Friday, November 21, 2008


The industry buzz (and the generous suggestion of some Carroll Gardens-dwelling friends) suggested my next restaurant foray be a trip to Char No. 4 on Smith Street, a small and unassuming spot that bills itself as a BBQ Haven-cum-Whiskey Bar. Surprisingly, our three-top suffered no wait on a cold and thirsty Thursday, although we weren't the only ones thinking pulled pork: the restaurant was basically full and the pork sandwich was, regrettably, 86ed.

The 86 was a point of multiple confusions. 1. The server only informed us of the non-existent sandwich after we'd been sitting with our whiskeys for 20 minutes. 2.) A menu staple, the Lamb Pastrami, did not appear on the menu but arrived at our table anyway. And then it left. And then it reappeared. According to our addled server, it had been a verbal special (of which we hadn't been informed) and had come out by mistake. Eventually, he offered up the app on the house. A lesson learned early in our dinner: don't expect the servers at Char to fawn all over you. Actually, don't expect them to be even remotely present.

But the pastrami was good, thinly sliced lamb (which wasn't all that 'lamb-y,' but whatever), mixed with pickled onions and flanked by grilled bread. The same bread and pickled onions made an appearance on our Cured Kentucky Ham plate, which also came with some kind of fruit compote. It was unidentifiable, though that's not necessarily a bad thing. The ham was good. Good. But I couldn't help but compare it to that other ham plate, the one at Momofuku Ssam Bar, where the ham comes with a coffee/kewpie mayonnaise dipping sauce and Sullivan Street bread. That ham is one of those dishes that keeps me up at night when I'm unassailably hungry and, I'm sorry to say, Char No. 4's just didn't live up.

But the pork nuggets, served with hot sauce, were so much better than the ones Marc Forgione is frying up in TriBeCa's Forge (sorry, Marc) and the apple and fennel salad, though a bit light on the blue cheese, was crunchy and satisfying.

It was no surprise that, by the time our entrees hit, I had already exhausted my appetite. I plowed through less than half of the beef hot links (not as good as the unadorned kielbasa of the Astoria Beer Garden and a sorry replacement for the pulled pork sandwich I had been craving, but the pickled cippolinis and mustard-drenched fingerlings almost made up for it) and most of the smoked scallops (good-sized divers, oyster mushrooms, pumpkin puree) before throwing in the towel. I found the starters more impressive, though all of it was across-the-board good. If I lived in the neighborhood, I might even venture to say great.

The greatest part, actually, was a bowl of butter pecan ice-cream nested in a pool of bourbon. Those pecans--covered in brown sugar and comparable to the best maple sugar candies ever--are, like the Momofuku Ham Plate, the kind of unexpected pleasure that will definitely keep me awake for nights to come.

And as for those several hundred whiskeys and bourbons for which Char No. 4 has garnered so much press? A clean and straightforward Noreaster, featuring ginger beer and a hint of maple syrup was the perfect companion for a night of artery-clogging pork fat. My actual, human dining companion enjoyed a Hot Toddy, which, given the weather on one cold November evening, could not have been more appropriate.

Char No. 4
196 Smith Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201

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