Good food but no soul

Mega – resteraunteur, Charlie Palmer has opened his newest enterprise at South Coast Plaza, in Costa Mesa, California. So, as a long time OC resident, I thought it dutiful to go try this new extravagant establishment to see if it added some quality to the sorrowful Orange County restaurant scene.

Upon entering this luxurious restaurant one cannot help but notice the cacophony coming from the bar – the din is beyond belief, I had to cozy up the receptionist just to give her my name for the reservation. Not a good start – at least for my taste.

We were cordially escorted to our table, and as we sat, I was able to finally assess the dining room, which, though somewhat divided from the loud bar scene, was still very loud – exacerbated by the rock music playing through the dining room sound system. Fort such a “sophisticated” room, I was somewhat surprised why the management would find such music an enhancement to such a high end dining experience.

Our waiter silently and efficiently approached, donning fine white cotton threads, impeccably pressed to match the smooth, chic tone of the room. Efficiency and courteous service was provided, something I am always suspicious of because in fact the undertone is always one of a passive aggressive demeanor hidden ever so subtly behind the polite posturing – more of an act than a sincere proposal of kind assistance.

Are you getting the message I am not crazy about this place? But let’s get to the food which was the highlight of this particular restaurant experience. I started out with the Red Wine Risotto – a deliciously prepared appetizer though a bit heavy as a starter, but I enjoyed the perfectly cooked dish – being somewhat of a risotto master myself (see my blog recipes), I was impressed by the consistency and texture of the dish given that risotto is a difficult recipe to prepare on short notice and very few establishments do it well. I followed with some lighter fare – roasted striped bass with an assortment of vegetables – wonderful texture, flavor and overall presentation. It was a delight, especially after the full-bodied starter I had ordered.

So here is my issue with Mr. Palmer’s establishments. There is no doubt Charlie Palmer knows a lot about good food, how to prepare it and how to provide deliciously cooked food using fresh, organic and simple ingredients.  So why, I ask, is so much talent and ability to provide such an exquisite eating experience wasted on the very few who can afford it – presented in this mausoleum type environment with cold, insincere wait staff, an awful metallic/glassy dining room filled with pretention and fake sophistication?  Mr. Palmer would be so much better served if  he had the courage and the insight to present and offer his delightful cuisine in a simpler, more rustic and sincere package – allowing so many more people, who intimidated or not attracted by the glitz and glam, to enjoy this unique culinary experience.

I understand, the restaurant business is in fact a business – as a business owner myself I understand the concept of “mark-up” and “overheads” and covering costs and presenting a marketable product or service. Mr. Palmer has the product, but in my humble opinion he has a missed an incredible opportunity to provide this product with soul and humility so as to do justice to the spirit of what it means to present and prepare well made food to your guests. The wine cellar towers and all the rest of the pretense only go so far and contribute not to the essence of the food he is successfully preparing, but in fact detracting from it resulting in, yes, a good meal, but with absolutely no soul which, in this writer’s opinion makes for a sorrowful and vapid food experience.

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