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1st September
written by spd
The front lounge at Charlie Palmers at Bloomingdale's South Coast Plaza.  We agree that the artwork is a little awkward... :)

The front lounge at Charlie Palmers at Bloomingdale's South Coast Plaza. We agree that the artwork is a little awkward...

Our time in Costa Mesa was dominated by drives to Laguna Beach, splurges at South Coast Plaza, afternoon dips at The Spa (a comp membership from the Wydham made the sad internet connection a bit more bearable!), and post-show trips to Charlie Palmer at Bloomingdale’s South Coast Plaza. Bloomingdales, you ask? A Charlie Palmer restaurant in a Bloomingdales? I raised my eyebrows as well; but, rest assured that this separated setting is infectiously chic and the food deserving of the Charlie Palmer brand.

Executive Chef Amar Santana was plucked from Aureole (where he served as sous chef) by Charlie Palmer. A native of the Dominican Republic, Santana entered Careers through Culinary Arts Program competition and won a trip to London’s prestigious Le Cordon Bleu where he trained with some of the world’s most talented rising star chefs. Oh-so-fortunately for us, the father of our cast’s most recent addition (Deb Grausman, who plays Chava) operates the very program that awarded Santana his scholarship. The world gets smaller and smaller… and as a result, tastier! We made four or five trips to Charlie Palmer’s during our two week stint in Costa Mesa, during which I tasted over twenty of Santana’s creations and paid for only about a third of them. Sure, in a one-on-one match with Aureole’s Christopher Lee, Santana might go down… but that is in no way meant to imply that his food isn’t stellar. I don’t want to bite the hand that feeds me (literally) by picking apart the dishes that I didn’t enjoy, but do I want to steer your tongue to the right direction.

The happy hour menu of small plates is a grrrreeat value, with not one of the plates surpassing the ten buck mark. There are expected upscale riffs on American bar food such as the Kobe Beef Sliders with Truffle Mayo ($10). His ‘hot wings’ are coated with Siracha BBQ Sauce and the bones are frenched ($9). Skip these and stretch your comfort zone without stretching your budget (You are forgiven, however, for ordering the twice fried French Fries with Chipotle Aioli… they are quite amazing!) The Crispy Veal Sweetbreads, served with Fennel Caper Relish ($10) are perfectly cooked (when I ordered the Braised Veal Tortellini with Chinese Long Beans at lunch, the Tortellini were topped with sweetbreads that were obliterated in the fryer! Clearly a mistake, as these were fantastic.) and the Blistered Shishito Peppers with Course Salt and Yuzu ($7) are bright, tangy and occasionally pack a punch of spice. The citrus here really makes the dish.

Blue Cheese Stuffed, Bacon Wrapped Dates ($6) and Burrata Cheese with Roasted Tomatoes and Arugula Pesto ($8) are certainly no revelation, but oh-so-good. I never thought I’d type this, but you can skip the Roasted Bone Marrow with Raisin Marmalade and Grilled Bread ($10). The buttery taste of marrow is completely overshadowed by the raisin marmalade, which tastes even more of red wine and onions than raisin. The Grilled Baby Octopus with Celery Root and Verjus Vinaigrette ($9) arrived and was a little tough from the grilling, and the celery root was pureed instead of braised. Wah, wah.

Do NOT skip the Sunny Side Up Egg over Tuna Ham, Fingerling Potatoes and Salsa Tartufara. ($10) The tuna is cured like ham and thinly sliced (a preparation I haven’t seen before) and the tartufara tastes so irresistibly of truffles, you’ll lick your fork. Pair any of the above with half-priced wine and cocktails like the Blood Orange Mojito or the Sexy Seduction with Ketel One and candied jalepenos.

Santana does not employ a pastry chef, which is surprising, since the deserts are rather complicated. For the most part, I loved all of them, with the exception of the Peanut Butter tart, which is paired with a cough-syrupy Grape Sorbet. The sugar and cinnamon-dusted Churros with Smoked Chocolate are perfection ($9) – you feel as if you are sitting around a campfire!

All in all, the small plates constitute one of the finest bar menus I’ve seen. And with half-price booze, how can you loose?

Charlie Palmer at South Coast Plaza. 3333 Bristol St, Costa Mesa, CA 92626. ph. 714.352.2525

Post-show outing with the cast!  I'm in the white polo next to Executive Chef Santana.

Post-show outing with the cast! (I'm in the white polo next to Executive Chef Santana.)

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