Bar Charlie review (very long)
If you want the short version of this review, one word to describe Bar Charlie would be "wow". Otherwise read on, and I will try to ramble about as much as I can remember. My wife and I arrived at 8PM for our reservation and were led immediately to the bar area. From other reviews on here I didn't realise the bar was actually separate from the standard dining room. I expected to have my back to the main restaurant space. I'm glad it is separated, it makes for a much more intimate feel. The bar area probably seats 15-20 in total.
On seating our hostess introduced us to our sommelier and he in turn introduced us to the chef, Hiro. The impeccable level of service started from the off with our hostess suggesting we swap out the white napkins for black - as we were both wearing black, she said she didn't want us to get white lint on our clothes. Now that's a first for me! Over the top perhaps, but it was just one of so many touches that made the entire meal feel like the height of indulgence.
It was my birthday, so they had printed a special menu with our names. Our sommelier explained the Kaiseki style of dining and we quickly decided on the full 14 course menu with drinks pairing. He was quick to explain that "the handcuffs are off". The menu was merely there as a guide. Should we come across items we liked/disliked we were heavily encouraged to shape our own meal. In fact, during the meal as we kept referring to the menus, Hiro playfully scolded us for looking at them, saying "we aren't really following that any more".
Only one other couple was present when we arrived, they left after maybe 30mins into our meal. For the rest of the evening, it was only us, the chefs and our sommelier. We were waited on practically like a king and queen. Service was formal when needed, relaxed and chatty when called for. Plates and drinks were presented and removed with subtlety and style. Our sommelier was always hovering in the background ready to answer and question at any time. Even with the ever present service, it never felt claustrophobic.
Our sommelier explained they were effectively going to feed us until we popped. His assessment wasn't too far wrong. The meal lasted around four and a half hours, and with the alcohol pairings, I have a fairly hazy recollection. As a couple of people have mentioned on their reviews here already, the pairings are generous. If your not a big drinker, take heed. Personally, I enjoy a drink and certainly felt the effects by the end. They will prepare a range of pairings on request, including non alcoholic.
Anyway, on with the show, or what I remember...
Course 1: Shime saba w/ concord grape and celery
Set the scene for the rest of the meal, downright delicious. Hiro told us he marinated the saba himself for only a couple of hours. The concord grape with this was wonderful. Paired with some champagne, great start.
Course 2: Japanese snapper w/ olives and citrus
Excellent snapper. As with most of the early fish dishes, paired with a white wine. The candied orange slice with the wine, fish and olives was fantastic.
Course 3: Fanny Bay Oyster w/ horseradish, hops, amazake and cockles
Hiro explained how this was his take on the beach. The oyster was set atop a grainy preparation reminiscent of sand (horseradish etc) and a foam on the side like sea spray. The unusual beer pairing was a Canadian micro-brew and completed the 'beach' taste almost eerily. Wonderful dish. I remember commenting afterwards that I need to eat more oysters.
Course 4: Spanish blue fin tuna sashimi w/ watermelon, pine nuts and mint
I think our jaws hit the counter when we tasted this. Best. Tuna. Ever. Wow. Hiro obviously took our plaudits on board as the next course differed from the menu listing and we ended up with...
Course 5: More tuna with squid ink
Yet more tuna, this time in a kind of tartare/minced preparation. It came with some squid ink. Again, simply fantastic tuna and another playful and interesting presentation.
It was somewhere around here (you can see how sketchy things got, I really need a notepad) that we had a really superb Sake pairing, with almost banana notes to it I thought. As we were so intrigued, our sommelier did give us some extra detail. I think he used the phrase 'brewmaster reserve' which I need to investigate. I have only recently started to get deeper into Sake, and this was the best I have tried by some margin.
Course 6: Steamed Tasmanian ocean trout w/ miso and fennel
Beautifully moist and tender trout. The trout also came with a piece of deep fried skin, which was basically like a piece of pork rind, but much much better.
Course 7: Home made smoked tofu w/ pumpkin and bonito
I'm not a tofu fan normally but this was great. My wife (ex-vegetarian and tofu lover) couldn't get enough of this house made tofu. If anyone watched top chef this season and saw Richard Blaise do his tofu in beef fat, this is what I imagine it tasted like. Smoky, rich, soft inside and crispy outside.
Course 8: Tempura of ayu w/ bamboo and sesame
A pleasant tempura course with a side 'chip' made of sesame seeds. I don't remember too much of this dish apart from enjoying it.
Course 9: Seared Nagasaki hamachi belly w/ cured wa-gyu and breakfast radish
I think around now I was fairly relaxed and a little giddy with the food and alcohol. I recall telling Hiro he was a bit of a rock star on these boards, he promptly got a bit embarrassed and shy. The man is exceedingly humble. The hamachi belly by the way, was to die for, simply wonderfully flavoursome.
Course 10: Sushi rice risotto with maitake mushrooms and cilantro
At the start of the evening we were told how they avoid milk, butter, cream and the like. When risotto was announced we were both a bit perplexed. Hiro explained that he had placed a piece of uni (sea urchin) on top of the rice. This was to be stirred in as a substitute for the cheese/butter. Uni as a condiment, just shows you the luxury of it all...
It worked wonderfully. The interplay of cilantro, maitake and creamy rice was very intriguing. However, as I was really looking forward to the next two courses, I had to get by with only a couple of bites. I was a bit fearful at this stage that a big bowl of rice might finish me off.
Course 11: Elysian fields lamb chop w/ figs and almonds
Really great lamb and perfectly cooked. I will have to investigate elysian fields lamb more closely after this. Even my wife who normally cringes at even the smell of lamb, happily enjoyed this. Not as creative as earlier dishes but better lamb I have not tasted. The red wine pairing with this course was also top notch.
Course 12: Ohmi japanese beef
What I was looking most to before we started the meal, and it did not disappoint. Insanely rich and creamy, a surprise it is legal. Our sommelier explained the best Kobe beef is rated A5. Within A5 itself there are 12 gradings. The ohmi beef we were served was the 10th best of these 12 sub ratings. The restaurant even apparently receives a certificate of authenticity from the farm with a nose print of the animal. I agree with longislandchef on his review of BC, this was simply the best Kobe I have ever tried (Cut and Picasso being the other notable two offerings I have tried in Vegas).
course 13: Cantaloupe sorbet
Um, a sorbet :)
Course 14: Mint Infused Strawberries w/ hempseed ice cream and lime granite
Course 15: Baked granache w/ cilantro phyllo and chocolate raspberry sorbet
By the time these two courses came we were both so stuffed it was difficult to really appreciate the desserts. This was a crying shame, as by now the pastry/dessert chef came out and was very eager to detail what he had made. He was so super-enthusiastic and very keen to know what we thought. I could only muster the energy to pick here and there, but everything was excellent like the rest of the meal.
After the meal we left to various handshakes and goodbyes. I honestly felt privileged to have experienced this place all to ourselves.
My favourite splurge in Vegas prior to here was Picasso. The meal we experienced this evening blows any meal I have had at Picasso out of the water. Obviously its Japanese vs a more classic French menu, but the personalised service for four hours was just a world apart. Not only was the service first rate, but you could tell the staff genuinely cared about what they were trying to achieve at BC. Our sommelier waxed lyrical on almost every dish, getting visibly excited and giddy by certain courses.
Food was $250pp, alcohol pairings $200pp, for the quality of food and service I felt this was almost a bargain. I'm not sure I can recommend the place highly enough. I wonder how long the place will stay open in the current economic climate, especially given we were the only real diners on a Saturday evening.
If any of the above sounds intriguing, go now.
Beautiful! Thanks so much. Now I'm really excited - we go Saturday night. I think we will probably end up with the 14-course but no way could we do full pairings. We might split a pairing, or even just pair a few courses and split those. I just can't drink that much. I wish I could. I seriously doubt I can eat that much either but I will make a valiant effort.
Did the pastry chef ask about your likes and dislikes? I don't like mint or raspberry. When I made the reservation the person I spoke with asked about dislikes and allergies and I told her about my bell pepper phobia and my husband's bizarre lactose intolerance which allows him to eat ice cream, whipped cream, yogurt and cheese, but disallows sour cream, creme fraiche and the like, as well as uncooked milk. I guess with the no dairy policy, we don't have to worry about that one. I never thought to mention the minor stuff like mint and raspberry.
BTW the black napkin bit not unheard of but not common enough (speaking as a frequent wearer of dark pants and skirts). Sometimes you have to ask. I like it when they notice and bring you a black napkin - it's a way of knowing that the restaurant has an eye for details. Plus, I was planning on wearing black pants that night so it's nice to know that my lap will not be covered in white lint when I'm done.
re: Debbie W
We didn't see the pastry chef until the end of the meal Debbie. That said, they asked right at the start about restrictions, before we dived in.
I would bet you could give them a list eight miles long at the start and you would be fine, provided it wasn't a seafood allergy ;)
No problems with anything from the ocean - we love it all. My husband hasn't always been the biggest uni fan, but he's coming around.
I will attempt to remember to mention my anti-mint bias. Anything with mint in it inevitably tastes like toothpaste to me - spearmint especially. Peppermint is somewhat more tolerable but not at all enjoyable.
I'll definitely be bringing my camera, so it's nice to see that they are amenable to picture-taking. Though, most restaurants are these days.