Monday, May 4, 2015

Order only interesting things at The Charles Bar

The Charles Bar on Urbanspoon The Charles Bar sits in the gentrified part of Gastown and offers an airy-spacious room with high ceilings and some interesting seating options, including larger tables with enough chairs for 10+ people. This makes The Charles Bar good for larger groups in a more interesting and less "long-table" way than most restaurants that just piece together group seating by joining square tables together.
Tall windows further reduce the claustrophobic squeeze that other tight-seating-in-the-dark pubs can induce. Something interesting to spot are the makes-the-room-feel-even-bigger mirrors adjacent to the washrooms, mirrors that look like windows into another room until you realize that you are the "man in the mirror".

I was there at an odd 4pm-6pm Monday happy hour and it was nice and calm and with few enough patrons that you can basically get your choice of window seating. Some music but not loudly enough that you always have to lean close to the person you're next to in order to hear anything at all.

Food is interesting but sadly on the pricey side. Like a not-very-huge plate of nachos weighing in at $14.95 -- aren't these supposed to be heaps of cheap-ass food? (They do have a $10 lunch special served Mon-Fri till 2pm). Based on the ingredients the menu probably needs to be priced the way it is. However your happiness when you look at the bill will depend on whether your palate is discerning enough to realize this fact, or whether primitive hunger will protest the pounds:price ratio.

Flatbreads: About a foot long and half as wide. Toppings go pretty close to the edge so they aren't skimping here, though the end pieces get a bit more crust. Probably not enough for a meal on its own, so consider going on $9.95 flatbread Mondays. +$2 to get gluten-free crust.

BBQ Chicken Flatbread ($13.25) San Marzano Tomato Sauce, Smoked Bacon, Caramelized Onions, Smoked Mozzarella
  • I thought this was too heavy on the sauce, which covered up the other tasty ingredients like bacon and onions. Otherwise OK.
Fig & Boursin Flatbread ($12.95) Date Paste, Caramelized Onions, Smoked Mozzarella, Creamy Boursin Cheese, Mission Figs, Truffle Arugula
  • Yeah, date paste. How often does that show up in a pizza, much less a menu? That's probably just one of the reasons it's $12.95. That, plus the smoky mozzarella that you probably didn't even notice.
  • Overall the experience here was the sweetness in the toppings, making this an unusual and interesting pizza that has dates and figs. Bonus: It's an interesting vegetarian item that's not a salad.
Nachos ($14.95) Housemade Corn Tortillas, Smoked Mozzarella, Corn, Black Beans, Pickled Jalapeno, Banana Pepper, Salsa Verde, Salsa Roja, Sour Cream, +$1.50 for guacamole
  • I can't remember the last time I could find non-salty corn tortillas in Superstore so I see why they'd make their own, but I can also believe it adds to the cost.
  • Had a chance to speak with their Marketing maven who said the smoked mozzarella is pricey for the restaurant and in a week or so they may complete a transition to a cheaper cheese which will also result in a heck of a lot more cheese on the nachos.
  • As it is, the cheese is mainly on top, and if you don't tear apart your nacho order fast enough, it will cool, solidify, and then the first person to grab a cheesy tortilla it will likely end up lifting the web of mozza off all the neighbouring pieces of tortilla, stripping them bare.
  • The mozzarella is smoked? -- It probably is, but can't smell or taste that. Might as well be normal mozza, honestly. I don't think anyone is enough of a nacho snob to bother to discern the difference.
  • Salsa roja was feeble in flavour.
  • If you are probably not going to use the sauces, just tell them to hold it so they don't go to waste half-used or lightly used.
Chicken Wings ($11.75 per pound, which is probably about 10 wings but can vary; $6.95 during the 3pm-6pm happy hour)
  • Frank's Red Hot - I hate Frank's because it's more sour than spicy-hot. Totally forgot that and accidentally ate a wing from some else's order. But if you love that stuff, these wet wings were drowned in that goop.
  • Sriracha Salted - Yeah, "salted". Not coated in that pretty hot sauce. On the wings it looked like some parts of each wing were dusted in something red. The wings tasted like tasty chicken skin fat -- you know, like undressed deep fried chicken wings. Maybe ask for more salting if you order this.
Beer Battered Lemon Pepper Fries ($7.75) Rickard's Battered Fries, Housemade Lemon Pepper
  • There clearly a light batter on these, making them fries that stayed crispy for a respectable amount of time.
  • Sharply sour lemon pepper. If you want lemon on your fries, this is it. Some other places do a noticeable but feeble lemony flavour. Here there's no holding back, so you better like lemony before you order this.
  • Price for portion is painful, but you may love this so much that you won't mind. Of what I tried, this plus the Fig and Boursin flatbreads, are the items worth trying.
If you are a McDonalds kind of person, just come for the drinks, the games on TV, and/or the lunch special. If you are actually a foodie, don't order anything that doesn't sound interesting -- look for at least one interesting ingredient. Those items are actually nicely enough put together to warrant the Yaletown pricing. But in the end, this is a drinks place with fancy food -- it's in that part of Gastown that has gentrified cheap eats into extinction.

Trivia: The signature "22" ciabatta sandwich is named after the owner's lucky number after he declined the sandwich he designed to be named after himself.

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