Entries in Bar Q (3)


The Payoff: Bar Q

Just when we thought we had Frank Bruni figured out, he uncorked one of the weirdest reviews of his tenure, awarding two stars to Bar Q:

In terms of its variability from one stretch of the menu to another, Bar Q is a riddle, but it’s a riddle with a solution: don’t pay too much attention to the restaurant’s name, which alludes to barbecue, or to the culinary direction in which that name points you.

With the exception of pork-stuffed spare ribs, richer than a Russian plutocrat and sauced with an elementary school’s worth of peanut butter, the dishes that veer the closest to conventional barbecue or that give you bones to grab and gnaw on are among the least enjoyable and impressive.

Let us be clear: our complaint isn’t that Bruni awarded a different number of stars than we predicted. That has happened plenty of times. And our complaint isn’t that Bruni liked a restaurant we didn’t. That has happened plenty of times, too.

The trouble is that this review, even on its own terms, doesn’t read like two stars. We can’t recall a review in which he had so many complaints about the food and still awarded two stars—unless it was a “three-minus,” such as Gilt or Gordon Ramsay. Bruni’s critics sometimes bellyache about exceedingly casual places he elevated to two stars—Sripraphai and Franny’s come to mind—but at least he made the case for them as passionately as it could be made. With Bar Q, he didn’t even try.

It makes nonsense of the current rating at Annisa, Anita Lo’s other, and infinitely better, restaurant nearby. Annisa carries the same two stars (Grimes, 2000) as Bar Q, a misguided judgment Bruni shows no signs of remedying.

Lastly, he also commits a cardinal no-no, at least in my book: complaining about the tough life restaurant critics (and those who dine with them) lead:

A restaurant critic’s most practiced companions know that the questions to be asked in advance of a meal go beyond the address, the hour and the (fake) reservation name.

More important bits of information: is the visit to the restaurant a first one or a follow-up? And if it’s a follow-up, what are they in for? Is the critic doing them a favor, or are they doing him one?

As I ushered several of my most loyal and keenly inquisitive sidekicks into Bar Q for Visit 2, I tiptoed around the answers. I stressed that I was paying the check: drink up! I emphasized that Bar Q belonged to Anita Lo, whose cooking at Annisa can be sublime.

We know that full-time critics have it rough (I know I couldn’t hack it), but keep it out of the review.

Eater and I both predicted a one-star review. We both lose $1 on our hypothetical one-dollar bets.

              Eater          NYJ
Bankroll $91.50   $111.67
Gain/Loss –1.00   –1.00
Total $90.50   $110.67
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Won–Lost 41–19   43–17

Rolling the Dice: Bar Q

Every week, we take our turn with Lady Luck on the BruniBetting odds as posted by Eater. Just for kicks, we track Eater’s bet too, and see who is better at guessing what the unpredictable Bruni will do. We track our sins with an imaginary $1 bet every week.

The Line: Tomorrow, Frank Bruni visits Bar Q, Anita Lo’s Asian barbecue in the West Village. The Eater oddsmakers have set the action as follows (√√ denotes the Eater bet):

Zero Stars: 4-1
One Star: 2-1 √√
Two Stars:
Three Stars: 50-1
Four Stars: 10,000-1

The Skinny: Luckily for Anita Lo, a zero-star review is off the table. Goose eggs are rare, so you can be sure Bruni won’t crack two of them in a row. Ago, last week’s spanking victim, takes Bar Q off the hook.

We agree with Eater that Adam Platt’s two-bagger sets the outer limits of what is possible here. As usual, Platt’s reasoning is suspect: “My wife agitated (loudly) for three stars; my hulking barbecue friends agitated (almost as loudly) for one. Diplomatically, I’ll split the difference.”

We think Bruni will sympathize more with Platt’s barbecue friends than with his wife. Besides, we found the place just a tad better than mediocre—certainly nowhere close to two stars, either in concept or execution.

The Bet: We agree with Eater that Frank Bruni will award one star to Bar Q.


Bar Q

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Note: As of February 17, 2009, Bar Q has closed. The space is now the Chesapeake Bay-themed restaurant, Choptank.


Anita Lo, co-owner of the beloved (and Michelin-starred) Annisa, has lately followed the path of many a celebrity chef who was trained in French kitchens: she’s gone downmarket and pan-Asian. First came the Rickshaw Dumpling Bar in 2005, where she consults; and now, Bar Q.


Bar Q is just a few minutes’ walk from Annisa, so she won’t have trouble keeping tabs on the place. But the upscale comfort-food menu looks like it was designed for dependable replication in her absence.

There are a lot of dishes that are braised, smoked, roasted and fried, including plenty of pork. “Tea-smoked” recurs in the description of three different items. There are odd combinations, like “tuna ribs” and “pork wings.” Who knew pigs could fly? A “Trio of Tartares” makes the obligatory appearance.

The space has been beautiully done in blonde woods and white walls. One of the servers said, with a grin, “I painted all the artwork.” There is no artwork; just hard, bare walls. I am a bit concerned that the space could become oppressively loud when full, but that is mere speculation, as the restaurant was nearly empty when I visited at around 6:00 p.m. on a Monday evening. There’s a lovely outdoor garden, which is scheduled to open sometime in May.


The menu is not inexpensive, with raw bar selections at $2–7 per piece, appetizers $11–16, entrées $18–29, and side dishes at $7.

There’s also a tendency to upsell. My server said, “We recommend starting with a raw bar selection, followed by an appetizer and a main course.”

I thought to myself, “Well, yeah, of course you recommend that.”

Once I had nixed that idea, the server helped me narrow down my order to the better appetizer and entrée choices, describing each as a “signature dish.” You have to wonder how that’s possible for a place that has been open three weeks.

There are house cocktails, but when I told the server I don’t like excessive syruppy sweetness, he suggested I give them all a pass. I heeded his advice in favor of an Old Fashioned.

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Grilled Squid Salad (left); Stuffed Spareribs (right)

I started with the Grilled Squid Salad ($10), which had a wonderful smoky flavor. I asked the server if the squid had been smoked, and he cheekily replied that this was a “secret”. The accompanying Hijiki salad (seaweed) was unmemorable.

A dish called Stuffed Spareribs ($23) might lead you astray. It’s a solid brick of pork, served off the bone: pork stuffed with pork. The sauce is described as “Lemongrass BBQ, Peanut and Thai basil.” Peanut is what stands out. Is it good? The execution was superb, so it comes down to whether you like your spareribs to taste like peanuts. Hours later, I was still a bit haunted by the porky-peanutty taste. But I’m not sure I want my spareribs like that.

Bar Q offers a little bit of fun, but it strikes me as overpriced for a neighborhood place, yet not quite enthralling enough to become a destination.

Bar Q (308–310 Bleecker Street between Grove & Barrow Streets, West Village)

Food: *
Service: *
Ambiance: *
Overall: *