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Charcoal: Reviewed

Last weekend, some friends and I ate at Charcoal, a recently redone restaruant in Hollywood, before catching a movie at the Archlight. I felt embarassed for the owners.

The decor is great for mingling with friends. Open spaces; private booths; and a dark, lodgey feel made me want to love the place. Unfortunately, I didn't. the first problem immediately apparant was the music. It was so loud that I could barely hear what my friends were saying. The running joke throughout dinner was to scream "What!?!" I felt like I was in a nightclub that just happend to serve dinner.

Our waitor came promptly to take our drink order; two of us wanted a glass of champaigne. A timid sommeiller then came by to reccomend a bottle. We told him we only wanted glasses of the house champaigne. I don't know why Charcoal has a sommeiller, and from his expression, I don't think he does either. The glasses of champaigne took so long to arrive that we figured our waiter was waiting to serve them with our meal. It turns out he wasn't. Another oddity is that I don't think we ever saw the same server, runner, or busser more than once.

I ordered the crab burger, and my friends ordered a hamburger and a steak. The burgers each came with sweet potato fries. They were cold, as were our burgers. My friend's top bun was both stale and burnt. We all had fun taking turns drumming with the bun by smacking it against the table in time to the music.

There are so many things wrong with Charcoal that I don't feel it even deserves to be called a restaurant. My friends and I weren't upset or annoyed because it was obvious that no one had a clue what they were doing.

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  1. I agree with you -- the food is not great and the service is extremely scattered and disorganised. But I dug the music! It wasn't too loud when I was there, but then again, I was there just with my SO and we weren't trying to have a four-way conversation or anything. Turns out the manager (black dude -- long dreds, I think) fancies himself as a bit of a DJ...........
    I liked the crabcake a lot -- very meaty. I remember our dessert took a while to arrive (at least 1/2 hr) but was delish. Molten choc cake. Excellent.

    Chef is a really young guy. I spotted him in the bar area and commented on the Food Network being on the bar TV (as opposed to the usual boring sports shows) and he was quick to mention he doesn't take any cues from them (lol!)

    Thanks for yr write-up.

    1. Same experience here. The music is awful. I don't care what demographic they are appealing to, it is way too loud. And just not good. I seriously think I heard 'Mickey' twice when I was there - LOUD - and I was raised on that music, so I even like it, and it was way too loud. And the food just isn't that good, particularly for the price. Like you, I want to like the place, and might even try one more time, just to give them a chance. But if they do not improve the menu - and the quality - or way drop the price, I cannot see them making it.

      It makes you wonder, though, at such a place, with such a great locale and so many people wanting it to be good, what causes the owners or managers to just sit and watch it tank so badly?

      1 Reply
      1. re: Tom P

        I went there recently for lunch, and had a pretty good experience. Granted, I too really wanted to like it. I go to the ArcLight often, and find the cafe there horrible. (with the exception of a couple of appetizers at the bar) Had a glass of wine there the other day, and the bartender overcharged me...I'm quite sure on purpose since I was paying in cash. I pointed it out, and he gave me the money back. But it's the idea of it....not the two bucks.
        A friend and I had the crab burger and beed burger at Charcoal. Both good. Sweet potato fries were hot and good. Decent selection of wines by the glass. Very good service. I liked the space a lot.
        Don't remember loud music, and I'm sure I would have noticed. (I'm old and cranky)
        Maybe lunch is the way to go.....

      2. I Was Short-Changed and Dissed at Charcoal!!

        I went for brunch on Saturday, August 18th and was extremely disappointed. The decor was pleasant and the food decent (though a tad overpriced). However, the service was awful. Our appetizers arrived without sideplates, & I tried in vain to get the server's attention for over 5 minutes. Ultimately, I had to leave my date to go over to the bar, where the server was busy chatting with friends. Later, I was short-changed on the bill. When I (politely) brought this to the server's attention, she very snidely stated that the restaurant "carried no coins" so "if the bill says $46.55, it's actually $47." I was shocked and complained to the manager, but she offered me nothing aside from a promise to "tak to" the server. Unbelievable. Obviously, I'll survive without the change, but I won't be visiting Charcoal again nonetheless!!

        Pros: Fairly Cool Decor and Decent BBQ-Esque Food

        Cons: Overpriced Food, Very Overpriced Drinks (cheapest glass of Merlot = $13) & HORRIBLE Service!!

        1 Reply
        1. re: inverarify

          I might actually go back, order a similar meal, and pay in pennies!

        2. Funny, but I just got around to looking for comments on Charcoal after a less-than-stellar experience 2 weekends ago and found that I was not alone. Love the Arclight and go there often for films and finally persuaded my husband to try Charcoal (not too expensive for a "trendy" place, convenient and they have MEAT). The service was spotty (the party seated at the next table well after we were had their order taken immediately and were eating dinner around the time our server (one of several, it seemed) told us that our order was being plated at that very moment. Fifteen minutes later, it still hadn't arrived and we were wondering if the burger and the steak salad would be congealed when they arrived. The food did arrive hot and freshly prepared, though rather tardy, and it was good. We were encouraged enough by this development to order dessert as I had heard somewhere that the funnel cake was good. It might have been --- many hours before when the funnel cake was fried. This was a reheated, chewy, oily squiggle of dough with 2 scoops of mediocre ice cream on top, topped with a lone strawberry and its companion lone blackberry (one on each scoop) and a squirt of chocolate sauce. True, the menu did say "berries" and 2 does qualify as a plural. By then the deafening music had given both of us a headache and we were happy to leave. And the waiter did confirm that they premade the funnel cakes. Seems like cheating to me...!

          1 Reply
          1. re: kaynechef

            That reminds me of the Saturday Night Live skit with the "3-bean soup" that had 3 beans in it.

          2. I ducked in the other night as a way to mix up my normal bar and restauranthopping routine. Still really really bad. It just feels too smarmy. I'll keep trying it every now and again but my expectations keep getting lower and lower and so far they keep missing.

            1. I've done more than my fair share of dissing Charcoal... so I guess it wouldn't be out of line to continue. I was on my way to Amoeba and saw 30% off signs all around -- never a good sign to be discounting on the weekend, I'm thinking. Inside Amoeba, I overhear staff mentioning that Charcoal was going out of business. (Really, the death knell was about six months ago when they started offering brunch in a dark and cavernous room that works well at 10pm, not 10am.)

              As a former nearby resident, I certainly gave them a fair shot, but I walked away disappointed every time.

              4 Replies
              1. re: SauceSupreme

                Unsuspecting victim report: like an earlier poster, I was avoiding the terrible ArcLight Cafe and ended up here. The discount is up to 50% now. No sommelier anymore. The service was subpar. Music is still too loud. The crab burger was gross as are the margaritas. It wasn't empty, but the people in there looked like tourists. I wish I had looked them up on here before I went. It's amazing that the reports going back almost a year sound exactly the same. Oh well, I won't make the same mistake again.

                1. re: ahuacatl

                  Yikes, thanks for the additional warning. Glad I've never succumbed to entering this place when I'm going to the Arclight. Especially with places like Hungry Cat just a block or so nearby. :)

                  1. re: exilekiss

                    Agreed! You can never go wrong with Hungry Cat.

                    1. re: exilekiss

                      Even the Jack In The Box is a compelling alternative!

                2. Gastropub is the new lingua franca. What they needed to do was have a place that had 10 beers on draught, 20 more in bottles, offer high-end pub faire like a $15 burger or a good steak frites and BOOM you've got instant success. Add in a smart wine list, hire some mixologists to make some smart cocktails, and you'll have a winner.

                  Ditch the DJ: just have a good selection playing off an iPod. Or work something out in conjuction with Ameoba to form a playlist partnership.

                  Offer a late night Service Industry discount to make it a destination for other restaurant folk. Offer free parking at the Arclight. Lose the big curtains and let natural light flow in, and the hypnotizing traffic of Sunset Blvd act as a fascinating people watching activity.

                  Sigh, if anybody wants to pitch in a few hundred thou to help me bring out the untapped potential in Charcoal, email me at 2little2late@fickle.consumer.com

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: SauceSupreme

                    The owners should visit the York in Highland Park to see it done right. Seriously, it's the perfect location for a gastropub, but instead it's like they were trying to design a restaurant for the Universal Citywalk: lowest common denominator tourist trap.

                    1. re: SauceSupreme

                      LOL - you should work as a restaurant consultant.

                    2. Every time I see this topic I think charcoal (the black stuff) is being reviewed. Then reality sets in.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Akitist

                        This particular restaurant experience is like getting a lump of coal in your stocking, so you're not so far off.