Thursday, March 14, 2013

Happy Times at Charlie Palmer's Happy Hour - CLOSED

Charlie Palmer at South Coast Plaza
3333 Bristol St.
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

I feel pretty blessed to have started this blog and to have eaten in some of the best restaurants our great county has to offer. My list of places I want to eat at has now ballooned to three pages long. I get a good many of the recommendations  from you, our readers. I get the other restaurant tips from the almost thirty blogs that I read about OC dining establishments. It is from other peoples blogs that I had written down the name Charlie Palmer.

The man for whom this restaurant is named opened his first restaurant, Aureole in New York City in 1988. Since that time he has blown up. Now he has 12 restaurants, he has branched out by becoming a hotel owner, written four cookbooks, operates a chain of retail wine stores, he's been honored by the James Beard Foundation twice, including being named best chef in New York City in 1997. I am in awe just listing all of these accomplishments.

Almost since the opening of Charlie Palmer at South Coast Plaza, this restaurant has gotten glowing reviews from some of my favorite OC food bloggers. With all of this great press I knew it would just be a matter of time before we got to experience Charlie Palmer for ourselves. Lucky for us we were recently invited to Charlie Palmer to experience their new happy hour small plates and cocktails.

We arrived at South Coast Plaza just before five on an unusually warm March day. Charlie Palmer is attached to Bloomingdale's, in the most southern part of South Coast Plaza. Walking through their door I was shocked by the sleekness of the bar area. It had a real hip vibe, but not in an uncomfortable way. The chairs and sofa were comfortable, the staff was not uptight, and they even had sports on a very large plasma TV. Of course they would have gotten bonus points for having hockey on instead of basketball, but then I would not have been able to concentrate on all of the great items that started to make their way from behind the bar and out of the kitchen.

The drinks started coming out rapidly. Luckily we only got tasters of each, otherwise I would have been in trouble.  I am usually a very simple kind of guy when it comes to cocktails. I like two ingredients in my drinks; rum and Coke, gin and tonic, and vodka and soda are some of my favorites when I go out. The cocktails at Charlie Palmer are a little more advanced than that. Two drinks that grabbed my attention right away were the Blood Orange Mojito and the Little Gypsy (all cocktails are $14). The Blood Orange Mojito was made with Bacardi rum, lime, blood orange, mint, and a splash of soda. This one was fruity, without being overly sweet. A very good balance. The Little Gypsy was a gin based drink that combined the unusual ingredient of rhubarb bitters, along with sage, simple syrup, and grapefruit juice. I really got a good amount of rhubarb in this beverage, along with the tang from the grapefruit. A very well made cocktail.

Before we had gotten to Charlie Palmer, I checked out their happy hour menu and one drink really piqued my interest, the Two Thumbs Up. I only got a picture of the sample we got to try, but this was the best drink of the night for me. It combines house made popcorn vodka and vanilla syrup. The popcorn really stood out for me here. The flavor of that, along with the vanilla, almost made this like drinking some kettle corn. A very unique cocktail.

Cocktails are great, but I was definitely ready to try some of the food at Charlie Palmer. First out were a couple of salads. I very rarely eat beets, but after eating the Roasted Beet Salad ($8), I may have to rectify that situation. The cubed beets were joined in this salad by hazelnuts, oranges, and goat cheese. This salad had a very good balance to it. The sweetness with the oranges was perfect with the goat cheese, and the beets were done well here. The hazelnuts added an earthiness to this salad. Another salad that I might shy away from, but I was glad that I tried was the Seaweed Salad ($12). Seaweed always reminds me of the Sigmund and the Sea Monsters TV show, from when I was a kid. I know this salad tasted better than I would have imagined that sea monster would have tasted. The seaweed had a nice pleasant flavor to it, along with the slightly sweet apple-miso vinaigrette. I enjoyed the crunchiness that the nori chips added here.

I have never really been a big fan of pate, but the Chicken Liver Pate Sandwich ($10) was so creamy and rich, that if you did not know what you were eating, you wouldn't give it a second thought. To go along with the well made pate, was an interesting red onion fig marmalade and some arugula. I would have liked a little less arugula on this, and maybe smaller pieces of it as well. The bread was very nice and toasted.

Whenever I think of head cheese, I always think of that horrible looking stuff that is hanging by the packaged deli meats in the grocery stores. I never thought people would actually cook with that, but Charlie Palmer has helped me to change my view. The Head Cheese Croquettes ($12) are paired with a kimchi remoulade and I could have easily dusted off a few more of these easily. The croquette was fried perfectly, without being greasy. I should have taken a picture of the inside, but I ate these too fast. The pork had a great flavor, and did not resemble anything close to what was on the supermarket deli shelves.

The Red Wine Braised Oxtail Risotto Cakes ($9) came out the same time as the croquettes, and they paired nicely with each other. I expected these to be a little more flavorful than they were. The risotto really seemed to take over here. There also needed to be a little more of the romesco sauce on these, but I always prefer a heavy hand when it comes to sauces.

This was probably my least favorite thing of the night, but it was one of Katie's favorites. Can we ever agree on anything? Anyways, these Lamb Belly Steam Buns ($9) came with Gochujang, cucumber, tamarind, and sesame. My problem with this dish was the steamed bun. It was way too much bread for the contents of the bun. I took the insides of the sandwich out of the bun and ate them with a fork. I really enjoyed the Korean flavors of this meat. Katie liked the sweetness of the bread, and felt that this had a dim sum kind of feel to it.

Katie is not a big shell fish eater, so I had her plate and mine to polish off, but I made quick work of these Steamed Clams ($14). They came with a nice garlic aioli that added a big pop of flavor to these clams. The meat was very easy to get to, and it went well with the toasted bread that came with this.

Probably one of the funniest parts of the night for me was when we were given the Steamed Escargot Dumplings ($10) to try. Katie was deep in conversation, so she did not hear what she would be eating before popping it in her mouth. Later when asked what she thought of the escargot, I could see she was surprised that she actually liked it. I have never minded escargot. There is always plenty of butter and garlic, so that can never be a bad thing. At Charlie Palmer they even added Parmesan cheese to this to make it even more appealing. This was my first time having snails in a dumpling, and I liked this different presentation.

I have an admission to make to all of you. I feel that I have to get this off of my chest. My life as a food blogger has been a sham up until this point. I had never had bone marrow until this night. I know, the trendiest thing since foie gras has left our state, and I had yet to try it. Charlie Palmer has put an end to the bone marrow drought in my life.  The Roasted Bone Marrow ($14) here was described by my friend Rich as, "butter of the gods." He is not too far off. At Charlie Palmer the bone marrow is topped with a black garlic pesto, and served with grilled bread. The bone marrow was less dense than I thought it would be, but it was very rich. Very good and I can see why people like this so much. I guess I am a new fan as well.

By the time the dessert made its way around I was filled to the brim. I will be honest, I did not get the in depth explanation of what these desserts were. I know there was a very nice sorbet, a rather bland tart, and a very good chocolate? macaron. I was very happy we did not have a very heavy dessert, because I don't think I could have handled it. Also listed on the happy hour dessert menu is a trio of creme brulee's that we need to try on our next visit here.

The happy hour at Charlie Palmer is two happy hours for the price of one. These items, and others that we did not get a chance to try are available daily, and are served from 4 to 7, and then again from 9 til they close. The perfect time for a late afternoon snack or to celebrate another successful shopping day at South Coast Plaza. We only really scratched the surface of the happy hour menu at Charlie Palmer. They feature 28 items on their happy hour menu and ten signature cocktails. That is a whole lot of eating that you will need to do to get through this wonderful menu. We are already looking forward to our next trip.

We would like to thank the great Lee Healy for the wonderful opportunity to experience the greatness that is Charlie Palmer. As always, another great event Lee. We would also like to express our gratitude to Executive Chef Seakyeong Kim for providing us with all of the awesome food that we ate on this night. You can tell that he put a lot of himself into the food here at Charlie Palmer. Also, thanks go out to General Manager of this Charlie Palmer, Chris Moran. You and your staff made us all feel very welcome, and we definitely enjoyed meeting and chatting with you. We would like to thank all of our servers and bussers, who took such great care of all us bloggers. Thank you all so much. Lastly, I would like to thank all of the great bloggers that were in attendance on this night. It is because of you guys that I started my blog, and being a part of your community has made this blog such a pleasure to write. Thanks guys, and I can not wait until our next meal together.

For more information about Charlie Palmer at South Coast Plaza, click here:

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