When I was a young college student, I was always looking for happy hours with cheap drinks and a chicken wing buffet. Since then, I have gained a few white hairs and developed an appreciation for quality food and craft cocktails. Charlie Palmer at Bloomingdale’s is known for being one of the best white tablecloth restaurants in Orange County. Although, did you know that their bar and lounge has has developed a cult following among the foodie crowd? Last week I had the opportunity to try their lounge menu and I quickly understood the obsession. After my first bite of the food, I already planing my next visit.The Charlie Palmer lounge offers high-end dishes and cocktails at very reasonable prices considering the ingredients and preparation. Here is what I tasted:
This is refreshing appetizer that provides a sweet and tangy flavor from the apple-miso vinaigrette. Seaweed has a soft and slightly crunchy texture that is very pleasant with the toasted nori chips. I am a big seaweed salad fan and the Charlie Palmer version impressed.
Roasted Beet Salad
This dish had a nice blend of flavors and would satisfy the pickiest eaters. Diced roasted beats were served with goat cheese, orange, and hazelnuts. I liked the crunchy contrast that the hazelnuts provided against the tender beets and goat cheese. The fresh flavors of this dish were balanced between sweet, nutty, tangy.
Very fresh Manila clams were steamed in what tasted like a white wine broth. They were topped with small nibs of chorizo and drizzled with a roasted garlic aioli. The clams had a perfect bite and paired nicely with the saltiness / spice from the chorizo. The aioli added an additional creamy flavor layer and tied the clams and chorizo together.
Steamed Escargot Dumplings
I loved the fusion of classic Mandarin and French techniques in this dish by Executive Chef Seakyeong Kim. A Chinese dumpling is filled with escargot, butter and topped with parmesan cheese. I was absolutely thrilled by the presentation, texture and complexity of flavors on my tongue. This is a must try dish if you love escargot and a perfect gateway for someone who is too afraid to try Escargot.
Chicken Liver Pate Tea Sandwich
This dish is a naughty addition to your Grandma’s tea party. This tea sandwiches balanced the extremely rich chicken liver pate with sweetness from the red onion fig marmalade and bitterness from the arugula. If you don’t like pate, consider trying these tea sandwiches; you might change your mind. Learning to love food means taking some risks, these tea sandwiches are a great place to start.
Red Wine Braised Oxtail Risotto Cakes
Charlie Palmer uses red wine in their braising processes which imparts a rich layer to the meat. They mixed the braised oxtail meat into a cheesy risotto and rolled it into a ball. The oxtail risotto ball is then dusted with bread crumb and flash fried to a golden brown. The result is a risotto cakes that have a gooey interior and crispy crunch. The oxtail risotto cakes are served with a Catalonian style nut and red pepper sauce, called a romesco.
Sometimes the best food comes from off-cuts of meat; such is the case with head cheese. Chef Kim prepares the head meat into croquettes, made in the Dutch tradition. Fried to a golden brown, they are crisp on the tongue and ooze out the savory meat when you bite down. They were served with kimchi remoulade, providing creamy zing to the dish.
Roasted Bone Marrow
The bone of a cow is literally sawed in half, exposing the rich bone marrow. It is prepared with a topping of black garlic prune pesto, coated with a bread crumb crust and roasted to a golden brown. If you have never eaten bone marrow before, you use the small spoon to scoop out some of the marrow and apply it to the grilled bread. Together the crisp bread and lush marrow provide a nice texture and flavor contrast. This was some of the better marrow I experienced, even better than many restaurants I visited in Paris.
This is a deceptively strong cocktail that is light and refreshing. The Vino Fresco is made with 42 below vodka, basil, grapes, and lime. This is a perfect cocktail for a warm spring evening. Since this cocktail is served in a martini glass, it is fair warning that this drink will have a kick
Blood Orange Mojito
Although the traditional mojito is a wonderful cocktail, Charlie Palmer adds a refreshing twist by adding fresh blood orange. The addition of blood orange takes this drink to another level by adding flavor notes of citrus and raspberry to the cocktail.
Scratch and Sniff
This gin based cocktail has a fresh flavor and a wonderful tropical characteristic provided by lychee puree, guava and lime juice. When I sipped on this cocktail, I could imagine myself on a beach resort in Thailand. The herbal notes from the gin and aperol paired nicely with fruit flavors. The Scratch and Sniff is topped with dehydrated lemons and has a wonderful bouquet for fruit aromas.
My Final Thoughts
My preference for fine food and drink has definitely evolved over time and so has my taste for happy hours. Charlie Palmer delivers on my desires for exciting foods made with classic techniques. The small plates are generous in portion size and the cocktails are strong. The price range for the small plates are approximately between $8-14 and the cocktails are all $14. For the quality of the food and drink you receive, it is a great deal. I highly recommend you try it at least one and you will be rewarded with some memorable flavors.
If you liked this blog post, you will probably like this one as well: http://tomsfoodieblog.com/2012/10/29/the-playground-leave-your-food-inhibitions-at-the-door/