July 16, 2018 | BITE: My Journal
Charc One Up for Danny Brown
Danny Brown serves burrata with Black Mission figs, Serrano ham and arugula at Charc.
It’s not likely that many hungry Upper East Siders will simply stumble unknowingly into Charc, Danny Brown’s tiny slip of a place, since it’s on a quiet side street at the far edge of New York.
Easy enough to see Charc’s wrought iron and plate glass window as you walk east on 84th Street.
If you just happen to live on East 84th Street between First and Second Avenue, it might catch your eye. Or if you knew the chef from Danny Brown’s Wine Bar & Kitchen when it was the only spot in Queens with a Michelin star you might seek him out. Actually, that seems unlikely, too, given it took him two years to find this spot, more than enough time to forget why you meant to follow him from Queens.
Fusilli is tossed with cauliflower, raisins, vadouvan, chili, bread crumbs and grated parmgiana.
A chorus line of anchovies preen across the house’s Caesar salad. The croutons are made from baguette.
But there we were in May at the suggestion of a pal who didn’t know Brown or his restaurants either. We had a couple of $21 margaritas with Patron Añejo Gold, and took a stab at an assortment of items on the menu – Caesar salad, fusilli with cauliflower and golden raisins, a burger and a lobster roll. Everything was good or very good.
Maine lobster is dressed with tarragon mayo and piled into a toasted brioche hot dog bun.
We spread Charc’s fatty cured duck rillettes on slices of too-soft bread.
“Charc is about charcuterie,” my friend observes, as we cut the warm lobster roll into four savory chunks. “The chef buys a whole pig and makes his own.” Shouldn’t we have ordered some cured meats? I wonder. Except for a small canning jar of fatty duck rillettes to spread on slices of rather wimpy baguette, we’ve ignored the theme.
Charc is so narrow it’s not easy to get enough distance to see Chris Morris’s large painting opposite the bar.
Charc welcomes walk-ins, but late arrivals will mostly have to eat at the bar.
Charc is small, 550 square feet with seats for just 25. You can’t get far enough away from the giant Chris Morris photo on the wall to take it all in. And the dangling chandelier seems eccentric, as if borrowed from a palace. Plumbing faucets serve for hanging coats, except it’s the hottest night of the year and no one is wearing one. The music is eclectic: Superfly, Lucinda Williams, maybe the Kinks.
On a hot sticky night, the door keep popping open and chef Danny Brown closes it as he stops by to greet us.
The door, swollen by the heat, keeps popping open, and we find ourselves constantly closing it. Yes, we’re back. I could say we’ve come this time for the charcuterie. But the truth is that I don’t like to get tied up in weekend traffic, and Charc is easy to reach by cab across town.
One evening three of us decide to share the charcuterie tasting and the cheese tasting plus a few extras.
An eclectic mix of cheese and condiments comes with the charcuterie platter.
The three of us agree it’s a night for a cool rosé, the $35 charcuterie tasting, and the $27 cheese tasting listed on the menu and we won’t have to pay $4.50 extra for bread and salted Vermont butter or olive oil because a basket comes with. The foie gras mousse and the duck rillettes aren’t included in the charcuterie tasting, so we order those, too.
The server points a finger at each item on the tasting and announces its name.
I’m not a charcuterie person and all that fat and too much bread (even though it’s not great bread, you do need bread) seems deliciously sinful. We’d planned to follow with the veal saltimbocca but none of us could eat another bite.
There are only two pastas on the menu, both good. This is the lemony linguine with cremini mushrooms.
Then it’s Friday again and we’re five. I want to write about Charc but I need to taste more of the sandwiches and small plates, mostly $13 to $15. Five of us at a table for four doesn’t leave much space for the platters we’re sharing. It feels like the kitchen is taking too long with our order. Our server disappears from time to time and has to be reminded to bring serving spoons. We also need a sharp knife to divide the remarkable pork katsu with tonkatsu sauce and Japanese mayo.
In a town of many fussed-up burgers, Charc’s wagyu chuck-brisket with American cheese is proudly plain.
The burger is the plainest, pitiful-looking meat under an American cheese melt on an English muffin, but it’s wagyu chuck-brisket and shockingly good. The acid of a very ripe July tomato plays well on avocado toast.
The shrimp tacos on soft corn tortillas surprise with a feisty smoked chili kick.
My friend had a yen for swordfish. It came on a rubble of raisin-pine nut couscous and we all had a bite.
Shrimp tacos with yuzu crème fraîche in a pair of corn tortillas might seem anemic but for a torrid flash of chili. There’s enough lemony linguine with cremini mushrooms and garlic for each of us to have a swirled taste. I like my swordfish thicker and rarer, but the raisin and pine-nut couscous it’s served on is fine.
Juicy slices of summer tomato bask on avocado toast with a hint of mint.
The flat iron steak is tiny but just $19, chewy and rare alongside a pile of great fried potato chunks.
The $19 curl of flat iron steak, already sliced, is very small, a taste for each of us, with more than enough exceptional fried potato chunks.
“What do you have for dessert?” we ask.
A tiny almond cookie is not much of a farewell in a place that has no room or passion to offer desserts.
“Nothing,” says our server, delivering a saucer of small almond cookies. “We don’t have dessert. There isn’t enough room to do desserts,” she explains.
Dana Stoddard captures the brilliance of the rooster on the wall behind me.
“How far do we have to walk for ice cream?” I ask. She recommends a bakery on Second Avenue. But on the avenue, we grab a cab instead. At home my friend disappears to take a walk. She returns with Haagen Dazs chocolate-covered ice cream on a stick. Batman and Superman are making mincemeat of each other on the telly. The perfect ending of an uptown summer night.
316 East 84th Street between First and Second avenues. 646 719 1398. Dinner, Monday through Thursday from 5:30 pm to 10:30 pm., Friday and Saturday from 5:30 pm to 11 pm. Closed Sunday.
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