Charcoal Venice is Michelin-starred chef Josiah Citrin's turn at a casual steakhouse. Expect heavy use of the grill for everything from steaks to seafood and a large variety of vegetables.
Josiah Citrin's Michelin-starred Melisse restaurant in Los Angeles has been my special occasion spot for years. For me, nothing in LA can beat Melisse's high-end service, elaborate tasting menus or quality ingredients. I've enjoyed many a birthday meal there, though I did switch things up this past year when I found myself in Napa Valley with a French Laundry reservation. I digress and I guess you could say so has Citrin with the opening of his new, more casual restaurant, Charcoal Venice.
Citrin has the formal, white tablecloth thing down, so I can understand him wanting to open a more casual restaurant to play and have some fun. Charcoal definitely has a more relaxed vibe than Melisse with its booths, wood chairs and wooden dividers. It has a diner-ish feel with these components, which I'm not sure matches the offerings and grilled vibe.
The menu reveals high-end steaks ranging in price from $25 - 45, along with sides that are mostly all over $10 for veg focused creations. Of course I was thrilled to see so many vegetable options at a meat focused restaurant, and honestly, you can eat well on the vegetables alone.
You're here to take advantage of Charcoal's big grill where most of the menu items spend time, including one of the starters that's starting to make a name for itself already. It's called and I quote, "cabbage baked in the embers." Singed is probably more accurate. The bottom layer is completely black. Now, I'm not afraid of giving something a good char. In fact I make my own Napa grilled cabbage where I like to really give it some flavor on the grill. At Charcoal, the dark under leaves just taste burnt and I thought the whole dish was bitter. The yogurt-suman sauce presumably balances things out a bit, but if you're not eating dairy, this isn't going to work for you as is.
My favorite was actually a throw-in order of grilled calamari. The calamari is served in a salad, mixed with blue lake beans, almonds and lemon breadcrumbs. It had great acidity and bite throughout.
We went with the least expensive meat on the menu which was the 10 oz pave of prime beef ($25). The chimichurri marinade was faint in taste, but each table is presented with a diner-esque trio of sauces for the steaks, including the chimichurri. There's also a very sweet barbecue sauce and my preferred J-1 steak sauce, Josiah's play on A-1, but much zestier.
Seafood makes a showing from yellowtail and oyster starters through to lobster and loup de mer main plates. For meatless eaters, there's a whole vegetable section on the menu that currently includes asparagus, broccolini and coal roasted carrots that again, just dove a little too deep into the coals for me.
Luckily they did not grill the chocolate cake with peanut butter, but I was hoping for more peanut butter to pair with the dense chocolate.
The cocktail list sticks mostly to the classics, but there's also a large selection of bourbon, whiskey and scotch if you really want to get into the steakhouse spirit. We had a bottle of French Gamay that didn't disappoint.
While I don't think Charcoal Venice is going to be my new birthday dinner destination, I don't think that was ever the intention. I like all the vegetable options, but there's many others in town who are already delivering more solidly on the veg promise. I can't fault a guy for trying some new things out, but I feel like there's still some evolving going on at Charcoal. I'll be curious to see where things net out after his one year birthday at this location.
425 Washington Blvd, Venice