An Outstanding meal at Bar Charlie, Las Vegas
My husband and I visited Bar Charlie last week and had undoubtedly one of the best meals I have had in a long time. Chef Hiro excels in combining textures and flavour profiles, with a restrained use of modern cooking techniques which compliment rather than overshadow the intricate kaiseki cuisine.
After being seated by the attentive hostess (she swapped my white napkin for a black one, to match the colour of my dress), we opted for the 14-course ’spontaneous’ kaiseki – a selection of dishes selected by the chef that showcases seasonal produce, with an emphasis on the ocean.
First up was a Tai (snapper) with white and black grapes, black grape purée, celery confit, celery stock reduction and micro greens (pictured above). The tai was exceptionally fresh, with clean flavours of the sea that paired perfectly with the sweetness and acidity of the grapes, and the slight bitterness of the micro greens.
This was followed by Iwashi (sardine) with watermelon, sea grapes, yuzu sorbet and celery marinated in miso and yuzu. I was not so keen on this, as unlike B (who adored this dish) I am not a huge fan of sardine sashimi which I find a bit too ‘fishy’ for my liking. However the sea grapes in the dish were a revelation – a string of tiny salty green pearls that combined harmoniously with the sweet watermelon and sour yuzu. This balance of flavours was a recurring theme in Chef Hiro’s cuisine, and when we commented on this he agreed that it was something he strives for in each of his creations, and that it is this balance which determines the success of a dish.
Next up was Chu-toro (tuna belly) sashimi, accompanied by a lightly steamed roulade of tuna (taken from the same fish as the chu-toro), tea-infushed dashi and seawater foam, petit sorrel, confit of nashi pear and an umeboshi, grapefruit and lime sauce. Both the chu-toro and roulade were melt in the mouth, the foam intriguing and delicate in flavour, and yet again the different taste components were well represented in this dish – saltiness from the foam, bitterness from the sorrel, sweetness from the pear and acid from the sauce. Incredible.
A vegetarian dish followed – Heirloom Tomatoes with compressed cucumber rind, tomato skin chip, hijiki and dashi sauce, tomato foam, hijiki dust and avocado semifreddo. The bright flavours of the tomato sang against the lighter, subtler accompanying elements.
As we awaited the next dish we returned to watching the chefs work deftly in front of us behind the bar. Throughout the meal chef Hiro would pause sporadically to explain the more unusual cooking processes – as he did with the foaming technique employed for the next dish, which creates a foam that holds its shape even when hot items are placed on it.
This stunning dish featured the Spot Prawn – the body was left raw while the head was coated in freeze-dried raspberry and matcha powder, then fried. These, together with a shellfish pannacotta, tarragon and matcha bubbles and fresh raspberries, sat in a sea of vividly hued raspberry consommé. The consommé which was infused with taihitian vanilla, vinegar, green cardamon, pink peppercorn and lemongrass had a sharp twang which perfectly offset the oiliness of the head and the sweetness of the raw flesh. I am re-living the fantastic taste sensations as I write this and I have to say if pressed to pick, this would be my favourite course of the evening.
We return to tuna in the next course with a Blue Fin Tuna tartare, hijiki and squid ink purée, cucumber ribbon marinated in miso and turmeric, juiced and diced daikon. The tuna of the texture resembled a mousse as it has been worked to almost a paste. Although it was good, it dulled in comparison to the earlier stand-out tuna offering (perhaps I was distracted from fully appreciating the tartare as Charlie Trotter himself popped in to greet the chefs mid-dish).
As Chef Hiro sets the next course down he tells us that traditionally every kaiseki course tells a story, and this one follows (from the right to the left of the plate) the life of the trout – Tasmanian Trout roe vinaigrette, Trout Skin Jelly Ravioli filled with ricotta, Roulade of Trout Belly, Fennel Salad, Smoked Trout Ice-cream and Trout Skin Crisp. All the individual components of the dish were delicious, with the exception of the ravioli which was rather bland and had a strange texture.
The next dish was Squid Dumpling filled with Lemon Custard, Textures of Squid (raw in ribbons and tempura) , purple carrot salad, thai chili infused carrot purée, pickled carrot and basil oil. The soft pillowy texture of the dumpling was a delightful surprise (a savoury mochi of sorts) and the small dose of heat from the chili really brought the dish to life.
Our last ocean inspired course for the evening was a Seared Scallop accompanied by braised turnip with ponzu coffee gastric wrapped in its own leaf, spinach puréed and sautéed, flexible chocolate and konbu. The unusual combination of coffee and turnip came about one morning when Chef Hiro, who happened to be having his morning coffee while prepping sous-vide turnip, tasted them together and thought it to be a great pairing. It was indeed, and the dish both looked and tasted spectacular.
Although the focus of the kaiseki was on seafood there were two meat courses on the menu. The first of these was Kurobuta Pork Belly, cooked sous-vide for 48 hours with hibiscus and soy gastric, tomatillos and jalepenos, shiso, thai basil and coconut salad, red wine braised pearl onion, with red and green curry.
The second was Wagyu Beef with pineapple curd, yakitori grilled pineapple, pineapple relish with rendered wagyu trim, popping candy, veal jus and micro shiso. By this point of the meal we were bursting at the seams and were really struggling with both dishes, despite them being very tasty indeed. I particularly liked the succulent wagyu which worked exceedingly well with the tangy pineapple that cut through the fattiness of the meat.
A palate cleanser of Greek Yogurt granita, cantaloupe sorbet and parma ham kicked off the sweet courses, all of which, although well-executed, paled in comparison to the savoury courses. The Green Tea Sponge with peach bruleé, peach tapioca, sour cream sorbet and crystalised ginger was pleasant but unexciting, and if I were to be honest, the sponge was a tad dry.
The Basil semifreddo with strawberry sorbet, olive oil ice-cream and fresh strawberries, although visually appealing, was equally uninspiring. As was the flourless Dark Chocolate cake with hazelnut praline and banana sorbet that followed. The highlight of the desserts was definitely the mignardise that came with coffee at the end – Maple Syrup Truffles, Cherry Geleé, Honey Nougat, Cinnamon Almond Dragées and my favourite, Condensed Milk Caramels.
It's a shame I live in London, I am itching to go back already! If you are ever in Las Vegas this is an absolute must. Seriously. So Good.
Maybe it's only because relatively few CH's have eaten there, but Bar Charlie might be the most universally praised fine dining restaurant in Las Vegas that I can remember. About the worst thing I remember reading about it here is that a few people prefer Restaurant Charlie.
re: Dave Feldman
Bar Charlie at Restaurant Charlie in the Palazzo.
Bar Charlie is a restaurant inside a restaurant. Restaurant Charlie is a traditional fine dining spot with its most notable feature being a lofted kitchen table with a 270 degree view down onto the kitchen and the dining room. The restaurant also has a separate menu and separate tasting menus, although I think any dish at Bar Charlie is available at Restaurant Charlie, and vice versa.
Bar Charlie, off to the right as you enter the restaurant, is quite a bit different from Restaurant Charlie. The bar is an 18 seat trapezoid around a minimally-equipped open kitchen, with just two cooks putting together constantly changing tasting menus and creating dishes on the fly.
Chef de Cuisine Hiroo Nagahara, a physics major in college, prides himself on never giving a guest the same dish twice unless they request it. And indeed, a "regular" (visits once every 2-3 months) was sitting next to us for part of our meal and received very different variations on some of the dishes we had, and some that bore no resemblance to anything we were served. Except for one cooked dish and the desserts, everything was prepared by Chef Nagahara and one other cook in the bar.
The normal options when you order include 5 and 8 course prix fixe menus, and a small a la carte menu. But you're strongly steered towards the 14 course kaiseki (well, Trotter and Nagahara's version of kaiseki) menu. Beth was a little worried that she couldn't handle a full-size 14 course menu, so we ended up asking if the chef and restaurant would let us split a single tasting of 20 courses (the 14 courses plus 6 added at the whim of the chef). They were generous enough to accommodate that request, and a request for non-alcoholic beverage pairings, and with that, we were on our way.
note: for the first few courses, the descriptions are from other reviewers, most notably gourmet traveller and KevinEats. For most of the remaining courses, the description is a quote from the chef who presented the dish to us.
note 2: as always, click the images to view them at a larger size.
#1 - tai (snapper
With white and black grapes, black grape puree, celery confit, celery stock reduction and micro greens.
Pairing: ginger beer with kaffir lime
This was a delicious, light-yet-complex way to start, and I think helped set the tone for the next 19 courses. The mild snapper was a great base for the sweet/sour of the grapes, the herbaceous celery, and the slight bite of the micro greens. The ginger beer with kaffir lime was also outstanding, and the bite of the ginger and acidic and floral lime paired well with the dish.
#2 - iwashi (sardine)
With compressed watermelon, sea grapes, yuzu sorbet and celery marinated in miso and yuzu.
Pairing: Watermelon muddled with mint, and tonic
The highlight of this dish, besides the deliciously oily and fishy sardine, were the sweet and sour yuzu sorbet and the salty, slightly bitter sea grapes. Like the snapper, this dish showed a command of salt, sour, sweet, and bitter that few meals I've had have demonstrated. The paired drink featured the same watermelon from the sardine muddled with mint, and the tonic added some bitterness that brought the whole thing together nicely.
#3 - tomato
Heirloom Tomatoes with compressed cucumber rind, tomato skin chip, hijiki and dashi, tomato foam, hijiki "dirt" and avocado semifreddo.
Pairing: 7Up with kaffir lime and meyer lemon
Chef Nagahara said he came up with the concept for this dish in June, and then spent two months waiting for the tomatoes to be good enough for him to put it on the menu. It was worth the wait, though, because the richness of dashi and avocado and the bitterness of the hijiki "dirt" perfectly balanced the sweetness of the tomatoes and the acidity of the cucumber rind, while the tomato skin chip provided nice textural contrast. The pairing continued the trend of boosting familiar flavors with aggressive aromas, and reminded me of an upscale version of the temperance punch my grandmother makes... a very good thing.
#4 - Bluefin tuna chu-toro
"We're presenting tuna in two different forms: underneath the foam you'll see the roulade, it is filled with an umeboshi spoonbread, it's then lightly poached at about 58 degrees, so that you should get a nice texture of the cooked tuna. we as well have a sashimi of chu-toro coming from close to the collar. It comes over a sauce of Nashi, which is asian pear, and a little bit of umeboshi as well as a Nashi relish dressed with a little bit of chive and olive oil. The foam is seawater… basically a dashi that has been 'amped up'."
Pairing: umeboshi, meyer lemon, tonic
This was an exceptional dish, really showing off the amazingly rich and tender bluefin tuna. The umeboshi, nashi, and dashi-seawater foam helped bring the dish into balance. The umeboshi drink was also top-notch, with salty, sour, sweet, and bitter in each sip.
#5 - ama-ebi (spot prawn)
"With this course we have ama-ebi santa barbara spot prawn.. we have the prawns presented in two different ways: one, almost as a ceviche, over a shellfish panna cotta, and it's tossed with a little bit of cilantro, tarragon, and raspberry. We remove the heads, take off the head plates, and we fry them, so they're completely edible. The foam is a tarragon emulsion, it's one of Hiro's real pride and joys. Basically completely heat resistant... you can just about put a plate on top of it. A little bit of shellfish oil as well, and a raspberry-shellfish consomme"
Pairing: pomegranate juice with tarragon
A non-traditional take on a very traditional sushi-bar dish. The acidity of the raspberry matched well with the sweetness of the prawn, and the perfectly fried shell coated in and filled with tarragon foam was a playful and delicious blend of textures. The pomegranate drink was tasty, with the tarragon helping tie the sweet-sour of the pomegranate to that of the raspberry.
#6 - tuna tartare
"This is our second offering of tuna, a tartare. We take pieces from the akami, the toro, and the chu-toro, and combine them so you get what we think is the best combination of richness, flavor, and fattiness. It comes over a sauce of hijiki, as well as a daikon and greek yogurt flan. Next to it is a relish of hijiki and fermented daikon. We've quickly pickled a cucumber, and the crisp chip you see is a bit of battera kombu. There is a salad of daikon and red shiso, and a little bit of bonito powder."
Pairing: grapefruit juice, tonic, rosewater
Tuna tartare is such a cliche, no? No. Not this tuna tartare, which was more of a mousse in texture and impossibly rich. The hijiki and pickled cucumber added bitterness and acidity, and the battera kombu provided important textural contrast. It was one of the simplest courses, and wasn't as intellectually interesting as the earlier tuna course, but it was incredibly delicious. The pairing was again one of contrast, matching bitter and sour against the rich and fatty tuna.
#7 - trout three ways
"One of the tenets of kaiseki is to tell a story.. in this dish the story we try to tell is that of a trout swimming upstream.. what we have is tasmanian ocean trout. At the front we have a ravioli, it's made of house-made ricotta and a little pearl barley. The skin of the ravioli is actually a trout fume that's set with a little bit of vegetable gelatin. Underneath is a trout roe vinaigrette, along with some fried shirasu, and a little pearled barley.
In the center we have a trout roulade, the meat comes from the belly, seasoned with a bit of coriander, lemon zest, and fennel. Served with a raw fennel salad and a little bit of chervil.
Last, we have some cured trout ice cream garnished with a trout skin chip."
Pairing: oolong tea with ginger
Yes, trout ice cream. Well, actually trout sorbet, since it was dairy-free. The trout sorbet is notorious in the Bar Charlie kitchen because it broke their $4000 pacojet... tough to explain to corporate, no? Anyway. The trout ravioli was fine, but not really memorable.. interesting in terms of technique and presentation, but that's it. The trout roulade was beautifully cooked and well balanced with the brightness of the fennel and lemon. The ice cream was really impressive.. the fat of the trout gave it an incredible creamy texture, and it had just enough sweetness to balance the fishiness. This is a trout ice cream that would win Iron Chef America. The pairing wasn't particularly memorable here, just a gingery chilled tea.. but there was so much going on on the plate that I think they deserve a pass.
#8 - halibut
"Halibut with english peas; a puree of english peas with shallot and mint; a ragout of sous vide english peas and roasted shallots, seasoned with mint, chervil, and chives. On top, sweet pea shoots and baby cabbage."
Pairing: plum juice with rose essence and tonic
One of the few courses that had very few obvious Asian influences.. it was really a version of a classic English halibut with mushy peas. The halibut was as perfectly cooked as halibut can get, and the herbed peas matched well with it. Not much to say about this dish except that we loved it. It was comfort food, really. The pairing again wasn't amazing, but the bitterness of the tonic and slight acidity of the plums balanced the rich and sweet halibut and peas.
#9 - langoustine
"For your next offering we're doing a tempura of Icelandic langoustine with Kanzuri carrot and lemon. Like the rest of the dishes, we express the ingredients in more than one way. So, in the middle we have a langoustine dumpling which we've filled with lemon custard, like a soup dumpling.
Next we have the tempura langoustine with tempura bits on the bottom. We do a sauce of carrots stewed down with thai chiles and kanzuri. And then the ribbon is carrot pickled in kanzuri and orange. Then we've taken some roasted carrots and made a salad, with a little cilantro and soy. We've finished that with a vinaigrette with nasturtium leaves and seacress"
Pairing: Orange juice with meyer lemon
A beautifully fried langoustine was the highlight here, but the langoustine soup dumpling was delicious in its own right. In many of the earlier accounts of this dish that I've read online, the langoustine was replaced with Big Fin squid. I'd like to try that version, but I suspect that this combination works better, since the richness and sweetness of the langoustine perfectly played off the pickled carrot and lemon custard.
#10 - scallop
"This is our diver sea scallop, which comes with the flavors of spinach, coffee, and turnip. Underneath there's a sauce of Bloomsdale spinach, a saute of Bloomsdale and Red Orach spinach. The cube you see in the back is a piece of kabu, which is Japanese turnip. We braise it in ponzu and coffee gastrique, the same gastrique we use to make the vinaigrette with the Rishiri-kombu and diced kabu. We wrap the braised kabu in its own leaf and steam it. The curl is flexible chocolate, with a little bit of cinnamon and cayenne. The vinaigrette is coffee gastrique, coffee oil, and vanilla. The Rishiri-kombu and kabu is scattered over the top."
Pairing: orange juice with clover honey
This was an eye-opening dish for us: a combination that makes almost no sense on its face (scallop, turnip, coffee, and chocolate) but that works incredibly well in reality. Chef Nagahara told us he came up for this dish when he was prepping turnips early in the morning and eating bites in between sips of coffee. The bitter coffee, spinach, and chocolate, the sweet scallop, the sour ponzu and coffee gastrique, and the spice from the cinnamon and cayenne all come together into one of the best dishes of the night. I'd have loved for it to be paired with a coffee or chocolate based drink, though, instead of the orange juice with honey.
#11 - saba / mackerel
"Another spontaneous course: saba, Japanese mackerel, yakitori-grilled. We did this with roasted eggplant and cumin, and genmai miso. We yakitori grill the mackerel, and then we have baby eggplant in different ways: one, as like a salad, and another one as a puree, and also a sheet, grilled, underneath the mackerel."
Pairing: plum and cranberry juice with bitters
We watched Chef Nagahara grab a beautiful, glassy-eyed whole mackerel from the walk-in, clean it, scale it, fillet it, and then grill it for us. This was another comfort-food type dish, and very traditionally Japanese. It was gorgeously cooked, a little smoky from the grill, and balanced well with the eggplant. The pairing went very well in this case, adding acidity, bitterness, and sweetness to a dish that didn't have too much in those departments.
#12 - "agedashi" Tamba tofu with beets
"Tamba tofu. Tamba is the original black soybean. One of the reasons we don't see it often is that it's very difficult to scald the milk to make the tofu. We also have some black beans in the bottom of the bowl, sauteed with some pickled asian mushrooms (honshimeji) and tokyo scallion. Inside the "present" is the tofu and tokyo scallions, seasoned with togarashi. We have some roasted beets, both candy striped and yellow beets, as well as a vinaigrette of a brunoise of red beets.
It's supposed to be a very similar dish to agedashi tofu, so what we have to finish is a little bit of beet consomme."
Pairing: grapefruit tea with rosemary and lavender
Another non-traditional take on a traditional Japanese dish. The tofu was the star of the show here, with a complexity and richness that most tofu would kill for. The pickled mushrooms helped balance the tofu and the sweet beets, but the pairing really did an amazing job bringing the dish together, with the bitter tea helping bring the rest of the dish into focus.
#13 - kurobuta pork belly with green curry
"Here we have our 36-hour braised kurobuta pork belly. It's braised in a hibiscus gastrique, and we have a sauce of cabbage, tomatillo and jalapeno. It's dotted with a little bit of coconut green curry. We take that same flavor of coconut green curry and represent it in the salad that comes on top. So we have a julienne of tomatillo, young coconut meat and jalapeno, as well as an herb salad of lavender, mint, shiso, thai basil, and cilantro. We have one red-wine braised pearl onion, as well as a little bit of braising liquid and the natural jus."
Pairing: green apple juice with cinnamon and clove
This was the most assertive of the dishes, with impossibly rich and smoky pork belly and bright, genuinely spicy curry-like salad. It was in perfect balance for me, and did a better job of balancing rich pork belly than any I've had. Another hit. The bright and slightly sour apple juice also helped calm the fattiness of the pork.
#14 - wagyu filet
"Wagyu filet with black fermented garlic puree, black garlic emulsion, a little crispy wagyu, grilled tokyo scallions, and fresh tokyo scallions on top."
Pairing: St. Pauli Girl non-alcoholic beer
The pairing entertained me a lot. It actually wasn't a particularly awful beer (although it wasn't very good), but it was a real "one of these things is not like the others" situation. Anyway, the wagyu was the star here, fatty and beefy and meltingly tender, with the tang of the black garlic and the bite of the scallions balancing well. The crispy wagyu bits were a real highlight, too.. they reminded us of the crispy bits on a good griddled hamburger. Anyway, this was a very good dish, but as soon as we finished it, Chef Nagahara started telling us about...
#15 - Wagyu beef, grade 12, from Saga prefecture
Pairing: Coca Cola with bing cherry juice
Yep, grade 12 wagyu from Japan. It doesn't grade any higher, and Saga prefecture wagyu is spoken of in the same breath as Kobe and Ohmi. We never actually got a description of the other components in this dish, which is just as well... the star of the show was the beef, and it was the type of beef dreams are made of. Incredibly rich, fatty, and tender, but still maintaining the essential beefiness that you want from a slice of dead cow. Oh, and the bing-cherry-coke was pretty awesome, too.
#16 - lychee sorbet with ginger and pineapple
More of a palate cleanser than a course, but this was a very tasty sorbet, and the pineapple ribbons underneath were especially delicious.
#17 - strawberry, basil, olive oil
"For our first fruit course we have macerated strawberries with a basil syrup. It has a strawberry sorbet, basil semifreddo, and an olive oil ice cream, with a little olive oil powder on the side."
Pairing: grapefruit juice with kaffir lime.
All three frozen concoctions were very good, but the basil semifreddo was especially impressive, since it tasted of basil without tasting of grass. The tartness of the grapefruit juice played well against the rich basil and olive oil bites, also.
#18 - green tea cake
"Green tea cake with sliced peaches, a bruleed honey zabaglione, with a plum sorbet, and a little bit of a peach tapioca as well."
Pairing: peach and pineapple juice with cardamom
They do sorbets really well here, you know? The plum sorbet was the highlight of this plate, too, but I really enjoyed the lightness of the green tea cake and the crunchy-creamy honey zabaglione The peach/pineapple/cardamom drink was pleasant.
#19 - marshmallow and chocolate
"For the first chocolate course we have a tahitian marshmallow, bruleed, with a white chocolate custard and a marshmallow foam, and a little bit of milk chocolate rocks."
Pairing: soy milk with chocolate and vanilla
This was my favorite of the desserts. I love bruleed marshmallow, and the milk chocolate rocks added to the playfulness of the dish. The soy milk pairing was great, actually, since the flavors blended well, but it wasn't nearly as sweet.
#20 - Chocolate cake
Dark chocolate cake, banana sorbet, chai foam, and banana tuile.
Pairing: chocolate milk with frozen banana.
Another course, another beautiful sorbet. The chocolate cake was wonderful, too, but the banana-chai combination worked amazingly well.
lychee-raspberry gelee, cinnamon almond dragees, and two I can't remember. Beth thinks one was a salt caramel fudge and the other was an espresso truffle.
I really loved the gelee, because I really love gelees.
So that's 20 courses at Bar Charlie. Not one clunker, not one miss, not one near-miss, not one that we'd grade lower than an A-. It was the meal of our lifetime, and the effortless calm with which the two chefs at the bar pulled it off was nothing less than astounding. It's not a cheap meal, but you'd have a hard time convincing me my Vegas high-end-dining dollars would be better spent at Alex or Picasso or Robuchon at the Mansion. It was worth every dollar and every minute we spent on it.
If you're in Las Vegas for a special occasion, I can't recommend Bar Charlie highly enough.
3325 Las Vegas Blvd
Las Vegas, NV
Ate at Bar Charlie last night, and it was as good as everyone had said. I won't repeat the list of every thing I ate (I did 8 courses with a wine/sake pairing), but it was all wonderful -- except for the last chocolate dessert that didn't wow me. In terms of creativity and interest, though, combined with momens of sheer deliciousness, I can only compare it with meals I have had at Momofuku Ko --- really exciting food that stimulates the mind as well as the palate and to which attention deserves to be paid.
I would hope that people take the time (and spend the money) to check this place out. I was the only diner there last night -- and while I really enjoyed the chance to chat about food at length with Chef Hiro and the sweet waitress, and appreciated that Hiro had time to discuss my tastes and tailor accordingly, it worried me. This is exciting stuff (blew away everything else I ate in Vegas this time -- although Julian Serrano's modern tapas at the Atria were very tasty and I'll be back there too -- had some really bad food at Bouchon and the Wynn's Wazuzu) that really merits an audience, and that I would hate to see modified for the sake of drawing in a bigger crowd.
Why go to a branch of a famous restaurant that is at its best elsewhere when you can have a (for now) completely unique experience and spend time with Chef HIro, who should be (if there is any justice in the food world) one of the great chefs we'll be hearing a lot about in years to come? I would note that the Venetian/Palazzo didn't seem to be doing a lot to promote the place -- there were no signs, posters etc., as there are for many lesser places, such as the endlessly promoted Bouchon.
Oh well, as others have mentioned, Chef Hiro says that plans are afoot for a NY restuarant opening next year, and I feel sure that every seat at Bar Charlie NY will be packed nightly (and I'll never get a table and have to reminisce about my "just for me" dinner in Vegas).
re: Elaine Snutteplutten
FYI for any future readers of this thread, Bar Charlie has now closed (as of last month) - we had flown to Las Vegas on holiday and was booked in for dinner but sadly it closed the week before we arrived so never got to eat there one last time. If anyone has news on where Hiro-san's is next headed, do fill me in!
Thanks for your wonderfully-detailed review. I had a superb dinner at Bar Charlie at the end of March. The only thing that concerned me is that for the two hours (8 - 10 p.m.), there were only two diners at Bar Charlie (me and a gentleman who left a half hour before me so I felt uneasy being the sole diner). Were there more diners when you were at Bar Charlie?
There were two other parties (one of 2, the other of 4) when we went but we were the last remaining so there was a good hour when we were the only ones in there. It was a Tuesday night though so we didn't really expect the place to heaving, plus it allowed us to converse extensively with chef Hiro which was great!
re: gourmet traveller
They do a variety of tasting menus, and will "mix and match" between the main kitchen and the Bar Charlie crew on request. They are really good about being flexible, and tailoring options based on each customer's preference. That also includes the number of courses - they post 8 and 14 courses, but those are considered more suggestions than anything iron clad.
It is almost frightening to think about how good Hiroo can become. Take someone with his intelligence level (a degree in physics), and unleash him with the ability of the Trotter organization to source ingredients, and the possibilities are mind-blowing. We have done 72 different courses over five trips without any being repeated, and this thread led to a wonderful coffee break of reading back through the scrolls. Thank you for that. If they can navigate through these economic times, we are looking forward to adding many more scrolls to the collection.
If you can stomach it I would definitely try to fit it in, we visited Joël Robuchon on our last visit to Vegas in March and although the cooking at Robuchon was top-notch and the whole dining experience there rather theatrical (and maybe even excessive - there were at least 30 types of bread on the bread trolley and we were giving a whole lemon pound cake each to take away with us!) I much preferred Bar Charlie - the cuisine is just so refined, considered and different. Having said that the restaurants differ greatly, so I'm not suggesting you drop Robuchon altogether...just try and squeeze in Bar Charlie and then detox the entire week after your trip!
Btw we also visited Chicago on this trip and L2O was amazing. We did Alinea as well and I think it was on par, if not slightly better than our meal there (I'll be putting up a review of both at some point this week).
re: gourmet traveller
Alinea is my favorite meal of all time - better than a meal at the French Laundry where I simply asked the chef to cook for me off menu w/o regard for cost (ended up $450+tax). I've been to Trotter's flagship and rank it my #3 or 4 meal ever behind Alinea, TFL, and perhaps Providence.
My new question is whether I can manage to sample all 30 breads during my visit to JR. :-)
What a wonderful review and really makes it hard for me in two weeks when I head to Vegas. I went to Bar Charlie last year and had a great meal and want to return. And I remember leaving there last year thinking that the chances of it being open in a year were slim given how few people were there and the economy. My only night available is Sunday and I and torn between going to a restaurant I have not been or Bar Charlie (which in truth, we never got through the meat courses). I guess it will be a game time decision but I am torn between: Alex, Joël Robuchon, Sen of Japan (yes I know it doesn't fit in this class but I have a friend who lives out there), or somewhere else.
Again thanks to the great review!