The interior of new 'gastro-lounge' The Charleston, which features the fusion comfort food of chef Jet Tila. (photo by Brandon Friend-solis)

The Charleston has taken over where Angel’s Piano Bar & Supper Club once stood on Wilshire Boulevard. It looks more modern, less cluttered and cleaner in general, but the idea is still the same — combine good music, hand-crafted cocktails and food.

There’s a nice selection of beers, a competent bartender, a dozen or so wines marked up three or four times cost, good looking cocktails, and even a selection of Absinthe served by a fairy. The 1930s décor is perfect for a jazz club with snacks and drinks.

But there’s more. While not a full menu, there are plenty of good looking dishes offered during happy hour. I’ve tried a few of them. I loved the pulled pork sliders, and two of these small beauties were plenty for my dinner, washed down with a Dos Equis. Another time I tried the hot wings, but was less pleased. I think they need to be cooked much longer so they are more tender, and a little more vibe in the sauce. And they were certainly not “crispy fried” as advertised on the menu.

But there was no objection from any of my friends to the delicious “smoked” mac and cheese. While we didn’t taste any smoke, we loved the cheese flavor and the texture. And a vegetarian friend was very happy with the garlic edamame.

Some of chef Jet Tila’s promised specials were not on the menu, and I’m going back when they are — such as Five Spice Pork Belly Boa Buns.

All of these dishes are between $5 and $8, and the beer was $5 during happy hour, so for $20 one can have a nice informal dinner and a couple of beers. And the service, while clearly not formally trained, is perfectly adequate and there are plenty of servers around.

So what could be better? The entertainment. This is really like a club, with a variety of everything from “nightly live entertainment such as rock cover bands, DJs, jazz, karaoke, comedy nights, and dueling pianos.” I think it’s great to have a place like this in Santa Monica where you can get some informal entertainment over dinner when you don’t feel like a movie.

But I’m concerned at the ability of a club to survive with such an eclectic selection. Jazz clubs get by because they develop a steady clientele of jazz lovers. To switch between rock, jazz, comedy and karaoke, among other offerings, is going to make it hard to develop a following. I wish them the best.

Second time around

A few weeks ago I wrote a less than ecstatic review of the new Mr. C Italian restaurant. I mentioned that my friend Jay Weston had written a great review about his lunch there, but that I wasn’t going back unless it was with him. A few days later he called and invited me to lunch there with him and the restaurant manager.

It was a different experience. With the manager sitting at the table with us, and only one other table occupied during lunch, the service was much better. In fact, you could say “perfect.” And the food was better, somewhat. There were some very good dishes, especially the desserts, and the black ink risotto had good flavor and texture, although it was a touch more liquid than I like. But the pasta was still overcooked (less than before) and a veal dish was not made with good quality veal — it was tough and stringy. A few days later I was e-mailed that in addition they had improved the wine list by the glass.

I’m now convinced that one can have a reasonable lunch or dinner there. But if they aim to become a really great Italian restaurant they still have a lot of work to do in the kitchen.

If you go

The Charleston

2460 Wilshire Blvd.

Santa Monica, Calif.


(310) 828-2115

Merv Hecht, the food and wine critic for the Santa Monica Daily Press, is a wine buyer and consultant to a number of national and international food and wine companies. He can be reached at

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