Charlie Bird means New York. Or at least that's what the introduction on the restaurant's website says. There's a Beastie Boys quote up there too, just in case you needed some extra convincing as to just how New Yorky this place is. Tough to argue with that.
Now, obviously, no one thing can truly embody the essence of New York City, except maybe the Empire State Building and our general distaste for other New Yorkers. From there, we each make something a little bit different of this place. Charlie Bird's particular New York seems to be some kind of snappy downtown "cool," mixed with an emphasis on good wine, good food, and hip-hop music (see: boom box artwork). That's a New York we know well, and yes, I just said "snappy."
Let's forget about the concept for a moment and talk about what really matters. We love Charlie Bird. We love it a lot. This place already ranks among our favorite restaurants in town, and they haven't been open for very long. Yes the food is excellent, and more on that soon. But what's really got our attention are two things that these people already do better than almost anyone else: service and wine. On those fronts, Charlie Bird gets a 10.0. This is a somewhat casual restaurant with a five-star staff who are professional, nice, and really good at what they do. There are no white tablecloths here, but you will be attended to like there are. The wine list is similarly excellent and extensive, but treated informally. Want to try something? Cool. There happens to be a half bottle behind the bar they'll pour from for you. Finished your glass before you finished your oysters? Before you even realize it, they'll come top you off so you've got something left for the last few bites. That stuff goes a long way for us, and it will for you too. It's amazing how much good service matters.
As for the food, most everything on the menu at Charlie Bird is fantastic. This is an American restaurant with some Italian influences, which is pretty much what every American restaurant says now so that they can put pasta on the menu. Upon first inspection, I actually thought this place might be L'Artusi with oysters, in which case I was going to have to commit ritual suicide out of respect to the chef and the knowledge that I had found true enlightenment. But it's not quite that. Not yet. Charlie Bird is damn near perfect, but they have some slight consistency issues.
Which brings us back to the concept. Maybe the one true universal thing about this city is that we expect the best out of everything and everyone. Once we see the promise in something, we demand perfection. So yes, Charlie Bird is New York in the sense that it is both phenomenally good and also somehow not quite good enough. If they can fine tune their menu and improve on a few small things, this very well could end up being one of the highest rated restaurants on this site.
We at The Infatuation talk a lot about oysters. Charlie Bird's are some of the best we've had anywhere. Why? Whatever they're serving is always really fresh and perfectly shucked. Also, tomato vinegar. Whatever that sh*t is, it might be the best accompaniment to oysters ever. Get some.
Another one of our favorite things to eat here. These razor clams are chopped and placed back in the shell with a mixture of fennel and pickled chiles. A must order.
Farro salads are popping up on lots of menus these days, and we're cool with that because it makes us feel healthy or something. This one happens to be very good, but not as good as the one that L'Artusi. That's sort of a theme here I guess.
As should any respectable New York restaurant, regardless of cuisine, Charlie Bird has some pretty excellent pasta on the menu. This cappellacci with peas and guanciale is the best, but with an asterisk. It's the best when it's done right. On one or two occasions, our pasta has been overcooked to the point where we used the word "mushy" at the table. Give it a shot, and if it's not the best, get mad at the kitchen and not us.
A nice black spaghetti with crab and chiles, but this won't compete with the other pastas on the menu. Look elsewhere.
Chicken liver mousse, served in a bowl and topped with walnuts and raisins. If chicken liver is your thing, you're going to be really into this. If chicken liver isn't your thing, you're also probably going to be really into this.
Someone mentioned to us that the vegetables at Charlie Bird weren't their strong suit, and after trying a few, we'd agree with that statement. These grilled artichokes aren't much to get excited about. We ate one and moved on.
The presence of mint was a nice touch, but these peas were overcooked when we had them the first time. We didn't have them a second time.
Yes, there are a lot of roasted chickens to be had on restaurant menus around town, but this one is up there with the best of them. The skin on this bad boy is perfect and crunchy, and we liked the way it was served in manageable pieces (please cut our food for us). Another nice surprise? Some of that chicken liver mousse on the plate to turn up the flavor.
A tasty plate of pig that was probably very cute at one point in it's short life. You certainly won't be mad at this if you order it, but you should probably get the chicken.
Don't even concern yourself with anything but the olive oil gelato. This stuff is what dreams are made of, and if they don't start selling little tins of the cookies that come on top, I'm going to steal the recipe and do it myself.