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The Gossiping Gourmet: Big value in small-plate selections

June 03, 2010

How about a high-end restaurant where you can have a moderately priced meal? Charlie Palmer at Bloomingdale's is certainly an elegantly appointed space with superior service, urbane touches like amuses bouches, mignardises and even a pretty little package of cookies to take home; but if you bring your own wine (because there is no corkage fee) and if you limit your ordering to the extensive small-plate and first-course menus, you can have a very nice dinner indeed for a very decent price.

As you enter across the dramatic glass bridge, you're confronted with a three-story wall of wine bottles and a stack of giant wine casks off to the side. The large dining room with its lofty ceiling and sleek clean lines is accented by contemporary chandeliers and tall transparent panels adorned with images of leafless trees — altogether handsome, but not at all stuffy.

Nibbling on our amuse bouche, a tiny deconstructed version of bagels and lox with a few snippets of smoked salmon and a crouton in a soupçon of thick cream, we tried to decide which tempting small plate to choose. We narrowed it down to the mussels, the duck meatballs and the truffled fried egg. Finding it too difficult to select one, we ordered them all.

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We were immediately surprised by the size of the "small plate" of mussels, as it was anything but small. We've been having good luck with mussels lately, and these were no exception — big, plump and juicy. The white wine broth was well balanced and flavorful enough to be eaten with a spoon, and a drizzle of saffron aioli added a touch of garlicky goodness. The accompanying sourdough toast, flavored by the grill, made a perfect sponge to soak up the tasty juices.

Duck meatballs were also served in a generous portion. The deliciously seasoned meatballs sat on a creamy parsnip puree. On the bottom of the plate was a slightly sweet pomegranate molasses gastrique, enriched with the meat juices. Fresh orange segments and a bit of zest added a fresh, bright finish. This was meatballs and mashed potatoes taken to the third power.

The most intriguing sounding dish on the menu was truffle fried egg, potato, mojama and salsa tartufara. It also proved to be the most luscious.

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