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May 12, 2007 09:12 AM

First Taste of Charcoal (near Arclight)

First a caveat: I know that all openings have problems, especially with service. I'm willing to overlook that entirely. In fact, I had ducked into Bowery already prior to dinner so I had enough single malt in my system to embalm me. Service and inventory problems I'm willing to overlook.

Kitchen problems, on the other hand, are inexcusable, and are the hardest to fix. It means that something fundamentally is wrong.

I sat down for dinner at Charcoal and ordered the lump crab cake, the soup special (cream of mushroom), the mac and cheese, a burger and a side of fries. Never mind that the burger already comes with a side of fries (server didn't tell me that, so I ended up with two; again, not my complaint).

The soup was so heavily salted but the mac and cheese so under salted. Neighboring dineres I overheard complaining about similar things. Also, the burger wasn't very good. At that price point, you can walk a block and get a pug burger at Hungry Cat or for less money, get a pretty good burger at Magnolia.

The final disgrace was dessert when I ordered the chocolate lava cake. It arrived, and I took one slice with my fork and ... nothing oozed out. I looked in the center and the lava cake wasn't a lava cake at all. It was a brownie. Nice almond slivers on top, though, of that brownie.

The best of the evening was the crab cake. I didn't like it at first but after more and more inedible items came out of that new kitchen, the crab cake ended up surprising me with the simple fact that, while not the most daring or innovative in flavor, at least it tasted right.

I'm encouraged, though, that Oinkster made it through its rough patch in the beginning, so perhaps Charcoal will correct itself. But with so many dining options nearby, and the fact that it wouldn't be mind-blowing to begin with, why bother waiting for it?

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  1. Thanks for taking one for the team. I think I'll heed your warning and wait a while before trying it.

    1 Reply
    1. re: lil mikey

      Wow, they're not exactly blazing new trails with a menu of mac n cheese, hamburgers and brownies, are they? There's already plenty of places to get good versions of these, so it doesn't seem like someone who's actually interested in food would have any reason to go there.

    2. You should have stayed at Bowery Bar.
      They have a great hamburger !!

      Thanks for the review-I'll wait too.

      2 Replies
      1. re: alison

        Re. Bowery -- good lasagna-y lasagna too.

        1. re: alison

          their moules frites aren't half bad either.

        2. The good news about the Oinkster is that Andre Guerrero is a very good chef, whereas at Charcoal, it is all about the booze, as in their other operations such as Dolce, Memphis, Lodge Steakhouse, and you get the picture. They will never be known for their food.
          ps - Oinkster now has beer and wine license.

          1 Reply
          1. re: carter

            An excellent point re: Oinkster and Chef Guerrero.

          2. I tried it last night. While I did not have a bad experience, given all the great places near, I just wonder who they think they will attract with such a standard menu. I mean, everything on their menu you can get ... and seemingly better ... at Magnolia, Bowery or Hungry Cat. Their Caesar, for instance, was fine. Better than some, for sure. But compared to Bowery's amazing Caesar, why bother? The same for their skirt steak, which was OK, but not as good as Magnolia.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Tom P

              I think the revenue that the bar will generate will more than make up for the food. But even for me that's not going to be enough, as Bowery and Hungry Cat are both top notch bars (to say nothing about their food!). Even if I'm going less upscale, Big Wangs is just a block away. Oh well. Could have been great. Not holding my breath for "Club Sushi" either.

              1. re: Tom P

                We went tonight. Party of 6. One of our companions had read the reviews about spotty service from opening weekend, and we were all sympathetic to that -- it takes time to get your groove and to work out the wrinkles. HOWEVER, despite our agreement about that at the beginning of the meal, we felt the evening still was a disaster.

                It took forever until our waiter took a drink order (even for water -- we sat without anything for over 20 minutes). Then about 10 minutes later, another person came to our table to take a drink order, saying the first one was probably lost. 10 minutes later, the drinks came, but no water. Then water came, but sparkling (not flat, as ordered), with glasses for 5 of the 6 people at the table. It took 10 minutes for that sixth glass to come.

                Two salads were ordered to split among 4 of us. When they came, they were delivered as full salads (not split), which would have been fine. But, the waiter explained that computer problems prevented the "split" notification from making it to the kitchen, so he would split the salads for us. He proceeded to do so while leaning across the table with a fork and knife, knocking some of the salad off the plate onto the table. He offered to bring back additional dressing for both people splitting the salad, but that never actually happened. Eventually the waiter brought a mini-shrimp-cocktail appetizer as apology, but still...

                As for the food: Eh. Nothing special at all. We were trying to figure out its nearest relation. We ended up deciding on "somewhere between Chili's and Houston's". Probably a lot closer to Chili's, quite honestly, if not for the nice decor.

                And, in my never-ending dislike of the "dim the lights more as it gets even darker outside" obsession that restos have... They kept fiddling with the lights all night, to the point that our waiter had to stop taking our order at one point because he couldn't see his notepad anymore and had to run off to ask someone to raise the lights.

                Geesh. We were expecting a few bumps here and there, but this was inexcusable. We'll be going elsewhere in the future, thank you very much.

              2. I don't know how everyone feels about The Gaucho Grill, but I believe the owners own Charcoal. I like The Gaucho Grill, and from what has beens said here, Charcoal doesn't interest me.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Barbara Ladden

                  I like Gaucho a lot as well. So I was hoping for more. If it wasn't quite so pricey, I would not mind as much.