Posts Tagged ‘Charlie Trotter’

Restaurant Charlie Post Mortem

Posted 02 May 2010 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining, Food Alert Trends

On March 19th Charlie Trotter closed Restaurant Charlie and Bar Charlie at the Palazzo Hotel in Las Vegas when restaurant traffic, like a Las Vegas rain, dried to dust. Restaurant Charlie was closed at the top if its game because there wasn’t enough traffic to sustain ongoing operations. Another great restaurant killed by a bad economy! The 120 seat restaurant, including a wonderful kitchen table perched on a private balcony above the hot line, and 18 seat Kaiseki bar was nothing short of spectacular and, more important, employed some really nice and talented people. Although seeing Charlie struggle makes me sad (he’s a great guy), the effect this closure had on people like Chef Vanessa Garcia and Kaiseki Chef Hiro Nagahara is even sadder. Restaurant Charlie was just starting to gain momentum when it closed.

Hagar and Trotter

I would never have been to Restaurant Charlie if it wasn’t for Trotter himself. When I bumped into Charlie Trotter at the Venetian late last year, he was chatting with rocker Sammy Hagar. Charlie was as energized as ever with a big smile on his face and asked if I had eaten at Restaurant Charlie yet. I hadn’t and my response was disappointing to him. Hagar rolled his eyes. Wrong answer I guess. Trotter paused for a moment, asked if I was willing to endure a quick 5 course Kaiseki, (I was), and within 10 minutes I was on my way across the casino floor to the restaurant.

Chef Hiro

Alone and feeling a bit off guard, I sat at the end of the Kaiseki bar which was half full. After a minute or two my waitress stopped over and introduced herself (her name was Penny). I told Penny to guide me through the five course menu with wines. She smiled and departed to key in my order. A few minutes later Kaiseki chef Hiro Nagahara approached me and said hello. Hiro and I spent the next two hours chatting about his background, his love of Japanese cooking, global food, blending the traditional with the modern and the wonderful freedom he has to be creative at Bar Charlie.

Although I have more I could write about the way Nagahara waltzes his way through the kitchen while conversing with customers, I will save that story for another entry. Instead, I offer you the photos below with a feeling of loss that Restaurant Charlie is gone along with an enduring sense of privilege that I got to eat there before it closed. Keep your eye’s peeled for Chefs Vanessa Garcia and Hiro Nagahara in the coming months, both  have bright futures. In particular, watch for Garcia. Fresh from receiving one Michelin star in 2009, and nominated for best new chef for 2010 by The James Beard Foundation, it will be interesting to see where she winds up.

 Five Course Kaiseki Menu

1st Course

Hirame, Black Grapes & Celery

Champagne Paul Goerg Blanc de Blanc Brut, France


2nd Course

Spanish Blue Fin Tuna, Umeboshi & Seawater

The Southeast Cocktail

3rd Course

Tasmanian Ocean Trout, Cauliflower & Tapioca

2007 Riesling Kabinett “Maximin Brunhauser Herrenberg” von Schubert, Mosel, Germany


Pork Belly

4th Course

Kurobuta Pork Belly, Herbed Cream & Baby Carrots

2007 Ken Wright “Abbot Claim” Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton District


5th Course

Simple Coconut and Passionfruit Sorbet

6th Course

Black Plum with Red Shiso & Charred Cinnamon Ice Cream

2006 Hauth Kerpen “Wehlener Sonnenuhr” Riesling Beerenauslese, Mosel German



Seawater Flooding Vegas?

Posted 25 Feb 2010 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining

What’s with all the seawater flooding Vegas? Earlier today I scanned as I usually do to see which way the wind was blowing in the financial world and noticed Ryan Sutton’s article about Vegas casual dining. I am a fan of Sutton’s and seek out his work on Bloomberg regularly. In the article Sutton describes a Turbot poached in Hawaiian Ocean water at Michael Mina’s American Fish located within the new Aria Resort and Casino in the CityCenter complex (which itself may be underwater). Michael Mina is one of the most talented chefs in the country so it took me a moment to get over my initial tinge of envy that Sutton had a chance to eat at his new place. As my envy subsided it was replaced by a sense of wonder why Mina would import ocean water from Hawaii for a dish in bone dry Las Vegas.  Mina is not alone; this is the second restaurant that I know of in Vegas using seawater in a dish.

During a trip to Las Vegas back in December, 2009, Charlie Trotter and I bumped into each other at an event at the Venetian. After a brief chat he promptly sent for the maître d’ of Restaurant Charlie at the Palazzo Hotel so she could escort me back to the restaurant to enjoy his five course Kaiseki menu.  The menu included a tuna dish topped with seawater foam. It was one of the best dining experiences I have had.

Trotter’s seawater foam was a garnish on the second course in a multi-course menu (see image to the right). The dish included, in addition to the Spanish blue-fin tuna and foam, umeboshi which is a tree fruit (ume) similar to apricot that

Spanish Blue Fin Tuna with Seawater Foam

has been pickled. The dish was outstanding with a perfect balance of fatty tuna, sweet and sour ume and salty foam but I couldn’t help but wonder, with trepidation, where the seawater came from (Coast of Cartagena vs. the East River). Hiro, the polite, soft spoken and ultra-professional Kaiseki chef at Bar Charlie provided me the detail.

The “seawater” much to my relief, was not real seawater at all but a liquid consisting of a dashi base that had been filtered, seasoned and foamed.  In contrast, Sutton’s article claims that American Fish is actually using ocean water bottled up and shipped from Hawaii. I guess in an age when we drink bottled water shipped from every corner of the earth, a little Hawaiian ocean water is no big deal, but the notion of ocean water in Vegas remains foreign to me. Is the flavor of Hawaiian ocean water sufficiently sublime to warrant a trip to the mainland? Is the flavor of ocean water on the north side of Oahu different than the south side? Are we headed toward vertical ocean water tastings from pristine global sources? Worse yet is the challenge of knowing, like many things in Vegas, whether the ocean water you are served is real or fake.