A jazz bar jams it up in the unlikeliest of places, and the food is good too.
It’s only 6.30 in the evening, quite early to kickstart one’s night out but I’m already grumpy. Controlled nibbling throughout the day has left my stomach on a rampage. As Erica and I settle at a table, I grumble, “I swear to god that if Margaux is late again, I’m going to eat her share of the tapas!” Erica gives me a look of sympathy but I know she’d rather I take a chill pill.
Still, I can always count on Erica to give me a run for my appetite so we crack open the menus. We’re at Charlie’s Tapas Wine And Jazz, aka Charlie’s Tapas Bar aka Charlie’s. Opened just last October, it’s primarily a jazz club where a daily roster of bands croon and sing the blues. The place is done in blacks and whites, a look capturing the vibe of the Prohibition period (1920-33) in the US, memorialized forever in prints on the wall along with iconic shots of Chicago, “My town!” Charlie’s co-owner and manager David de Padua proclaims.
Against Erica’s and my better judgment, we order the Chicken skin chicharon (P95), crunchy morsels of cardiac arrest that are supreme in flavor and surprisingly, not oily at all. The accompanying vinegar dip does a good job of cutting through the cloy, clearing the palate for another and another. Another good choice is the eponymous Charlie’s crab cakes – see cover photo (P175), soft and full of real crab, the exact opposite of pseudo patties purporting to be crab cakes. I also like the quesadillas brimming with cheese and tomatoes.
Charlie’s is owned by a group of friends – “…some of us have known each other since Prep,” says David – and they decided to name their place in memory of their good friend, Charlie Carballo, a man I’m told was big and jolly and who lived his life in exactly the same way. David is particularly proud of the way the acoustics are designed in Charlie’s, since its primary purpose is dedicated to sound. There’s padding under the tables – I check, and indeed, it’s soft under there – there are “eggshell” cartons on the ceiling, and even the supporting beams are padded with foam. The house band is playing proudly while we eat but I can hold a steady conversation with Erica and David without straining my voice and ears.
Margaux finally arrives, overflowing with apologies as usual. She’s kooky and a real hoot so I can never stay ornery with her for very long. She finishes off the last of the chicken skin chicharon, which David can’t seem to keep his hands off of also, so we order two more.
Charlie’s has an expansive tapas menu that’s international in its appeal, a good number of which I notice have bacon playing a starring role. To wit: the Smoked ham croquettes – see cover photo (P165) are supposed to be ham but it could also be bacon since its telltale flavor is there. Then there’s more bacon, this time in the Wrapped quail eggs – above, first photo in this set (P110) and another dish whose name floats in forgetfulness but which I dub bacon rolls (above); again, bacon rolled tightly and speared and arranged as a quartet on a plate teeming in a garlicky brown sauce. The idea is to grab a bacon “pick” and wipe the plate with it. Ohhh. Good! I’m beginning to believe everything is better with bacon.
As with all good “multi-hyphenates” such as this restaurant-bar-jazz club, Charlie’s has a wine cellar offering wines from Chile, Italy, France, Argentina, and South Africa. It’s not an unwieldy list but it’s more than enough to keep oenophiles content.
Other tasting plates we try include a Beef tataki, tenderloin whose sides have been seared and is eaten sashimi style with wasabi and soy sauce. I consider it a renegade beef tartare. There’s also one dish that’s meant just for greedy me, the Escargot en croute. Little snails (but they’re tough tonight), sautéed in butter and topped off with a puff pastry crust. Erica takes one look and rolls her eyes, not fond is she of snails. Everyone else passes on it also but dives in to another dish, Quail eggs on toast slices (P155): little toasts crowned with chorizo rounds and fried quail eggs garnished with cheese. It’s quite delightful to have those runny eggs pop in the mouth. It certainly calls for another swig of wine as we sway to the music.
Charlie’s Tapas Wine And Jazz
7232 Malugay St., Bel Air, Makati (inside Makati Golf Club)
840 5745 / 830 2222
Open Mon to Sat 11 am to 2 pm and 5.30 pm to 12.30 am.
Read Margaux’s post about Charlie’s.