Saturday, November 15, 2008

Charles - From Those Who Brought You the Waverly Inn

A friend of ours somehow managed to snag us reservations for four during the opening weekend of Charles. This restaurant is the creation of John DeLucie and John McAllister of Wavery Inn fame. And I foresee this place being successfully uber-trendy as well, with some comforting food to boot.

The restaurant is very small – it only seats about 60, and it currently still has newspapered windows, so when you arrive, you wonder if you have arrived at the right place. The ambiance inside is dark, cozy and intimate, and we appreciated the attentiveness and cordiality of the wait staff who were eager to please.

For our first course, we began with the Yukon Gold & Celeriac Soup with Roasted Hazelnuts & Cinnamon Oil. This was incredibly interesting with a very distinct flavor. I think the hazelnuts and cinnamon added a complex ethnic flavor to a soup that would otherwise be considered traditional comfort food. The soup was creamy, but not overwhelmingly so, and I found it to be delicious.

For the main dishes, I ordered the Braised Short Rib of Beef with Swiss Chard, Golden Raisins & Pine Nuts, while Ron ordered the Seared Duck Breast with Roasted Grapes & Escarole. My short ribs were exactly what I would have expected. Juicy and tender in a light beef gravy, sitting atop a bed of sautéed escarole. The raisins and pine nuts added nice, subtle hints of sweetness and nuttiness to the dish that complimented the beef very nicely. And the portion was very reasonable as well. When finished, you are full without being stuffed.

Ron’s seared duck was also fabulous. The dish was sweeter than I would have expected, but it worked very well, and the duck was cooked to perfection with a slightly crispy crust and very moist meat inside. As a side dish, we ordered the White Polenta with Aged Goat Cheese – and it did not disappoint. I loved this dish. The polenta was creamy and cheesy, but only subtly so. There was nothing overwhelming about it – I thought it was perfect.

Our dining companions ordered the Potato Gnocci with Squash, Spinach & Percorino Romano, and the Charles Burger with Gruyere, Roasted Cipolini Onions & Hand Cut Pomme Frites. They both seemed very pleased with their meals as well. The French fries in homemade “ketchup” were very nice. The ketchup tasted like a smoky marinara sauce, which made for a unique dipping experience.

If you can get reservations, I’d highly recommend checking this place out.

Charles – 234 West 4th Street, 10014

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