I noticed before the Olympics had started in February that there was a new kid on the block which just opened in Yaletown, called Charlie’s Restaurant and Bar. I had heard that it was a more gourmet pizza place, that also serverd a variety of pastas and other Italian and Mediterranean cuisine, but with a more contemporary and sophisticated atmosphere. It was opened with a streamlined menu and incomplete decor for the month of February, but has officially reopened in March, with all finishing touches now done.
So when I was invited to their media opening this week, I was excited to try it out! I met up with Mijune (Follow Me Foodie) outside, and we were the first to arrive for the evening (always anxious to eat)! This gave us the opportunity to snap a lot of pictures and ask a lot of questions without anyone else blocking the view. We also met with co-owner Nicholas Foley, who moved to Vancouver about 2.5 years ago from his native Australia (where Hugos Bar Pizza can be found, a similar restaurant concept that Charlie’s is based on).
Along one wall is a long family communal dining table that seats about 20 people. This was where we were going to dine for the night, but it’s a regular feature of the restaurant, with the opportunity to eat and be social with other patrons.
To the left, there is a large open area with comfortable couches and chairs grouped together for more casual get-togethers and drinks with friends. The room as a whole definitely has a lot more of an open feel than it’s predecessor, Pinky’s.
Surrounding the edges of the restaurant, there remains black leather booth seating that fits up to five people per table.
And finally, there in the middle of it all is the bar, with General Manager Daniel Woods serving up some drinks for the crowd. A single large projector screen sits behind this area, where various classic movies will be on display every night of the week.
Our first cocktail of the evening, which we had while awaiting everyone else’s arrival before dinner, was the Champers Thyme. Thyme was definitely the central focus of this drink, so if you’re not one for that type of herb flavour, then this wouldn’t be for you.
At this point, we all took a seat at the table, getting ready for the procession of food that was about to come our way. This started with a grappa cured salmon, served with cucumber and mint yogurt, salmon roe, and a lemon zest, topped with a salty and delicious caper berry. The wild fish tasted very fresh, and when eating this with all of its component parts, it was very refreshing. I did notice (along with Mijune), that I didn’t quite taste any mint though, as was mentioned in the description. I would get this to share with a friend and not have it all to myself, as there is a substantial piece of salmon on the plate, and it would be a bit much just for me at one sitting.
Around this time, we were all brought another cocktail to try – this one was called the Cocktail 1265, with blood orange, grapefruit, juniper berries, crushed up pine nuts, basil, grapefruit bitters and vodka. Quite a tart drink, I could easily have a few of these during a single meal.
Next was the prosciutto di parma 18 month, with pea mousse, snow pea tendrils, a poached egg, two crostini, and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. While this isn’t on their current menu, it will be added towards the end of the month when they are republished. I really enjoy eggs cooked this way, although this one was not super soft, making it a little less messy to eat.
Following these starter small plate samplers, we moved on to the bulk of our meal – gourmet pizzas! Keep in mind that I’ve never been a huge fan of pizza (or pasta, for that matter), but I’m always game for trying things out! The first one was a more traditional pizza, with Pork Meatballs, tomato sugo, fontina, smoked speck and fresh oregano leaves. The meatballs are made in-house, and I did love how they went with the oregano. However, this pizza wasn’t all that unique and upon returning to Charlie’s, I would choose one of the other versions available first. Perfect for someone that isn’t too adventurous with their food!
Next in line was the Smoked Salmon pizza. It is topped with salsa verde, red onion (although I didn’t notice any on this particular one), capers, arugula, preserved lemon and plenty of goat cheese. A little more on the messy side, where you truly have to get your hands dirty to eat it (you should’ve seen the area around my plate afterward). This had a great crispy top. My preference for smoked salmon is to have it cold, but this is more warm in temperature (although it’s laid on top once the pizza has already been cooked).
To round off the drinks portion of the evening, something called a Devil Cocktail arrived. This one was truly a devil – I would’ve been able to have a number of these without even flinching. It’s made up of fresh fennel, cloves, cherry syrup, Cazadores Reposado tequila, cherry bitters and ginger beer. My favourite drink of the event, and this even though I don’t usually like tequila. At all (there could be a bit of history behind that).
The Short Rib pizza was up next, and this was likely my favourite one of the night. It had a tomato sugo, caramelized onions, mozzarella cheese, horseradish cream and green onions. The meat was slightly on the dry side, but the horseradish gave it an extra kick and that’s what made me like it the most. There was plenty of short rib throughout the pie and would be a definite meat lovers delight.
Finally, we waited in anticipation for the last Smoked Duck pizza to arrive. We’d been hearing rumours about it all night, and how it’s one of their best. It is covered in porcini sauce, with roasted portabello mushroom slices, tallegio cheese, radiccio and that marvellous thing called truffle oil. While the duck itself was a bit dry (apparently it’s normally placed under the cheese to retain its moisture a bit better, but the regular pizza chef wasn’t working last night), the rest of the flavours together worked really well. While last night I kept saying that this was my preferred choice of the evening, I think that the Short Rib one did win over it slightly.
At some point between all of these main dishes, we were also brought a bowl of some boiled and baked potatoes. These aren’t on the menu yet at the moment either, but I loved the salty, crispy skins.
Now on to dessert. Since I only had a single slice of each of the pizzas and it all had a thin, crispy crust, I still had plenty of room left (well, I always do regardless).
First off came the 73% chocolate ganache, with a mint sorbet, crushed pistachios and chocolate wafer bits. The chef explained that it was supposed to taste like an After Eight chocolate, and indeed it did. The chocolate was very rich and creamy, and tasted great with the mint sorbet.
Last of all, and not anywhere near the least, was the Banoffie Pie. A traditionally British treat, I have not tried this anywhere before, but I will for sure be going back to get this. It comes with banana, coconut ice cream and dry caramel that’s fabulous – all topped with some whipped cream. Both Mijune and I couldn’t get enough, and once we’d finish with ours, we kept looking down the table at another one with a couple of bites left. We ended up getting them to pass it down so we could save it from being so lonely and uneaten. This is the kind of dessert that I would lick off the plate if I weren’t in public. Hey, you never know, I still might!
The 108-seat restaurant will also have DJs playing on Friday and Saturday nights, so that everyone can eat and drink while listening to music in a more upbeat atmosphere on weekends. Apparently, just what Charlie (the persona for which the restaurant was named) would want.
Open seven nights a week for dinner service, from 5 pm to midnight.
Service: N/A (since it was a media event)