Last night for our eighth anniversary we decided to give Char No. 4 a try. Several of our friends have praised its seasonal cuisine, as well as the modest yet modern interior, all autumnal browns and bieges lit by mid-century-ish sconces and pendant lights. But what impressed us the most was the whiskey list. Broken down into fourteen categories such as wheated bourbon and single malt scotch, and featuring a wide variety of American whiskey such as bourbon and rye, this carte can be overwhelming for the uninitiated. But don’t despair; just ask your the friendly wait and bar staff for some help, and they will steer you in the right direction.
To start our evening, we sipped on some Rittenhouse 23-year rye. Expensive, yes (it’s $15 per ounce), but it was worth every sip. We always say that the details matter, and when the drinks were served in large, stemless glasses with a side of crystal-clear ice cubes, we smiled because we knew we’d be able to try the rye three ways: neat, with a drop of water to open it up, and one single small cube swirled around, to round out the edges. All three ways proved intoxicatingly delightful, and if it weren’t for the price tag, we’d have a bottle on our home shelves all the time. Just the nose, with traces of rich caramel and dark brown sugar, were enough to send us into paroxysms of blissful sighs.
Now it was time to counteract the effects of the rye with some grub, and the menu at Char No. 4 seemed to have plenty to tempt our taste buds. What to start with, and what cocktail to accompany our meal? Too much appealed—we had to narrow our focus. We knew we wanted to try the house-cured lamb pastrami (the thinnest, most tender slices) with coriander aioli and rye-caraway toast, and also the crispy cheddar curds with spicy pimento sauce (what meal is complete without cheese!), so we opted for an old favorite, the Sazerac.
2 ounces rye
1/4 to 1/2 ounce simple syrup, depending on how sweet you like it)
3 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
splash of Herbsaint, to rinse the glass
lemon twist, or peel
Pour Herbsaint into a glass, swish it around, then empty the glass. In a shaker filled with ice, add the rye, simple syrup, and bitters. Shake for 15 seconds and strain into the Herbsaint-rinsed glass. Squeeze the lemon twist over the drink and add to the glass. Add ice, if desired.
Ah, the Sazerac, the official cocktail of New Orleans. For the uninitiated, a contemporary Sazerac is made by swishing some Herbsaint (absinthe’s less potent cousin) in a glass, then dumping it out before adding chilled rye laced with a few dashes of Peychaud’s red and spiky bitters, a bit of simple syrup, and a lemon twist. During the early years of our togetherness, this was the first cocktail that we searched high and low for the ingredients. Our zeal could not be contained. Like Indiana Jones’s search for the Holy Grail, we were on a quest to make this age-old quaff, so, when it came time to choose the rye, we opted for, what else, Sazerac rye. Slightly grassy in aroma and taste, Sazerac is dry more than sweet and is a pleasant foil to the sweetness of the simple syrup.
But, alas, Char No. 4 was out of Sazerac rye. Oh well, Rittenhouse 100 proof would have to do. When the waiter returned with our drinks, we both took a sip and smiled. The bartender managed to create a dryish cocktail that had a nice lemony tang and very little sugar (perhaps a little lemon juice was added, no worries). But what made us smile even more was the way the cocktail worked with the cheese curds and the lamb. Perfection. So, after baaing contentedly for a few mouthfuls, we decided to keep the food coming.
Should we go healthy and eschew the red meat–heavy dishes, or jump right in and get all buttery and fatty. Well, compromise is the key to any meal (and relationship, for that matter), so we ordered baby green salad with pecan and marjoram dressing (very healthy), some beet and blue cheese salad (healthy), and shrimp & grits (umm, well, this is where compromise comes into play). Let us proclaim that these grits were the best we ever had the pleasure of devouring (or second-best, if you count the cheese grits we had this summer at Madewood Plantation in Napoleonville, Louisiana). Thank God we had a few sips of the Sazerac left because it made all the healthy food taste even better, and the shrimp & grits sublimier.
Normally we don’t have dessert, but what the hell, it was our eighth anniversary. Traditionally, one gives one’s partner a gift of bronze for the eighth anniversary. The homemade butter pecan ice cream (chunks of sweet and salty praline) with bourbon sauce was bronze-colored, so close enough. Let’s just say that the the dessert lasted about as long as the Harrison presidency. Scoop, slurp, aaaah.
Will we return to Char No. 4? You bet. With over a hundred brown spirits on the menu, we have no choice but to become whiskey ethnographers, charting our bibulous journey through the rural reaches of Appalachia, all the way around the globe through the far-off mysteries of the Orient (there are eleven Japanese whiskeys for sampling), and back again.
P.S. We celebrate our anniversary on both September 8 and 9. But we were too pooped to celebrate on the 8th, so we opted to stay in and make an anniversary cocktail. Since our favorite go-to cocktail is the Manhattan, and much Maker’s Mark bourbon was drunk when we first met, we decided to make a Manhattan using Makers’s, Carpano Antica (our new favorite vermouth), and some Angostura bitters. The Manhattan never fails to bring a rush of color to our faces. Have one tonight with the one you love.
2 ounces Maker’s Mark bourbon
1 ounce Carpano Antica vermouth
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Stir in a mixing glass for 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a brandied cherry.