Time Out says
In the big, bad world of fusion eating—one where sake challah, beef-jerky fried rice and banh mi poutine aren’t fictional hipster concoctions but real-life menu items—French-Japanese culture crossing isn’t all that confounding. Both cuisines are rigorous and precise, with a scrupulous focus on ingredients and presentation.
It’s a logical pairing, particularly for chef Ian Alvarez and beverage director Kyle Storm, who both had tenures in the Momofuku empire (Alvarez at Noodle Bar, Storm at Má Pêche) before working together at Boerum Hill bistro French Louie. Those disciplines come together at Bara, the pair’s small, spare, largely under-the-radar tavern off First and 1st, and the commingling here is more casual than kitsch.
The subdued, achromatic furnishings—the sole fusion touch is the pair of chopsticks that accompany silverware atop the marble-crowned tables—tip off diners to the tempered East-meets-West tinkering Alvarez does from the partially open kitchen. Consider his small bowl of chawanmushi ($10), a steamed Japanese custard as delicately eggy as crème brûlée, topped with sweet crab, tiny pops of sesame and France’s fines herbes. Or carpaccio-esque mackerel tataki ($11), layered with horseradish shavings, nubs of puffed rice and a potent ponzu sauce.
They’re lovely, refined dishes, but at times that kitchen civility reads boring, frankly. Neat cubes of pork belly ($8), one of the world’s most unabashedly indulgent and downright porny foodstuffs, is dutifully marbled with a crunchy chicharrón cap but oddly lacks that satisfying smack of salt and fat. Ditto with slips of duck breast ($22)—though textbook rosy, the earthy tea sauce and sunflower-seed puree that accompany the meat are too timid to elevate the dish, keeping that bird landlocked.
The buckwheat noodles ($18) have moments of excellence, when a shred of funky oxtail or plump black-eyed prawn tangles with those hand-pulled strands on your fork, but the black sea bass ($28), roasted whole and served in a wave of pickled cucumbers, is the clear standout, confirming what Alvarez can do when his cooking is as bold as it is balanced. Basted with a soy-and-sherry tare that’s vibrant with ginger and garlic, the thin crackling skin gives way to the fleshy, velvety filet beneath—don’t be surprised if you end up eating it with your hands. In an otherwise docile meal, it’s a burst of messy exuberance, something Bara could use more of.
58 E 1st St
|Cross street:||between First and Second Aves|
|Transport:||Subway: F to Second Ave|
|Price:||Average main dish: $22. AmEx, Disc, MC, V|
|Opening hours:||Mon–Sat 6-11pm; Sun 6–10pm|
|Do you own this business?|