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I got my chance a few weeks later, when I stopped by with a group for dinner. We grabbed seats at the counter near the exhibition kitchen and ordered just about every seafood dish on the menu, starting with mustard herring. A small dish of the pickled fish soon arrived, the herring's strong flavor mitigated slightly by the mustard seed in the marinade and a few fingerling potatoes. I could have eaten a vat of the herring on the buttered cracker it came with or, better yet, on Charcoal's ridiculously good, fennel-imbued housemade bread. Instead, we moved on to the gravlax: bright orange slices of silky, slick salmon, redolent of smoke and anise-y aquavit, accompanied by a plate of accoutrements that included dill-infused mustard and more crackers. When that was gone — in about three seconds — we slurped up P.E.I. mussels that had been soaking in a white-wine broth made spicy and earthy by Hatch green chiles. Delicious.

Still, the best example of the chef's talents was our last dish: the blue prawn and scallop fricassee. A couple of fat, firm scallops, lightly caramelized along the edges, had been paired with sweet, plump shrimp on a bed of puréed fennel. Anyone tempted to call foam passé should taste the saffron froth on this plate; presenting the spice this way kept it aromatic, airy and central to the dish without overpowering any other part. And the fun garnish — a thin, crisp rectangle of lightly sweet pistachio baklava — provided an enchanting finish. I wanted to stand up and applaud Landberg, who'd quietly manned the ticket rail through our meal, wiping plates and coordinating the back-of-the-house team.

Now someone needs to pay a little more attention to the front of the house. Because while the kitchen is definitely in the hands of a skilled chef, the service team at Charcoal functions a little like a haphazard group of good-natured line cooks in serious need of supervision. One server took my party's order one course at a time even though we were ready to order everything, resulting in awkwardly timed dishes and stacks of papers that we had to juggle while we ate. Another server had to ask the chef so many questions about the menu, we finally stopped inquiring about ingredients and preparations altogether and just made our own best guesses. The wine list is well rounded, well priced and interesting, but the chances of a pairing — much less a bottle — arriving before a course seemed almost nonexistent. At every meal, at least one course featured a missed marking — no steak knife to cut the lamb, no silverware at all when a second round of food came. And when a colleague and I stopped by the bar one night for a bite, we might as well have been invisible.

Seafood, eat it: Charcoal's blue prawn and scallop fricassee. Slide show: In the kitchen at Charcoal
Mark Manger
Seafood, eat it: Charcoal's blue prawn and scallop fricassee. Slide show: In the kitchen at Charcoal

Location Info

Map

Charcoal

43 W. 9th Ave.
Denver, CO 80204

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Central Denver

Details

Charcoal
Grilled Idaho trout bincho box $11
Mustard herring $5
Aquavit-brushed gravlax $11
Braised oxtail $11
P.E.I. mussels $10
Grilled Colorado lamb T-bone $22
Blue prawn and sea scallop fricassee $23
43 West Ninth Avenue
303-454-0000
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-midnight Friday, 10 a.m.-midnight Saturday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday

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Those service snafus won't prevent me from returning, but they're definitely a distraction threatening to put the brakes on Landberg's ride. Those bumps need to be fixed if the entire Charcoal experience is going to meet the high standards set by its chef.

Slide show: In the kitchen at Charcoal

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13 comments
Emu
Emu

I think it should be a bento box instead of a bincho box.. right?

suchislife
suchislife

I have dined at Charcoal a number of times and the restaurant is best described as solid with room for improvement on both sides not just the front of the house. It isn't frasca or fruition for sure, but I don't think it's trying to be. I agree that a series of small mistakes can ruin an otherwise perfectly executed meal. Being ignored is unforgivable and it blows me away to see how bad some restaurants are at timing. Really most of the issues seemed to be related to timing or mismanagement of time, I have a feeling they can improve those issues though and look forward to more meals at Charcoal.

Joey B
Joey B

Just had lunch there and was blown away by the food especially at such a reasonable price. FWIW our service was spot on.

Mantonat
Mantonat

I would love to have read more about the actual grills and the type of charcoal used since this is one of the features that makes this restaurant unique in Denver. In just a few minutes of googling, I found lots of interesting info that could help explain the cooking techniques and flavors created. Like the fact that true bincho-tan charcoal does not produce smoke, so the subtle flavors of seafood are not overwhelmed. I also noticed that the temperature mentioned in the arcticle - 2400F - is the temperature needed to create the charcoal in the kilns used to make it, not the temperature that the grill achieves in the restaurant. If this were true, it's no wonder others are complaining about being seated at the kitchen bar (that's almost 3x the temp of the interior of a pizza oven like at Marco's).

Grace
Grace

Charcoal Restaurant rocks. The service is outstanding. The atmosphere is perfect for dates, celebrations and casual dinners. And the food? The best in Denver.

Uncledave8
Uncledave8

Well, I'm not going to quibble with Laura's experiences at Charcoal other than to say that our experience was much different. We had the tasting menu and every morsel was more delicious than the last. Additionally, our service was spot on which can be a tough slog for a server bringing all those courses.

Guest
Guest

I completely disagree about the service complaints. I've been to Charcoal a number of times and both the food and service have been excellent every visit.

LuvToDineDenver
LuvToDineDenver

Hey Charcoal - yeah, you're supposedly one of the best new restaurants in town. And yeah, your food's supposedly "to die for". Blah, blah, blah. Why don't you try and treat your customers a little better? And pleeeeease tell people - up front, when they make a reservation WEEKS in advance, that they have a choice of seating! We refused our reserved "table" because we were seated at the hot-blast-of-the-grill, counter seating and were told that most people LOVE those seats because it's like getting a show with dinner. Sure, watching the kitchen is entertaining (but not really comfortable) if you're not sweating buckets during your meal! We were made to feel like fools for turning down our reservation at such a trendy, chic, hard-to-get-in restaurant. Our hostess did not offer another table, again pointing out that it was a Friday night and tables were very hard to come by. But of course, we were welcome to wait in the bar until a table opened up (we were unsure as to how long this would take). I'm sure we missed your wonderful food but on principal, we won't return to get treated so shabbily.

Mark Braden
Mark Braden

I've never been turned off by the service at Charcoal. I find the staff personable and friendly. Have some perspective -- Most of the entrees are under $20. I'd be pissed if I was spending $40 per entree at Barolo or Mizuna and they botched my silverware. However, what makes Charcoal great is their food is the same caliber as Barolo and Mizuna but half the price and without white table cloths and overbearing servers.

Yes I am being anal but
Yes I am being anal but

Wait a second. You can't disagree that Laura didn't have silverware for one of her courses or that her server knew the menu so poorly that he kept having to ask the chef questions. You weren't there, so how can you disagree. You can say that you haven't encountered the issues that Laura documents in the review, but to day that you disagree sounds like you are saying that she is lying about the service she received. Sorry, I know that's uptight, but really, we have gotten into this Yelp zone that where EVERYTHING is an opinion that people agree or disagree with and it drives me nuts. Ok, rant over.

Mklerkman
Mklerkman

Bitter!!!!!! I'm sure there are alot of restaurants that are happy you don't return!

Guest
Guest

I was disagreeing with Laura's overall assessment that the front of the house at Charcoal is poor and detracts from the experience, not implying that she is lying. Perhaps I could have worded it better, but didn't realize an intern from the Weiner & Cox law firm was going to pick apart my positive statement sticking up for hard working people who have been nothing but good to me.

Furthermore, if you don't like people expressing their opinions online, then lead by example and don't express your opinions online.

Somepeopleskids
Somepeopleskids

If LuvTo's account of what happened is close to the truth they should be bitter. People in this profession need to realize they are in the hospitality business. This means taking each individuals wants, needs, likes and dislike into consideration. A guest should NEVER be told that one particular thing is good because most people like it. No one is most people, they are, thankfully, themselves. There is a right way and wrong way to deal with unhappy, justified or not, patrons. Furthermore, and I don't believe Charcoal does this, not a single reservation should be sat at a 'kitchen bar', lounge or other nontraditional seating area unless they are told this upon making their reservation. The person in question should have not said a word about what others love. I believe this should have been said. "I am sorry for the misunderstanding/inconvenience and would like to offer that you feel free to have a seat in the lounge area while enjoying a free round of 'whatever is appropriate' until we can get you seated at a more comfortable table." I hope Mklerkman you are not in the same industry I love and plan to spend the majority of my life in, or that you are just young and ignorant enough to believe that people come into your job just to experience what you do. We make a living off from people's happiness not our owbn smug attitudes and egos.

 
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