This past Saturday, I met up with the girls - Donna, Reka, Susan C., Susan K. - for drinks and dinner celebrating Reka's Newbery Honor and other awards. She edited several books that picked up ALA awards last Monday.
Reka is a Brooklyn resident. We live about 10 minutes walk from each other. Since it was her night, she wanted to stay in Brooklyn and wanted to stick to places in the vicinity of Smith Street. Well, lucky me, I live off of Smith Street, so I didn't have to venture far.
We settled on Clover Club for pre-dinner cocktails. For dinner, Char No. 4.
I'll start with Clover Club.
You step into the bar and it's a step back in time. The decor echoes smooth, sexy, stylings of a saloon in turn of the century Paris. One that would have served absinthe to Monet and Renoir. White hexagonal tile on the floor, paned front door, elegant and immense wooden bar, cozy booths, cushy love seats, beamed and aged mirrored ceilings, and a toasty fireplace. Not to mention the cave-dim lighting. The kind of lighting that makes everyone look good. I felt like my art-deco shoes were right in order and the French chanteuse and Louis Armstrong music was right on cue.
We sat in the back where the fireplace was. The cocktail menu is seasonal. Imagine that. Each cocktail is named and lists the half-dozen or so ingredients, many featuring fruits and herbs. Three of my friends had something gin based with muddled mint and cucumber, where I had a Carrea - anejo tequila, pear, pineapple, and jalapeno syrup. It was very very good and not nearly as sweet as I feared. The jalapeno was subtle rather than burn-your-tongue spicy. It added an earthy flavor to the drink. It was simply garnished with two paper thin pear slices. Served in an old fashioned coupe glass for an added touch of elegance and timelessness. I only had one drink, but my friends had two and our bill with tax and tip was a whopping $91. So this place isn't cheap, but it feels oooooh so good. I will definitely come back here to try more of the creative and re-imagined old fashioned drinks as well as sample some items from the appetizer list. No full menu here - just bar snacks. The offer a brunch on the weekends that is supposed to be pretty good.
Then we relocated half a block to Char No. 4. Char is a new place that has opened since I've been in Brooklyn. The exterior is painted a sort of raisin brown and the only thing announcing that it is a bar/restaurant is a brass plaque next to the door. It's easy to walk by it without even noticing it. Oh, but people have noticed. It's been written up in all kinds of NY publications and I'm glad we got to try it. The menu is small and seasonal. The claim to fame for the restaurant is the house cured and smoked meats. It's a sort of upscale, modern barbecue. The claim to fame for the bar is the wall of whiskeys and bourbons. All can be ordered in a one ounce tasting, which range from $2-$100. I'm not even sure if they have a full bar, but they do have some beers and wines as well as the hooch.
When we walked in, we were immediately salivating. The smell in the place is bacon and smoking meat. As Susan said, it's one of those smells that you want to ask your server what it is and to bring you an order of it. We settled into our six-person padded booth, and decided upon the menu. For the table we ordered the following appetizers: crab cakes (the special for the night), crispy cheese curds, and pork nuggets. Donna said, "We are not timid eaters." Pork nuggets - the chicken nugget's black sheep cousin - crispy fried, greasy pork nuggets served with a too-hot-for-me red horseradish sauce. The cheese curds are an upscale version of a fried mozzarella stick. The cheese was relatively tasteless, but they were cooked well - crispy and hot. The crab cakes, however, were splendid. We split them up, so I only had a half, but it was as delicious half. Filled with crab and just enough bread to bind it together, it was served on a layer of delicate, refreshing lemon aoli. Very well done.
For my main course, I ordered the BLT, which isn't your ordinary BLT. The "bacon" is really decadent pork belly which has been FRIED. Yes, it's a coronary on a plate. I didn't know it was going to be fried. The T and L part is actually a sort of warmed grape tomato and micro green salad that is on top of the pork belly. Served with house pickled mini-red bell peppers and onions, it was rich and filling. The bread was no bigger than regular sandwich bread, so it wasn't one of those overstuffed, gross sandwiches, but it was plenty. Washed it all down with a bottle of Samuel Smith's Organic Lager. This was beer food.
Others had: lamb pastrami (not a sandwich, just the meat, thank you), beef link (which was extremely phallic and we shared some immature giggles & remarks at it's expense) with onions and mustard potato salad, greens & squash, and the thick-cut bacon with black-eyed peas. I sampled everything. The lamb was really a standout - tender and flavorful. The bacon was divine - salty, fatty, meaty, and smoky. But not too much smoke so that it inhibited the other flavors from coming through. I was very impressed with the quality of all the meats knowing they were done in house.
We capped off the meal with one bowl of butter pecan ice cream with straight bourbon on it. Being not a bourbon fan, that was a little strong for me, but the ice cream was good.
Service was good. Our waitress seemed to be having as good a time as we were. She ran through every item on the menu with us and added her own comments about which ones were her favorites. Her comments changed what both of the Susan's ordered.
The dining area is in the back, the bar in the front. It was noisy back in the dining area as conversation bounced off the walls. Luckily, there was no music on in the back. It would have been unbearable if music had been on. We didn't hear the music in the bar until we were passing through on our way out. The place was packed by the time we left, which was around 9:30 Saturday night.
All in all, both Clover Club and Char No. 4 were very good and worth a trip back. With both of them a minute walk from my place, I know I'll be back with Steve for brunch (Char also has a brunch) or drinks.