First, let's talk about all the good things about this eight-week old restaurant. The gorgeous interior and inviting lounge evoke memories of very good times spent at Aureole in Las Vegas. As you enter, you see a wall of wines in front of you and a frosted glass floor below you (the stairs lead to a tasting room where every Tuesday night, the sommelier hosts wine tastings). The staff is generally young. In fact, if I was a bartender serving the sommelier a drink, I'd ask to see his I.D. first - he looks that young. I also was told that the executive chef is only twenty-six years old (I looked on the website for his name, but couldn't find it - I guess because Palmer's name is after all on the marquee). But youth is not a bad thing when you've got a restaurant with a vibrant energy as this, and the service for the most part is enthusiastic, very friendly and professional. Wines by the glass are plentiful, with the selections covering everywhere on the globe.
For starters, I had a tuna carpaccio (accompanied by a koroshu sake) which was garnished with mandarin oranges and fennel - light and yet full of flavor. I decided to stick with the ocean, and had the roasted tasmanian salmon for my main course - unbelievably pink and served medium rare, with a crust of peppercorn and truffles. The truffles do not overwhelm the fish, thankfully. I had this with a glass of Chilean pinot noir. I was surprised by the wine's versatility. It's not a mild pinot noir, and the color could be mistaken for anything but a pinot noir, but it worked - especially with the earthy truffle flavor. Dessert was terrrific. In fact, if I had to come here for an after-theater nightcap or a day of serious shopping, I'd just get a delicious dessert and a glass of port to achieve a blissful state. I had braised pineapple (garnished with parsley!) with a silver-dollar sized brown sugar cake which was so good, I wanted to lick the plate. A ten-year old Tawny port went nicely with dessert.
This was my initial experience at the restaurant and, over all, the place made a really good first impression. So why I do hold back in giving it my unconditional seal of approval? Because, despite it all, the price tag at the end of the evening was unsettling, even by South Coast Plaza standards. In fact, I'd venture to say the $130/per person bill for three courses and three glasses of wine (which calculates at roughly $43 per course) ranks CP@B as one of the half-dozen most expensive restaurants in Orange County. Even Napa Rose, as pricey as it is, offers a four-course tasting menu with wine pairing for $130. Charlie's neighbor down the hall - Marche Moderne - offers a lunch tasting menu for $20. which is $6 less than the one here. I wonder if you're paying for the "caché" of the Charlie Palmer name, which wouldn't surprise me since the restaurant is catering to shoppers who have likely walked over here after perusing the Armani, Prada and Gucci selections next door. Sure, dinners at exclusive restaurants in Los Angeles can make CPAB seem relatively cheap, but ultimately does it make this restaurant a good value? I have to say no. Go ahead and try it out, but I suggest you leave the power shopping for another day, lest you finish your dinner with buyer's remorse.
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