I had a surprisingly fun evening at Charcoal in Yardley this past Wednesday night.
We were supposed to go into the city, but were waylaid so I had to think of a local Bucks spot fast, Charcoal popped on my radar thanks to this forum, and we had a blast!
I was fretting as we pulled up, as the curb appeal could not be worse. Charcoal is an elevated restaurant that basically looks like a rancher on stilts. It sits adjacent to a auto-repair shop and across from the Delaware River, although the road is in some disrepair and there are electric poles which obscure the view. You walk up a flight of wood stairs that sit next to a rusty handicap elevator, but then...
You enter a very cool scene. Nice wood floors, an open concept kitchen, cool tables and plating without being on top of each other, and eclectic and well chosen music selections. I found the host and wait staff attentive, helpful, but a mixed bag in terms of high-end charm. They offered to decant our wine (score!), but then they also did not clear the plates as often as I would have liked nor cleared the crumbs at any point during the meal. So it's not a white-linen restaurant, but more high-food concept.
The food is where Charcoal really shined. I was blown away in the quality and inventiveness of many of the dishes considering the location. Charcoal has a tapas style menu, and since I went with a couple DPs we were able to indulge in many items (some of which, such as the pastas can be made into a larger portion).
Here's a rundown of what we had:
Fresh-baked, multigrain bread -- served with soft butter, very good, hearty start
First course (three "small" dishes):
1) Salt-roasted celery root -- this was a small but extremely tasty salad. I loved the saltiness of the celery root which was contrasted to diced apples and other pieces of awesomeness such as goat cheese ;)
2) Lettuce salad -- I'm a salad snob, and this had to be the freshest salad I've had. There was an assortment of lettuces and mixed greens, all of which were extremely green and bursting with flavors. Very robust. The metaphor that leapt to mind was these greens were as fresh as amaebi beheaded in front of you at a high-end sushi bar
3) Sashimi-grade tuna and hazelnuts -- This was a special this evening, and I enjoyed it although I like to start with salads and soups more than raw fish plates (leave it to the Japanese only, my American chef friends)
Second course (two small plates):
4) Octopus Kimchi -- Ooh, wow, loved this. Really great quality octopus, cooked perfectly (crispy on outside, super tender inside) in a spicy, Korean vegetable plate. Even the less-adventurous eaters went a bit wild for this item
5) BBQ Brussels Sprouts -- Also amazing. I'm not sure what it is about Brussels Sprouts these days, but they're being nailed at multiple restaurants. Charcoal serves them with a great BBQ sauce and a grated cheese that ups the ante
Third Course (homemade pastas):
6) Shrimp scampi with squid ink pasta and jalapeno butter -- as amazing as it sounds. Fresh pasta is so much tastier, and in this case the squid ink made it much more interesting. Everything worked together well in this flavorful dish
7) Casarecce Marsala, chanterelle mushroom, braised chicken leg -- my DPs really enjoyed this (I'm not a big chicken guy). Pasta was very interesting. Chanterelles made it fancier
Fourth Course (large plates):
8) Halibut with roasted vegetables -- very large portion (probably 8 oz) of fresh halibut, perfectly cooked (oh so buttery inside, flakey texture) and the vegetables were interesting and varied, as I was expecting at this point
Fifth Course (dessert):
9) Brioche Doughnuts -- OMG. I had to leave the table halfway through this course, they were so good. Two very large doughnuts, cakey good with the sweet, puffy brioche center but a crisp, sugared outer layer that reminded you that this was the best doughnut ever. They even came with the two center "muchkins," where my two female DPs started, ostensibly to resist eating too much doughnut, but that resolve didn't last long