Bara, the first restaurant of Chef Ian Alvarez, perfects the balance of minimal edginess and profoundly delicious sophistication. It is a thread that carries through every element of the dining experience, from each plate of food, to the décor, to the cocktails, even to the restaurant’s logo.
With a formidable background in restaurants like Momofuku and French Louie, Chef Alvarez has composed a trim but complex menu that plays of the restrained grace of Japanese cuisine with the nuanced, deeply layered flavor of French embellishment.
There might only be two star ingredients on a given plate—the sea bass, served whole, swimming in a sea of gently pickled curls of cucumber, for example, or the crispy, succulent pork belly, served almost naked (save a dusting of togarashi) alongside two dipping sauces—but each bite is a burst of exuberance that surprises the palate and builds depth with each mouthful.
The mackerel tataki, particularly, defied all expectations. Listed on the menu as simply “mackerel, horseradish and ponzu,” the delicate but powerful flavors kept blooming with finesse. The diced, gently cooked fish was rich and fresh with the brininess of the sea, while the tangy punch of horseradish and the floral vibrancy of basil melded together dynamically, creating a dish so memorable that I salivate as I write this.
Bara is also the kind of place that invites you to make a meal of many shared plates, paired with top-notch, hand-picked sake, or, if you’re like me, the unusually exciting cocktails.
Perusing the libations list, dreamed up by cocktail mastermind, Kyle Storm, there is a disarming (and dangerous) temptation to try every single one. The ingredients and unique pairings sing like sirens from a cocktail shaker: black sesame vodka softened with shochu, bourbon paired with chai and coffee, and smoky mezcal brightened with sake and ginger. Order whatever catches your interest and you won’t be let down.
Another surprise that won’t let you down: Dessert.
Chef Alvarez gave a sheepish introduction to his two-item dessert menu. With the caveat that it was designed by savory chefs, he warned us to manage our expectations. Well, there might not be a pastry chef in Bara’s kitchen, but the white miso and rosemary panna cotta, as well as house-made sesame and red bean macarons, were the best desserts I’ve had in recent memory.
Exciting to eat as to imagine – the unlikely combinations of assertively savory ingredients with sweetly mellow counterparts were, like the rest of the menu, perfectly balanced. Rich enough to feel decadent but simple, sophisticated, and endlessly craveable.
Though there is a distinct, modern edginess to both the look and feel of the space, as well as the food and cocktail menus, there is also a sincere warmth woven into the atmosphere (perhaps given that Bara, meaning “Rose,” is named after the chef’s grandmother). It’s just this charming kind of welcome that makes Bara a place you want to linger and savor the experience—and if I had my way, as often as possible.
– Ava Fedorov