I have to admit, when I walked into Charlie’s Italian in Redondo Beach on Saturday, I had no intention of doing a review. I just did a review on Charlie’s back in July, and I only learned of Charlie’s in June, so the likelihood of another review was extremely slim. I did bring my camera along, but it was done with the intent of taking a few photos for my blog. I figured I might do a little pictorial and use it to promote the review from July.
What is even more surprising to me is that this was the fourth visit I had made to Charlie’s since my first visit at the end of June. While four visits to a restaurant in 3.5 months may not seem like a lot, one must remember that I was out of the state for about half of that time, so I made four visits in less than two months of being home. I had asked a friend if he wanted to go for a beer earlier in the day, but he was busy so passed on the suggestion. My girlfriend, Tanya, was the one that suggested we go there for dinner, and as I am a firm believer in “happy wife, happy life” we headed out to Charlie’s.
In my first review, I had mentioned that Charlie’s carried a wide selection of beer on tap. While this on its own is a good thing, I did mutter some displeasure with the fact that Charlie’s did not offer flights. On a subsequent visit I spoke with Charlie about this issue. He said he could not do it because of all the beer glasses he would need and something about not having space for the glasses. I offered a suggestion then let it be, hoping that someday flights would come to Charlie’s. When I got back into town after my last journey, I noticed that Charlie’s Facebook page mentioned that they had a few specials that included beer tastings! I was really happy to see this. Maybe it was not a regular thing yet, but I could see light at the end of the tunnel.
When we ordered on Saturday, I was informed that I could get a flight of Lost Abbey beers. Things were definitely looking up. I could picture myself becoming a regular here. I ordered the flight and Tanya ordered a Mai Tai. We got some bruschetta to hold us over while we decided what to get for an entree. Tanya ended up ordering the Chicken Marsala and I ordered their special of the day which was halibut on angel hair pasta.
Three of the beers were great (Avant Garde, Red Barn and Lost & Found). The Devotion, a Belgian Ale, was kind of weak for my taste buds. Tanya’s Mai Tai was a joke. It looked / tasted like it was some rum and pineapple juice with a cherry on top.
The bruschetta was good. Their bread pretty much makes the difference and as the gentleman sitting next to us commented, it is “a lot better than those hard pieces of bread that just crumble away when you bite into it.” My fish was good. My only real complaint would be that they do not provide spoons in the default silverware setting. I do not know why an Italian restaurant would not always provide a spoon for spinning up your pasta, but no spoon was provided to either of us. Tanya’s chicken was very good; however, there was no pasta with it. Pasta is the reason Tanya chose Charlie’s in the first place. Admittedly, when she asked for Chicken Marsala the waitress did ask if she wanted spinach and potatoes as the sides, but it never really dawned on either of us that these would replace the pasta. If so, why wouldn’t the pasta option at least be mentioned? It was not.
Be that as it may, the meal was good and the beer was good so we decided to split a tiramisu for dessert. We had tried it before and enjoyed Charlie’s secret ingredient, Kahlua.
When the tiramisu arrived, it looked different, but I presumed that the presentation might differ between servers. I took a couple photos and dug in. Something was different.
I did not say anything because I figured that perhaps the beer or my meal might have tainted my taste buds. Tanya was the one that suggested that, “someone forgot something.” There did not appear to be any espresso, Kahlua, brandy, rum or anything else that we have experienced in the dozens of tiramisus we have tried around the world. It was more of a sponge cake with whipped cream and a chocolate berry filling. It was tasty, but it was not a tiramisu by anyone’s standards.
After paying my bill I mentioned to our server, “Since I know Charlie pays attention to the comments of his customers, you might mention that he should either go back to his old tiramisu recipe or consider renaming the dish.” She asked if the recipe had changed and I confirmed that it sure tasted like it. She said she would pass it along.
Before I could gather up our belongings, Charlie appeared at our table. This is when things got ugly.
“What is your gig,” was his initial comment to me. It was pretty obvious that he had been drinking, so I calmly told him that the tiramisu was different than before and that it was not currently a tiramisu. Charlie exploded. He started going on about how he was the one that always made the tiramisu and he always made it the same way since he learned the recipe from his dearly departed aunt. Since he had been drinking and I really was not in the mood to fight or argue I said, “If you say so.”
This only served to infuriate him. The “f” word was tossed out a time or two and he said if I did not like it, I did not have to order it. I suggested that in reality there was no real reason I should even return to his establishment. Charlie then told me to get out and not return. That will not be a problem.
All in all, the meal was fine. Charlie’s attitude was not. I met Charlie the first time I dined at his establishment. I know we spoke at least one other time after that. He always seemed rather amicable. His verbal attack was totally unexpected. I have never encountered a restaurant owner that reacted the way he did. I sure did not expect it from him.
I remember the first conversation I had with Charlie. I had mentioned that I had visited several Italian restaurants in New York City and that I was not really “feeling New York.” He jokingly pointed to the manhole cover they have in the floor. Now I can say that I have experienced a real New York City mugging, because that is how it felt.
If you decide to dine at Charlie’s, I will offer the following suggestions. First off, do not say anything negative or what might seem negative to an inebriated person. Secondly, you might want to consider asking the price of any off menu “specials.” My special cost 25% more than the highest priced entree on the menu. While price is usually the lowest priority to me when I go out to eat, I was pretty surprised when I got home and saw how much my dish cost. Lastly, stick to the beer and wine list, or if ordering mixed drinks, keep them simple. A Mai Tai is beyond their ability and the cost will get you an additional entree instead.
While I did take photos of the entire meal, I am only posting photos of the tiramisu from our first visit and some from our last visit. You can be the judge. I will be posting a followup story on GotBaddog.com and the photos there will not be as compressed as knotmove.com makes theirs.