Saturday, October 16, 2010

Guest Post from Coop: Charles Bar – Confused Gastown Gastropub

I've been asking friends to help me out with this blog. I'm only one person.....I can't eat my way through everything Vancouver has to offer alone! Ask and you shall new friend Coop really delivered with an extremely thorough review on The Charles Bar- a new bar in Gastown.

Howdy fellow foodies – this is my first guest contribution of what I hope to be many (depends whether I continue to get paid).  A brief explanatory note – I believe the attention and care that restaurateurs put into the design and upkeep of their bathrooms is indicative of the care and attention they put into all other aspects of their establishment (kitchen, menu, etc).  It’s a leading indicator, not always accurate but very few places (except perhaps divey ethnic places) have excellent food and sub-par washroom.  Can I get an amen?!

Charles Bar is the long awaited gastropub located at the bottom of the new Woodward’s building.  Operated by the Adelphia group (Venue, the Caprice and Celebrities); better known for booze and music than food.  I was keen to see whether the Charles Bar would make it as a dining destination.

Washroom Review – Charles Bar starts out extremely strong.  There is a row of individual unisex washrooms at the back of the bar.  Spacious enough for three - Vancouver cokehead community take note.  I found the stalls extremely clean inside finished with nice modern tiling throughout.  Each room has a petite rectangular sink and a large hook – perfect for hanging a coat or bag!  The only failing was a broken soap dispenser – perhaps a sign of things to come?  Overall – A (dispenser lost them an A+).

The first thing one notices when stepping inside Charles Bar is the enormous flat screen TV set up over the bar.  Perhaps because Monday night football was playing the night I visited, my first impression was confusion – is this a sports bar or a gastropub?  The pub has a flatiron layout with the bar running through the middle, bisecting the room into two separate areas – makes either side a tad more intimate, but overall loses cohesion.

One very nice touch was the series of low-backed booths along one side of the pub – each had a coffee table in the middle with an individual flatscreen TV at the end.  We confirmed with our server that each TV could be changed to a different feed than the main screen above the bar.  Perfect if you’re a Habs fan and aren’t interested in the Canucks game (oh, the horror!).
Onto the food – four main sections to the menu: appetizers, flatbread pizzas, burgers/sandwiches and, most promising, the French Fry Bar – six different kinds of deep-fried, tuber goodness.  There’s also a smattering of salads and a single desert – but if the food doesn’t pair with beer, no more coverage from me.
The Albacore Tuna Tataki looked great– seared rare tuna in half centimeter thick slices served on a bead of pea shoots.  unforTUNAtely, the taste did not match the presentation (couldn’t help myself).  The tuna was not fresh tasting – leaving us with a fishy aftertaste and the spice oil was scarce.  The salsa concoction layered over some of the slices was awkward and ill-suited.

The ingredients of the beef short rib flatbread, braised rib, horseradish cream and green onions, were a nice try to escape this recently popular “pizza in-disguise” category. The key to flatbread is that it is thin and not so bready.  The chef seems to think that the “flat” in flatbread means “lies flat on a wooden paddle”.  Sorry, but ordinary pizza dough doesn’t qualify.  It really blew the dish for me.

But we still have the French Fry Bar – mmmm.  Six different potato and yam based dishes.  This is a concept I can buy into.  We ordered two of the six to give the FFB a fair shake, the Truffle Gremolata and the Pulled Pork Poutine. 

Must admit that I was pretty excited about the Gremolata – lemon zest, truffle and garlic – those three deserve to get into bed together and hop on some crispy frites.  This was to be the biggest disappointment of the evening – the fries were average (could have been crispier) and I  couldn’t taste any of the three ingredients.  I was expecting the truffle to be oil which would coat the fries with the other ingredients.  Instead the truffle and friends were dry chopped–located  at dish’s bottom and even when eaten alone I still couldn’t taste the ingredients - quite the dud.

Now the pulled pork poutine did manage to avert total disaster. Big fat gobs of cheese curd, a reasonable amount of gravy (but not drowning the fries) and a healthy amount of tender pulled pork dolloped on top.  The lack of fry crispiness was not an issue given the various saucy toppings of the dish.  It all hung together and was repeat order worthy.  At last!

Overall, I’d give the Charles Bar a 5 of 10.  If you are looking for a great place to watch sports in Gastown, have some good bottled beer and avoid the usual deep fried pub food – this is your place.  I just wouldn’t recommend it if food is your primary agenda.

Vancouver, BC, V6B1G1
(604) 568-8040

<a href=" alt="The Charles Bar on Urbanspoon" src="" style="border:none;width:200px;height:146px" /></a>


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