We arrived at Charlie Palmer in Bloomingdale's, South Coast Plaza, for lunch. As we walked through the double glass doors, we were immediately greeted by a smiling face, and soon we were whisked away to a table along the perimeter of the restaurant - the perfect spot for scoping out every detail of the dining room. And the dining room was quite lovely with nice high ceilings, elegant yet simple decor, and tables spaced a part perfectly.
As we were seated, the bread came around. We were offered a choice of a baguette, kalamata olive bread, rosemary bread, or a multi-grain roll. I love it when we get a choice! For this round, we both chose the kalamata olive bread. It was a sourdough type bread, and we both really liked it.
The waiter soon brought around the lunch menus and wine list. He asked if ice water was fine, and it was, thank you very much. That was score one for Team Charlie Palmer. I hate when you are forced to choose still, sparkling, or tap! When you choose tap water, I feel like the wait staff is immediately sizing you up. So yes, ice water will be more than fine.
Charlie Palmer offers a three course pre-fixe lunch for $26. Each course had two options, so between dear Ben and me, we were able to try everything on the pre-fixe list. There wasn't anything mentioned about wine pairings on the menu, so I inquired about such a thing. Their sommelier was knowledgeable and personable, and she immediately went to work on pairing our lunch with just the right wines. I was impressed once again at the information she gave us about each of the wines she chose for us. Score two for Team Charlie Palmer.
I had the chilled yellow tomato soup - think smooth gazpacho - paired with Mont Gras Sauvignon Blanc from Chile (2008) for the first course. The wine held up well with the acidity of the tomatoes. The soup was also served with a grilled brie panini. The bright flavors of the soup and the richness of the panini brings the classic grilled cheese and tomato soup combination up a few levels. I'd like to have this as a mid-afternoon snack every day please. Can we arrange this?
Ben had the chopped romaine salad. It was coated in a parmesan dressing, but dear Ben said it was more like a regular Cesar salad dressing. It was topped with brioche croutons, hard-boiled egg quarters, and grape tomato halves. While it was a decent salad, he didn't think it was anything too special. The salad was paired with Inama Soave from Italy (2007).
The sommelier came back around to pour our wines for the second course. It was quite a long wait before we were served, maybe 20 minutes, but we didn't really mind. However, when the second course was served she came back around to top off our classes because of the long wait. It's the little things, Charlie Palmer. Score three for you!
I ordered the pan roasted Scottish Salmon for my second course. It was paired with a Soter Pinot Noir (2007). The earthiness of this pinot worked beautifully with the truffle risotto in pinot noir reduction and the adorable baby squash. The top of the salmon was a crispy goodness, and the inside was every bit as luscious as one could hope for. The deeper color of pink in the middle made me absolutely squeal.
Ben ordered the grilled flat iron steak, and it wasn't your typical formed flat iron steak. It was prepared medium - medium rare, and had a bold red wine jus, not to mention perfect grill marks. Dear Ben isn't crazy for cooked spinach, but he enjoyed the small bed of spinach nestled beneath the steak because it had soaked up all of the steak juices. A small scoop of garlic mashed potato puree accompanied his dish. Delish! You might think that this dish would be paired with a regular ole Cabernet, but the sommelier chose a hearty Argentina Malbec, Ben Marco (2006). To my surprise, dear Ben proclaimed that he loves to do as the Argentineans do. Interesting, I thought.
Ah, dessert. I had the molten chocolate creation. It was a small warm square of decadent chocolate cake, complete with the dark chocolate ganache inside and espresso ice cream on the side. It was definitely a contrast of temperatures, but I did not necessarily enjoy both in the same bite. What I did enjoy immensely was the pure dark chocolate squares with the almost candied lemon rind sliver on top. Talk about your flavor pop.
Dear Ben picked the other dessert option, vanilla bean semifreddo. This dessert was served with Harry's berries, Seville orange marmalade, and a small buttery shortbread cookie. The semifreddo came out in a rectangular shape, and tasted just like vanilla bean ice cream. The raspberries were sweet, but the oranges were bitter. Dear Ben was not a fan of those oranges, but ate the entire plate regardless.
We both had a dessert wine, but the sommelier must have been busy with a wine tasting that was getting underway. Someone else on Team Charlie brought us our treat, though he did not disclose any information besides the name. Sadly, I cannot recall the names of either. Mine had a pink color, while dear Ben's was clear. They were both bubbly. Can you figure that one out with just those clues?
Overall, four forks up. That's the most you can get, by the way. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, the food, and the service. I do wish you'd refold the napkin when a person gets up from the table though. Dear Ben knows that's important to me, so he did it for me... but only after he gave ample opportunity to the staff to take initiative. In any case, we'll be back!
... and those are my Notes from the Napkin!
Bloomingdale's South Coast Plaza
3333 South Bristol Street
Costa Mesa, CA 92626