Friday, May 25, 2012

The Charleston - 05/24/2012

2460 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90403

I first met Jet Tila during Bistronomics 2.0, a collaboarative pop-up between Tila and Alex Agneau. An LA native, Tila got started in food early working at his family's Bangkok Market. His formal training took place at Le Cordon Bleu and his resume includes stops at Patina and Grace. In 2008, Tila was tapped to head Wazuzu, a pan-Asian restaurant at Steve Wynn's Encore. The Charleston marks Tila's return to the Southland, a gastrolounge that offers American comfort food and nightly live entertainment. Jet was kind enough to invite KevinEats who brought me along to sample what The Charleston had to offer.

Sazerac - RI 1 Whiskey, Lemon Peel, Sugar, Peychaud Bitters, Angostura Bitters With Kubler Absinthe Wash
Victoria's Secret - 1800 Tequila, St. Germaine. Strawberries, lime- agave, Sparkling wine
The Charleston - Buffalo Trace Whiskey, Green Chartreuse, Dom Benedictine, and Orange Bitters
We ordered a round of cocktails while perusing the menu. I opted for a classic sazerac, the strong woody backbone of the whisky is readily apparent though tinged with an herbaceousness from the bitters and absinthe. The Victoria's Secret, named for the bartender who created it, was much sweeter, masking a hefty slug of tequila under a mash of strawberries and lime. The signature Charleston was the strongest of the three, more tempered than the sazerac, there was still some heat from the whiskey but balanced by a floral citrus note.

Bacon Mac n' Cheese Bites - Crispy gooey breadcrumb coated mac n' cheese pieces
Everything is better when coated in batter and fried right? In this case the answer is a qualified yes. I enjoyed the crisp exterior and smoky essence of bacon, but I was hoping for a bit more cheese. The marinara elevated the dish substantially, with the cool tang counterbalancing the weight of the fritter.

Short Rib Tacos with Shaved Brussel Sprouts and Korean Salsa - Slow roasted short rib and roasted brussel sprouts on corn tortilla
Though Kalbi tacos might seem a bit played out, this was actually one of the strongest dishes of the night. The succulent short rib has a lusty note of pure meaty verve seasoned with a subtle KBBQ spicy-sweetness. The side of sauce added a bit of extra heat but I preferred the unadulterated meatiness of the taco sans sauce.

Sweet and Spicy Wings - Crispy fried and bathed in sweet chili siracha
What gastrolounge menu would be complete without some form of fried chicken wing. The nicely fried drumettes live up to their name with a slow creeping heat and a sweetness.

Pulled Pork Sliders - Slow smoked pork shoulder, creamy coleslaw on country roll
Like the tacos, the sliders really deliver a strong meaty flavor. A sharp tang kicks things off leading into a rich porcine sapor that plays beautifully with the slaw's chilling succulence.

Around this point we stopped ordering and just let Jet work his magic and serve us whatever he felt like.

Smoked Mac & Cheese - B├ęchamel, smoked cheddar & gouda
It was nice to compare the earlier bites to a proper mac & cheese. This had the creamy velvety texture of a well-executed mac and cheese. With fewer adornments, the flavor of the cheese is also more readily apparent in this dish.

Chicken n' Waffle - Buttermilk brined fried chicken, Belgian Waffle, & Maple Syrup
Chicken n' waffles is one of those must-order things on any menu. The juicy tender chicken came lightly seasoned with a mixed panko and traditional breadcrumb batter. The dense Belgian waffle soaked up the maple and gushed sugary sweet goodness with each bite.

Jet 75 - Hendrix Gin, Simple Syrup, Lemon Juice, Brut Champagne
Side Car - Hennessy Cognac, Cointreau, Lemon Juice, and Simple Syrup
Minted Mule - Sobieski Vodka, lime juice, with Goslings Ginger Beer
Our next trio of cocktails consisted of three classic cocktails. The Jet 75 a riff on the French 75, same ingredients but a bit more cucumber. The side car was fairly prototypical, an adult orange juice with a slow smooth burn. The final cocktail was my favorite of this round, blending vodka and citrus with a bracing kick from the ginger beer.

Sausage, Fennel, & Arugula - Crumbled country sausage, shaved fennel & arugula
Had it been up to us we probably would have gone with the bacon, egg, and cheese flatbread but this wasn't a bad choice either. Despite the mound of green, the flatbread ended up being fairly heavy with the greasy salinity of the sausage coming through cleanly.

Charleston Burger - Smoked cheddar, arugula, onion marmalade & sun dried tomato aioli
I typically like my burger on the complex side so I was surprised how much I enjoyed this burger. The robust meaty heft of the patty more than made up for the simplicity while the few adornments were all selected with the goal of elevating the meat without overshadowing it.

Pork Belly Bao Buns - Five spiced braised pork belly, steamed buns, pickle, hoison sauce
Pork filled donut, nuff said. Jet caramelized the steamed buns then stuffs each with a generous serving of pork and shredded pickled vegetables; the sugary crunch of the bao complimenting the unctuous belly and piquant veggies.

Charlie Sheen Tiger Bloody Mary - Sambal Chili Sauce, prosciutto, salt, fire roasted tomatoes and capers
Chorizo Manhattan - Whisky marinated chorizo, maraschino cherry
Allie Cat - Jameson Gold Whiskey, balsamic vinegar, sage, honey
For our last round we had the resident mixologist serve us some of his specials. Though I'm not a huge fan of Bloody Mary, but this was pretty tasty savory with well-defined elements instead of the typical V8 flavor I normally associate with the drink. The chorizo Manhattan was surprisingly smooth, the alcohol tempering the flavor of the meat while the fat from the sausage rounded out the drink with a buttery nuance. The last drink was also named for a member of the staff; built around a core of smooth Jameson with a piquant funk from the balsamic and a countervailing sweetness from the honey.

Shepard’s Pie - Braised shortrib, seasonal vegetables, topped with whipped potatoes
While this sounded like a good idea at the start of the meal, the blend of shredded shortrib and creamy potato made for a tasty but ultra-heavy mixture that felt a bit overwhelming.

Chorizo Hash and Eggs - with choice of eggs and toast
For our last two dishes we decided to pick things off the brunch menu. First up was a chorizo hash, the classic brunch repast pairs fried potato and bits of savory sausage with a side of fluffy scrambled eggs.

Chocolate Broiche Bread Pudding French Toast - Chocolate brioche bread pudding with maple syrup
Our "dessert" was another dish off the brunch menu, a dense sweet bread pudding augmented with a light savor.

I came to Charleston expecting yet another gastropub, but Tila adds enough idiosyncracies and personal touches to make the menu his own. Despite being dubbed "American comfort food" the touches of Asian flair feel fitting given Tila's experience and training but there are enough classic dishes that their inclusion doesn't feel forced. Overall the food is well executed and enjoyable with the standouts being the tacos, bao, and burger.


bunniecakes said...


Rodzilla said...

Wow, could you even feel the alcohol with that menu?

I like their choice of sobieski for the minted mule. It's unpretentious - top shelf quality with bottom shelf price.

NicoleM said...

I don't understand how you don't weigh like 1,000 lbs! This looks SUPER yum.

Epicuryan said...

Well said.

The drinks were shared among 3 people so it was manageable. Between you and Nicole, I sound like an alcoholic and a glutton.

It was shared among 3 people and I definitely ate less than my share... great now I feel fat :P