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02.13.08

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First Bite

Charizma Wine Lounge & Deli

By Amanda Yskamp

E ditor's note: First Bite is a new concept in restaurant writing. This is not a go-three-times, try-everything-on-the-menu report; rather, this is a quick snapshot of a single experience.

This is really a two-bite review. I had to try it twice to fully appreciate the differences between the lunch and dinner experience. Let's just say, with apologies to the cliché police, it's like night and day. My lunch at Charizma was so wonderful, I hurried back to have dinner. I wish I could say it was as good.

The place sure looks lovely, with rich burgundy tones on the walls and the couches in the corner, a long curvaceous canoe suspended over the spacious dining room, lots of wood and stone accents, antiques, original artwork. It's a wonderful combination of funky and elegant, a nice surprise on Guerneville's Main Street. The choice of music is intriguing. The day we went, old jazz and Portuguese fados emerged from the speakers.

There are nine sandwiches ($6.50–$8.25) offered daily and include such enticing offerings as the Ab-Fab (tri-tip with melted pepper jack, mushrooms, sautéed onion and bell pepper, and peperoncini on a baguette) and the Swede (shrimp salad, hard-boiled egg, avocado and dill on rye). Charizma has salads ($6.00–$7.75), soups ($3.50–$5.50) and one hot plate per day ($8.50) For lunch, the ingredients were fresh and the service was quick and friendly. The owner Helena Giesea was very much in evidence, and we felt we were getting a good value for our money.

Then came night. Settling on couches by the window, we ordered glasses of wine ($6.50–$8 for large pours). During a long wait, which felt longer given the empty off-season, we were able to take in our surroundings: a great view of Guerneville's nightlife through the storefront window and the big cursive "C" on the far wall. My daughter said the whole place seemed like it was written in cursive, and it does, if a little outside the lines.

We'd gone on a Tuesday, purportedly "game night." How perfect, I thought: a way to engage the kiddies while sneaking in some adult conversation, snuggled under lap rugs. Our waitress, who was certainly sweet and personable, if inexperienced, produced the only game she could find: "Wineopoly." Who knows, it might be totally fun for enophiles who know the percentage of Cabernet Franc in Bordeaux, but come on. Why have game night, if you have only one game?

The food also went a little awry. The New York steak with blue cheese, fried potatoes and roast tomato ($19) filled the dining room with its aroma while cooking, and was delectable—true to its promising smell. The mixed greens with brie, celery, grapes and toasted almonds served with a fig-honey vinaigrette ($15) was less so. The brie was ice cold from the fridge, the almonds untoasted, the dressing cloying and sweet. The hot chile wok chicken with garlic, vegetables and rice noodles ($16) was bland and one-dimensional. We did have a half-price dessert (actually, we had to remind our waitress of the special) a decent chewy mocha cake with vanilla ice cream ($7), which ended things on a sweeter note.

Charizma is a great lunch (and, I hear, breakfast) spot, but I so wanted to love the nighttime incarnation. Guerneville needs a nice, upscale yet affordable dinner choice. Charizma could become that, but it's going to take some day classes to get their ascenders, descenders and loops just right.

Charizma Wine Lounge and Deli. Breakfast and lunch, daily; dinner, Thursday–Sunday. 16337 Main St., Guerneville. 707.869.0909.


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Quick-and-dirty dashes through North Bay restaurants. These aren't your standard "bring five friends and order everything on the menu" dining reviews.