Charlie Palmer - South Coast Plaza (Costa Mesa)
|I'd been waiting a very long time for this to come to fruition. For the first two weeks, they had conducted a soft opening for friends and media. We obtained a seating on their second day live. Dressed in my new LBD and pearls, we debated whether to enter through SCP or make a grand entrance from the exterior. We chose the more formal route, and were pleased by what we saw.|
The signature design element echoed in other Palmer properties, a prominent wall of wine, grandly welcomed us. While our hostess checked on the table, we peered down a flight of stairs and spotted what appeared to be both wine cellar and private dining. Too timid to inquire, we patiently stood by and admired the sleek bar just beyond us. Later on I discover they offer a separate (but just as tempting) appetizer menu, securing my decision on a future visit. I was impressed at how much seating was offered back there. Before we could contemplate further, it was time to enter the dining room.
As far as modern cuisine goes, the next detail took the cake. He was handed the eWinebook. Imagine your pda expanded to a laptop monitor. I recall tablet pc prototypes a decade ago being tested, but never experienced one with such a service-oriented purpose. You could bookmark favorites for questioning the sommelier. Sorting by region or varietal? No problem! We probably spent a good 15 minutes ogling over selections. I ultimately decided on their cocktail list, a vino fresco. Mild and fruity, it would sustain me until our first course. He was recommended a glass of the Franz Kunstler German Riesling, dry and softly sweet.
CP is divided up into three categories: first, main, and vegetable/starch. Having been to his Grand Central station brasserie Metrazur, we were comfortable with most of the selections. It was a matter of craving...and room for dessert. After much debate, we place our orders and survey the room. A mild mannered couple in one corner, stylish quartet of men across the way, Asian family with well behaved child past the partition, and a smattering of Newportesque couples along the window view. Oh wait, a few tables of six - - generally, surrounded by a crowd that's 15+ years older than us. Normal by our standards.
A recurring theme in tonight's dining experience was BIG. Like Mr. Big. Larger than life. Abundant in portion and flavor. Often times fine dining is associated with having not only a hefty price tag, but minuscule servings "like elf food" as the diner observes. This was definitely not the case. What sat before me was a hunk of crisp pork belly. Melon, pickled onion, and aged sherry vinegar gave a flavor counter, but my eyes glazed over the portion. Really, I was starting to get satiated towards the end of course one. Shrimp kabobs "you had me at tamarind" a la plancha were elegantly presented and plated in front of J. Shellfish silently slid off their skewers with the aid of our server and an oversized pair of silver tongs. Caponata (eggplant) salad played a modest supporting role.
Skipping to the vegetables and starches, (because what grand meal doesn't have them) we begin with trumpet royale mushrooms. Shaped the way it is named and sliced into fifths, I buckled at the fourth. Quite the meaty side, we continue with some crispy fries accompanied by a little chipotle aioli. A slightly creamy consistency - in a good way - on the inside, I related them to a firmer version of a steak cut fry. And then they placed the gargantuan green asparagus. After a brief, tense moment (WTF! We did not order that), I politely verbalize my sentiments. Whether they played it off or actually were sincere, the steamed vege was a gift to us for dining with them. Awww....
His favorite of the courses, our seafood mains delivered big. Maine sea scallops were impeccably prepared. I sat awestruck at my crispy skin Pacific sea bass. Atop melted Maui onion and mushroom soy, I was speechless. You don't see these portions served unless your name has a Factory or Claim in the title. I made a concerted effort to finish. I took breathers between courses and marveled at the warm modern decor, reminiscent of the Viceroy Santa Monica. The staff was sharply dressed in beige chef coat jackets. Various team members would inquire about our satisfaction throughout the meal. The attention was mildly intoxicating.
Desserts were a blur of richness - vanilla braised pineapple with brown sugar cake, a gianduja of indulgent chocolate, and a praline tart danced between us. I cannot recall the unusual ice cream flavor, but no bother. The most modest of the portions, I was perfectly fine, since everything prior was so indulgent I could barely eat more. What made this so reminiscent of New York exploits was our parting gift. We received little 'presents' everywhere we ate on our trip. Here, it was chocolate (powder) covered cashews. I savored every scrumptious bite like a serving of caviar.
Truly a welcome addition to the county.