even more words to this review, so I won't provide individual reviews of the meals.

Meal #1 - Bar Charlie (May 2008)
I chose the 14 course meal at Bar Charlie. Presentation of each course was second only to Joël Robuchon. Service was informal, as befitting a food bar, yet was very attentive and gracious. The chef or his assistant presented each course, describing each in detail (e.g., the differences between cuttlefish and squid). The hostess moved the plate from the chefs hands to me, and provided new silverware or fresh chopsticks for each course. At first, courses were provided fairly rapidly. As the meal wore on, delivery slowed down. Whether this was intentional or merely a factor of how busy they were, it was fortuitous, as I needed more time to rest between courses as I got fuller.

OK, on to the meal itself. The courses were:

Cuttlefish "Somen" with Asian Pear & Chervil. Thin strips of cuttlefish and julienned Asian pear. Sesame oil and chervil provided a strong but agreeable flavor to an otherwise mild dish. Accompanying this was one very thin slice of Asian pear, deep fried like a potato chip and tasting almost as if it had been candied. An interesting start.

Tai (Japanese Snapper) with Braised Rishio (sp? I can't read my own notes), Kombu and Lime. Three pieces of tai. Mild, but pieces of lime added bite, and the seaweed provided an interesting note. Another good dish, although not one to knock your socks off.

Egg Drop Soup with Maine Lobster & Santa Barbara Sea Urchin. This is an example of what I consider to be the mark of a great restaurant. This course sounded a little bit interesting, but not all that special. Wrong! It was a small portion of strongly flavored soup, including a poached quail egg. The lobster and sea urchin were delicious, the latter imparting the flavor of the sea to the soup. An excellent dish, it was my favorite among the first seven courses.

Tuna Two Ways: Spanish Blue Fin Tartare with Red Bell Pepper, Mango & Mizuna; Japanese Blue Fin Chu-Toro with Yuzu & Daikon. The tartare was finely diced, with small amounts of three sauces; I especially liked the dark green Mizuna puree. A very good item. Even better was the Japanese blue fin tuna. To me, it tasted a lot like Oh-toro, the even fattier grade of tuna. Yuzu gelée was a nice accompaniment.

Nigiri Trio: Arctic Char with Barley, Miso & Chrysanthemum; Needlefish with Preserved Celery & Grapefruit; Shima Saba with Aged Ponzu & Lemon. The Arctic char was very good; a lot like salmon but better. I remember that needlefish was also very good, but all my notes say is that it was "hard to describe." Best of all was a really good piece of shima saba. All three came with good sauces.

Kampachi with Kumquat, Pickled Pork Belly & Cucumber. The quality of the fish was excellent: rich, smooth texture, and great flavor. A piece of pork belly in the center of the rolled up fish was a pleasant surprise.

Tempura of Hand Harvested Sea Scallop with Roasted Beets, Turnips & Black Sea Water. A large scallop was sliced into thirds, dipped in a delicate tempura batter and barely cooked through. Its sweet taste was offset by black sea water, a combination of ingredients I failed to write down that had a sea/fishy flavor. This was a very good dish indeed.

Steamed Alaskan Halibut with Asparagus, Garlic & Heirloom Tomato. The barely cooked fish had a very mild flavor, but was accompanied by strong flavors on the side, including garlic cloves and a sweet puree.

Fried Spiced Globe Artichoke with Honey, Pine Nuts & Mint. A very unusual dish. Spiced with whole and crushed fennel, cumin and perhaps coriander, which added both flavor and crunch. Reasonably good, but a little too odd.

Elysian Fields Lamb Chop with Cherries & Almonds. The cherry flavor was intense; the almond flavor was subtle. There also were two cherry "chips," cherry vinaigrette and pickled lamb. Very good.

Soup of Braised Oxtail with Black Pig, Scallion and Toasted Japanese Rice. The chef described the dish as "homey." While the pork and other ingredients were good, what really made the dish was the intensely flavored broth. Another very good dish.

Ōmi Japanese Beef with Fresh Wasabi & Umeboshi. Three very small squares of strip loin, perhaps an ounce in total - but what beef! It was buttery rich and tender and flavorful and smooth. It didn't exactly melt in my mouth, but it didn't really need chewing either. I remarked that I wasn't a beef expert, but that it was superb. The chef spent several minutes describing the beef to me. As I had previously read, Kobe beef is the most famous premium beef from Japan, but not necessarily the best. Ōmi is one competitor, and is the official beef of the Japanese Imperial Household. The beef that Bar Charlie served was graded A5-10, nearly the highest grade possible. I've read that A5-11 is sometimes served in a few top restaurants in the U.S., but that the highest grade (A5-12) is available only in Japan, for ridiculous sums of money. In any case, this was my favorite dish among the last seven courses.

Lychee Sorbet. A palate cleanser, but a good one - nice and tart.

Mint Infused Strawberries with Strawberry Sorbet, Lime Granite & Hempseed Ice Cream. The strawberries and strawberry sorbet were good. The hempseed ice cream, with a vaguely nutty flavor, was both interesting and very good. The lime granite was excellent: very sour, with a clean taste.

Steamed Cacao Nib Cake with Sour Candied Kumquats & 99% Cacao Ice Cream. A great ending to the meal. The cacao nib cake was interesting, with the cacao nibs adding both crunch and a nice bitterness, but was "merely" very good, as was some chocolate ice cream. However, there was also some excellent tangerine sorbet: sweet, sour, flavorful, clean tasting.

Given that alcohol tends to put me to sleep, especially after a day spent hiking, I restricted myself to a single glass of Riesling - plus a complimentary glass of sake.

Meal #2 - Bar Charlie (November 2008)
I again selected the 14 course meal, but there was a change since May. Instead of a fixed menu, the 14 courses change to best suit the diner. In my case, they knew what I had eaten last time, asked about my preferences (will eat anything; like bold flavors, variety of flavors and contrast in textures), and planned the menu accordingly. Here's the menu that came with the meal:

A Few Words About Alcohol. Being the cheap drunk that I am, I ordered but a single glass of sake - and failed to write down its name. All I remember is that it was unpasteurized, and was fruity and smooth. Pretty good - and it went well with the first few courses.

During the course of the meal, four other drinks mysteriously made their way to me, courtesy of the server/hostess/sake sommelier. They're described under the courses during which they were served. about all those ingredients in each course... As you read my descriptions of each course, you'll see that I usually specify as many of the ingredients as possible. I do this because one of the wonderful things about the food here was that the ingredients didn't just blend together, but frequently stood out on their own. The second bite of a dish might be very different from the first, and so on to the third and fourth bites. Yes, the ingredients complemented each other, but also had their own identity. I sometimes would eat several items together, and sometimes eat them one after the other; each method provided a different experience.

...and the procession of courses. Courses had a natural progression, described by chef Hiroo Nagahara as raw, then cooked, then savory.

Course 1: Japanese Snapper with Black Grape & Celery.

Japanese snapper with celery root, celery leaf, grape pieces, grade reduction, something crunchy (salt crystals?) and more. The snapper was especially rich; the chef said that Japanese snapper is fattiest, and best, this time of year. As I mentioned above, the combination of ingredients was very good, both taken together and eaten individually. This was a great start to the meal.

Course 2: Shime Saba with Olives & Citrus.

Japanese mackerel with olive reduction, gelatin cubes, a candied orange slice, some sorts of greens, and more. OK, from now on, I won't even bother saying "and more." The fish was strong but not too strong, oily and rich.

Course 3: Fanny Bay Oyster with Horseradish, Hops Amazake & Razor Clams.

Oysters, razor clams, and a plethora of ingredients I couldn't identify. This dish had so many contrasts: soft; firm; crunchy; chewy; sour; bitter; slightly sweet. I wish I could do a better job of describing it, but it was excellent!

My first complimentary drink was a glass DeuS beer, vintage 2006. Like Champagne, it's fermented on its lees. It was smooth (not bitter) and slightly sweet. I'm not much of a beer fan, but this was good.

Course 4: Spanish Blue Fin Tuna Sashimi with Umeboshi & Sea Water.

I took almost no notes for this one, so the pictures will have to do. All I wrote down was "excellent plus!" - my favorite course so far.

Course 5: Spanish Blue Fin Tartare with Seaweed & Daikon.

More bluefin tuna, this time very finely minced. Accompanying it was hijiki seaweed, seaweed reduction with squid ink, diced Japanese radish, micro chives, what might have been cucumber, and a bitter green that might have been watercress. I don't like the idea of chopping up such superb fish, but it worked - it was every bit as good as the previous dish.

Course 6: Steamed Tasmanian Ocean Trout with Pearled Barley & Fennel.

Tasmanian ocean trout served three ways -- partially cooked fish; a piece of crispy skin; roe -- but that was just the beginning to this very odd dish. Among the myriad ingredients were miso ice cream and skinless ravioli. In place of skin, the ravioli was enveloped in what appeared to be some sort of gelée. I was pretty skeptical when this course was presented, and indeed there were so many contrasting flavors and textures that it easily could have been a mess. However, it actually worked. Even the miso ice cream contributed to the dish. I didn't enjoy course #6 quite as much as the prior two courses, but it was still excellent.

Course 7: Diver Sea Scallop with Hearts of Palm & Sesame.

One piece of sea scallop, hearts of palm prepared several ways, what might have been polenta as a base, and sesame seeds in a couple of preparations. The scallop was good but standard, and nothing in the dish was outstanding. This dish was very good, but I think it suffered in comparison to the three excellent previous courses.

Course 8: Home Made Smoked Tofu with Pumpkin & Bonito.

Very firm smoked tofu with pumpkin puree, dried bonito, soybeans, and something crunchy. The homemade tofu was very good, as was the combination of ingredients.

Course 9: Sushi Rice Risotto with Maitake Mushrooms & Cilantro.

Risotto made from sushi grade rice, maitake mushrooms, and uni (sea urchin). Interestingly, no cream or cheese was used in the risotto; chef Hiroo said that uni gave it "cremosity." The dish had a very strong mushroom flavor - a plus for a fungus lover like me. The California sea urchin was excellent. I enjoyed this dish a lot, but the strong, exotic flavors might turn off some people.

An interesting drink arrived with this course. It was made with mushrooms (!) and cardamom - a Bar Charlie original. Possessing a very earthy flavor, it went very well with the mushrooms in the risotto.

Course 10: Elysian Fields Lamb Chop with Figs & Marcona Almonds.

Elysian Fields (Pennsylvania) lamb chop, lamb bacon, fig, fig confit, almonds, and a specific combination of spices whose name I've forgotten. The lamb chop was very good; more importantly, the combination of ingredients worked very well together.

Course 11: Ōmi Japanese Beef with Organic Fuji Apple & Persimmon.

Three generous double bites of Ōmi beef. As I mentioned in my prior meal's review, Ōmi beef comes from Japan and is on a par with true Kobe beef. As with Kobe, Ōmi beef comes in various grades, and Bar Charlie offers one of the higher grades available in the United States (A5-10). To die for. The accompaniments were fine, but merely a sideline. Tied with courses #4 and #5 as my favorites.

The next drink of the evening was another Bar Charlie original - an "MF." A small brandy glass was rinsed with a super smoky/peaty scotch (I believe it was Laphroaig). The scotch was then discarded. Left behind was an intense smoky aroma. The drink itself had several other ingredients, including pomegranate juice. All I remember is that it was very unusual, but a very good match for the beef.

Course 12: Pomegranate Sorbet.

Pomegranate sorbet, persimmon granita, a slice of persimmon and something crunchy. Simple and clean tasting, this was one step up from a palate cleanser - a good start for the dessert courses.

Course 13: Steamed Kabocha with Smoked Sultana Raisins & Sherry Granita.

Kabocha squash cake, pumpkin seeds and sherry granita. The granita was odd, with a bitterness from sherry; interesting, but not a favorite of mine.

Course 14: Milk Chocolate Cheesecake with Roasted Marshmallow & Milk Chocolate-Graham Mud.

Milk chocolate cheesecake with milk chocolate ganache, toasted marshmallow, foam and crumbled Graham crackers - a gourmet version of Smores. At the time, I rated this merely very good, but in retrospect it probably deserved an even higher rating. The problem is that I was uncomfortably full by this point!

Course 15: Baked Ganache with Cilantro Phyllo & Chocolate Raspberry Sorbet.

When the chef told me he was sending out an extra course, all I could do was mentally groan. Not more food! However, the chocolate lover in me rejoiced when I saw what it was: very rich chocolate ganache that was somehow baked, tasting almost like flourless chocolate cake but softer and even richer. Another item rated TDF (to die for). Accompanying the ganache was very good raspberry-cocoa sorbet, raspberry gelée, raspberries, a couple of sauces and some chocolate garnish. As full as I was, I still polished off this dessert.

The final drink of the evening was a glass of sake: Kamoizumi (junmai daiginjo) "Autumnal Elixir." I was too full, too drunk and too tired to write anything down other than the word "good." Sorry.

Course 16: Candies & Confections.

Pear gelée, nougat with cherry and chocolate, chocolate crunch, and chocolate with a liquor center. Completely unnecessary, but that didn't stop me from trying each of them.

Meal #3 - Bar Charlie (May 2009)
I failed to take home a printed menu, so my course descriptions aren't as accurate, or as complete, as my prior meal. However, the pictures should help. I decided to go with drink pairings, but with the caveat that I'm a cheap drunk, so the number and size of pourings should be kept to a dull roar. I'll try to describe the libations, but don't expect much.

Course 1: Japanese Snapper with Pickled Grape.
(2007 Prosecco)

The fish was smooth and a little rich; excellent. The Prosecco was slightly sweet and fruity; a good match.

Course 2: Shime Saba with Diced Olive, Olive Puree and Lime.
(Unfiltered sake [junmai ginjo])

Another rich fish, but with a much stronger taste than the previous course. Very good if you like this sort of thing - which I do. The high grade sake was unfiltered, which gives it a different taste from typical sakes. It was smooth, and slightly rich tasting.

Course 3: Fanny Bar Oysters with Green Tea and Chamomile.

I don't like oysters. Or so I say. However, this dish was excellent - my favorite of the first five courses. The accompanying ingredients were just right.

Course 4: Blue Fin Tuna with Umeboshi Puree and Seawater Foam.
(2005 Hans Lang Charta Riesling)

The umeboshi puree was excellent, as was the tuna. An interesting contrast of flavors and textures, it was my second favorite dish so far. The Riesling, one of my favorite types of wine, was dry yet fruity and flowery.

Course 5: Blue Fin Tuna Tartare with Hijiki and Kombu Chip.

Very good, but maybe not quite as rich as I remember from my prior meal here; still, a winner.

Course 6: Ocean Trout Three Ways: Belly, Ice Cream (!) and Ravioli.
(Mosel Riesling)

A very unusual dish. Ocean trout belly was extraordinary: rich, fatty, flavorful. The ice cream, flavored with ocean trout and miso, sounds disgusting, but turned out to be very good.The ravioli was smoky and (you guessed it) flavorful. This turned out to be my favorite dish of the evening. Highly recommended.

Accompanying the dish was another Riesling, from Mosel. It was sweeter and, per the wine steward, had a mineral flavor. Whatever it was, I liked it.

Course 7: Seared Sea Scallop with Sesame Chip, Pickled Heart of Palm and Polenta.

The scallop was very sweet and somewhat smoky. Soft and rich, it was much better than most such preparations. The minor ingredients played an important role as well. Hearts of palm are pretty standard, but pickled? Nice touch. I wrote that the green puree was very good, but failed to describe it in any other way! Yet another dish I marked as a favorite, but what can I say - I like this stuff.

Course 8: Japanese Squid in Many Preparations.

I wish I had written down more information on this course, as it was very complex. There was squid tempura; squid wings; squid body prepared yet another way. The tempura was of course good. Squid that was perhaps steamed was not at all chewy, but was flavorful. A very good dish.

Course 9: Crispy Pork Belly with Crispy Quinoa, Apple Chip, Azuki Beans and Three Emulsions.
(2003 Pinot Nero from Slovenia)

The pork was both fatty and meaty, and neither tough nor salty. I wasn't especially enamored of the crispy quinoa, though. Call this dish good to very good. The accompanying wine with the strange name (no, it's not a Pinot Noir) was full of tannins. I'm generally not too fond of such wines, but it was a good foil for the pork (and the next dish as well).

Course 10: Triple Seared Ōmi Japanese Beef with Nashi (Asian Pear) and Soy.

The pictures don't do this course justice; it looked much better than this. However, I'm not sure it it tasted as good as in the past, when it was absolutely stellar. This time, it seemed slightly chewier. It's worth noting that when I returned to Restaurant Charlie a couple of weeks after this meal, the Ōmi beef was every bit as wonderful as I remembered. Either this time was a fluke, or I'm simply getting jaded. In any case, call this dish merely very good to excellent.

Course 11: Jasmine Rice Sorbet and Jasmine Granita.

More of a palate cleanser than anything else.

Course 12: Semolina, Tarragon Semifreddo, Lime and Basil Sorbet, and Sliced Blueberries.
(2003 Royal Tokai from Hungary)

An odd dessert, with lots of herb flavorings. The semolina was interesting but not a favorite of mine. Tarragon semifreddo was rich and plain at the same time, but was very good. Basil sorbet sounds pretty bad, but turned out to be excellent. It was flavorful, tart and clean tasting. This is one of those dishes that taste a lot better than they sound.

The wine was very sweet, tart and rich - a good match to the dessert.

Course 13: Stewed Persimmon, Quinoa and Cranberry, and Persimmon Ice Cream.

The persimmon portions of the dessert were very good. However, the quinoa was too crunchy for my taste. It seemed to interfere with the rest of the dessert.

Course 14: Cocoa Sponge Cake with Chocolate Ganache, Tangerine Sorbet and Sliced Citrus.

The chocolate portion of the dessert was very good, but no match for the ethereal baked ganache from my prior meal. However, the tangerine sorbet was excellent! I loved sorbets that are strongly flavored and extremely tart, while not being too sweet. This sorbet was spot on.


Hey, I'll never turn down more desserts.

This meal's desserts didn't match the ones from my previous meal here, but the rest of the meal was even better than last time.

Meal #4 - Restaurant Charlie (May 2009)
Well, I finally made it to the main dining room. I ordered the Chef's Degustation Menu, described as "A Spontaneous 14 Course Experience with Creations from Bar Charlie & Restaurant Charlie! This menu changes daily...". Uncharacteristically, I also opted for wine pairings.

I didn't take any notes on this one, so I'll limit my observations to general ones. The meal was similar to those I've had at Bar Charlie, with perhaps a little less emphasis on sushi and seafood. Service was very good, and the meal was very good; I don't have any specific criticisms. However, I prefer the Bar Charlie atmosphere, which allows for direct interaction with the chefs. I think I also enjoyed the menu selections at Bar Charlie a little more, but this might just be a result of the fun I had while sitting at the bar.

If I were to return to the main dining room, I'd probably give the regular menu a try, and reserve my fourteen course gluttony for Bar Charlie.

Meal #5 and Thereafter
This is beginning to sound too much like a broken record, so I won't go into these meals in detail. Now that they've gotten to know me, they ask if I have any favorites from the past, but will also suggest many new items. I'll mention some standouts.

Santa Barbara Prawns with Seafood Flan and Raspberry Soup
Served as tempura, including the heads. Sushi bars take note: Bar Charlie could give most of you lessons on the proper preparation of shrimp heads. They were hot and crispy and at the same time very juicy and flavorful.

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Banana Ice Cream
I'm pretty easy to please when it comes to chocolate desserts, so when I say the flourless chocolate cake was excellent you could be forgiven if you smiled politely. However, the true star was banana ice cream. Just a few months earlier, I had banana ice cream at B&B; at the time, it was the best I had ever had, and I was very impressed. Restaurant Charlie's version blows that away! The banana flavor was incredibly intense and fruity - not to the point of being cloying or artificial, but rather to the point that I started to feel like I was eating a banana. It's hard for me to describe, but there was that fresh, slighty tart taste that ripe bananas have. I felt silly when I told Chef Hiroo just how much I loved it, but he agreed, telling me how he made sure to always eat a couple of spoonfuls when it was available, and going into a long discussion of how it was made.

Alcoholic and Non-alcoholic Drink Pairings
For cheap drunks like me, drink pairings for a 14 course meal spell disaster. Bar Charlie offers non-alcoholic drink pairings for such folks, but  the sommelier suggested a combination of the two. I left myself in their capable hands, and was not disappointed. Thus, it came to pass that I found myself drinking a premiere cru Champagne with one course, and a refreshing citrusy drink with another.

»»» A5-12 Wagyu Beef
Shortly before one visit, I emailed Restaurant Charlie. I knew that, in the past, the restaurant served A5-10 Omi beef; I wondered about the current source and grade of their Wagyu beef. A manager responded, saying that they currently had A5-12 beef from the Saga prefecture. A5-12!?!? I had been under the impression that such stuff never made it to the United States. In any case, when I ate at Bar Charlie, Chef Hiroo confirmed this. I stupidly failed to ask to see the certificate - it would have made a great photo - but I can say that it was indeed delicious!

The first time I visited Bar Charlie, it immediately became one of my favorite restaurants. Each of the dishes has so many contrasts in flavor, texture, color and appearance. It's hard to describe just how complex they are, and how much of a surprise it is as one eats through each course. Words that come to mind are inventiveness, artistry and complexity.

I'm having a difficult time rating this restaurant. First, most of my experience is at Bar Charlie, which despite its name may very well be the best that the restaurant has to offer. Second, the meals are different than those offered by most top restaurants. Previously, I've said that, if there were such a thing as objective food ratings, I'd have to say that Bar Charlie isn't quite as good as Joël Robuchon, Guy Savoy or Alex (my other top picks in Las Vegas). However, I enjoyed the experiences immensely (the second time even more than the first, and the third time just about as much as the second): the food matches my personal preferences very well; I like the food bar concept; I've gotten very attentive service. This has earned it a special place in my, stomach. I think I'm going to now rate it number 2, just behind Robuchon.

Of these four super expensive restaurants, Bar Charlie is the only one to which I plan to return.

The Bill
The fourteen course meal at Bar Charlie was $250, plus drinks, tax and tip. An eight course version is available for $175. Wine or sake pairings are available on request. The fourteen course menu at Restaurant Charlie was $350, plus drinks, tax and tip.

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