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Jul 26, 2008 08:53 PM

Charlie Palmer at Bloomingdale's - Too Bad There's No Half-Yearly Sale

First, let's talk about all the good things about this eight-week old restaurant. The gorgeous interior and inviting lounge evoke memories of very good times spent at Aureole in Las Vegas. As you enter, you see a wall of wines in front of you and a frosted glass floor below you (the stairs lead to a tasting room where every Tuesday night, the sommelier hosts wine tastings). The staff is generally young. In fact, if I was a bartender serving the sommelier a drink, I'd ask to see his I.D. first - he looks that young. I also was told that the executive chef is only twenty-six years old (I looked on the website for his name, but couldn't find it - I guess because Palmer's name is after all on the marquee). But youth is not a bad thing when you've got a restaurant with a vibrant energy as this, and the service for the most part is enthusiastic, very friendly and professional. Wines by the glass are plentiful, with the selections covering everywhere on the globe.

For starters, I had a tuna carpaccio (accompanied by a koroshu sake) which was garnished with mandarin oranges and fennel - light and yet full of flavor. I decided to stick with the ocean, and had the roasted tasmanian salmon for my main course - unbelievably pink and served medium rare, with a crust of peppercorn and truffles. The truffles do not overwhelm the fish, thankfully. I had this with a glass of Chilean pinot noir. I was surprised by the wine's versatility. It's not a mild pinot noir, and the color could be mistaken for anything but a pinot noir, but it worked - especially with the earthy truffle flavor. Dessert was terrrific. In fact, if I had to come here for an after-theater nightcap or a day of serious shopping, I'd just get a delicious dessert and a glass of port to achieve a blissful state. I had braised pineapple (garnished with parsley!) with a silver-dollar sized brown sugar cake which was so good, I wanted to lick the plate. A ten-year old Tawny port went nicely with dessert.

This was my initial experience at the restaurant and, over all, the place made a really good first impression. So why I do hold back in giving it my unconditional seal of approval? Because, despite it all, the price tag at the end of the evening was unsettling, even by South Coast Plaza standards. In fact, I'd venture to say the $130/per person bill for three courses and three glasses of wine (which calculates at roughly $43 per course) ranks CP@B as one of the half-dozen most expensive restaurants in Orange County. Even Napa Rose, as pricey as it is, offers a four-course tasting menu with wine pairing for $130. Charlie's neighbor down the hall - Marche Moderne - offers a lunch tasting menu for $20. which is $6 less than the one here. I wonder if you're paying for the "caché" of the Charlie Palmer name, which wouldn't surprise me since the restaurant is catering to shoppers who have likely walked over here after perusing the Armani, Prada and Gucci selections next door. Sure, dinners at exclusive restaurants in Los Angeles can make CPAB seem relatively cheap, but ultimately does it make this restaurant a good value? I have to say no. Go ahead and try it out, but I suggest you leave the power shopping for another day, lest you finish your dinner with buyer's remorse.

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    1. re: JAB

      Yes!! My wife showed me the flier on this. I guess my foodie prayers are being answered! It's a good way to experience either CP@B or Marche - or even others on the list.

    2. I was a big early proponent of Charlie Palmer's- but having dined there a total of four times, that initial enthusiasm is now tempered. Yes, the room is nice, and the wine list is very approachable. And the fact that it is in Orange County- BIG thumbs up for us southern dwelling folk.

      BUT... now that I've experienced a decent variety of their dishes, there appears to be a strange sameness in their flavors, which unsettles me a little bit. Also, as they have become progressively more popular and busy, their service has declined. Previously, they had remembered us from previous visits and had even remembered what we had previously ordered (I'm sure off some computer database, but still a nice touch). Also, the attitudes, while a little fresh, were earnest and attentive.

      We arrived for our reservation at the store entrance and waited for about five minutes before anyone acknowledged us (I also noticed that they have no computer at this entrance, and oversight?) and then were seated... where we waited, and waited... ten minutes later, someone came by for our drink orders, and I told them we would be having wine... so then we waited some more, bread and water were delivered, and ten minutes later, the wine list. Five minutes, after that, the waitress comes by and asks if we have chosen a wine- um, no, I would like to look at the menu first- quizzical look- and then no menus for another five minutes. So here we are, thirty minutes in, and we have only just received our menus. Fortunately(?) nothing has really changed on the menu, so we are pretty familiar with it. My wife opts for the $40 menu, and I go off the regular menu.

      Now, this is the part that is particularly irritating- the table next to us is turned over while we are going over our menus, the next party, who arrived twenty minutes after us gets their menus, and then the same waitress as ours walks by us, with our menus closed and obviously ready to order, and takes their order first.

      Appetizers come out and our fine- I opted to go with the Salumi plate, a nice collection of meats, while my wife gets the corn soup, rich and good. We, finish, the plates are cleared, including our bread plates, and we resume the waiting game. Meanwhile next door, they gets their apps, and mains (the hunk of tasmanian salmon did look great, btw- I was a little jealous) and the their CHECK while we're still waiting for our mains. Never once does the server let us know what is going on until we flag her down and she tels us- "oh, your order should be coming out soon." So we're stuck with drinking our wine, and not even nibbling on bread, since they took those plates away.

      Finally, our orders arrive, and it is clear what happened- they forgot to fire my order (the CRISPY pacific sea bass) while holding the others, as it is stunningly hot, but has no crisp to it whatever, while my wifes scallops are room temp and the side of fries are limp and cold. Now the fish itself was ok, but it was frowned in some sauce that reminded me of the Lawry's sesame ginger marinade I bbq my chicken with, and without any crisp to the skin, it was more like a steamed fish from a Chinese restaurant.

      So now I'm past irritated as we're almost two hours into the meal, and the server seems to be ignoring us, not once checking to see how things are. We actually never interacted with her again after her comment about the dishes coming out soon. I finally am able to flag sown a sommelier, and eventually the GM comes over. I try to let him know what the issues are, but he seems more distracted than anything and says, yeah, yeah, I know we dropped the ball, I'll take care of things, what else do you want me to do please come back again and leaves. Overall, it seemed like he had no interest in actually hearing what happened and just wanted us to leave. So that's what we did.

      I would like to put it off as being a bad, busy night, but the whole experience has left a bad taste in my mouth, from the especially at the price points that they have. So I think it'll be a while before we go back.

      As an aside, what do people do about the tip in these situations. Certainly, I wasn't too pleased with our main server, but everyone else was fine, so we left something. Thoughts?

      2 Replies
      1. re: kdoc

        Kdoc, sorry that your last experience there was not so great - it sounds like you've been a few times and each time was not as good as the last? Tipping is such subjective thing. For me, I can probably forgive issues with the kitchen, if the service is still good. The only time I go way below 15% is if the server lacked professionalism (inappropriate behavior, hygiene, careless).

        1. re: OCKevin

          We went there two weeks ago and found it very forgettable, excpet for the dent it put in my wallet. On the whole, the room and food strikes me as a hotel dining room stuck into SCP. It seemed like every other table consisted of well-heeled tourists. There was nothing bad about anything, but there wasn't anything compelling or memorable, either. Not much reason to go back when Marche Moderne is just down the Mall, and Pinot Provence, Pascal and Onotria are just down the street.