By David A. Porat
Visiting 4 Charles Prime Rib is like stepping back in time, to a small old-fashioned watering hole with good food and an “everybody knows your name” feel. But there is a lot more than meets the eye, or the taste buds. Designed like it has not changed in decades (maybe even centuries), 4 Charles serves food from my 1960s childhood, or maybe even earlier, if that is possible. The prices though are definitely current, since this is the West Village. It is a restaurant from another city, working to make it in New York because it has done well elsewhere. As the saying goes: If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. Its success would be kind of like a trophy!
The restaurant is a new project for a very successful Chicago restaurateur with the curious company name of Hogsalt. They are known for many successful restaurants in the Windy City, especially the Au Cheval Burger. They have a rendition available at 4 Charles but we will have that another time. In the meantime, we are checking out the Prime Rib.
The restaurant is about two months old and quite hidden, yet people have found it. It was rather busy in early January and, we were told, some have already returned many times. The premise of the venue is good Prime Rib, which is rare in the City and the Village. This item deserves a place on the table of a New York restaurant.
The menu is small and pleasantly predictable for what the restaurant sets out to achieve. There are just a few entrees—Prime Rib, Steak, and maybe two other options. There are also starters and sides with a focus on the raw bar.
We began with Shrimp Scampi, served with garlic bread and bacon; both were generous and easily sharable. The grilled bacon was perfect—a bit crispy, a bit chewy (but tender) and a touch smoky and sweet. The bacon had it all. The garlic bread was from the last century, like I used to proudly make as a child. There was nothing new-fangled about the preparation and I tasted genuine garlic.
We then had a “Dover Sole” course ($85.50 and easily sharable), which was also well prepared and presented filleted with a brown caper butter sauce on the side. We shared the medium-sized Prime Rib ($65.50) and the Rib Eye ($69.50). The latter was dry aged and tender, with a bit of gaminess that you either like or do not like. We had four sides ($12.50-14.50) which was plenty for four people—rich and lumpy mashed potatoes, creamy and cheesy spinach, slightly crunchy mushrooms (due to the breadcrumbs), and very nicely caramelized squash. They were all tempting and not low calorie.
Desserts include an old-fashioned Ice Cream Sundae but we opted for the Lemon Meringue and the Chocolate (Valrhona) Pie. Both were $12.00 and at the top of the culinary charts back then and also now. A nice wine list and traditional service, with a pleasant contemporary edge, all complement Charles Street. At this point, the restaurant does not take reservations and is looking to position itself as a neighborhood club. The food, the ambience, and the staff make you feel very welcome.