David Chang’s Momofuku empire now spans a dozen restaurants in three countries. But how many restaurants outside of that empire are run by chefs boasting “Momofuku vet” on their bios? I’ve lost count.
One thing’s for sure: it’s a brand that chefs want on their resume these days, and it’s the calling card at Bara, which opened in the East Village in December, boasting two Momofuku alumni. Chef Ian Alvarez worked at Noodle Bar, and later at French Louie in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. GM Kyle Storm worked at Má Pêche, and later ran the bar at French Louie.
The website notes coyly that “the word bara has many meanings,” without stating any of them. Apparently, it literally means “rose” in Japanese, but it is also short for Barazoku, a Japanese gay men’s magazine that shut down in 2004; or more generally, Japanese slang for a genre of homoerotic media. There are a few other meanings: bara means “bread” in Welsh, “coffin” in Italian, “puddle” in Serbo-Croatian, and “mainland” in Swahili. But if you Google the term, the gay context dominates the search results, so this must be the the one that was meant, for reasons that aren’t at all clear. I was unaware of this until I looked it up.
The restaurant claims to be a mash-up of the Japanese izakaya (a drinking establishment that serves food) and the Parisian wine bar. Frankly, it doesn’t remind me of either. It’s just a casual local restaurant that fuses the two cultures, starting with the place setting: silverware and chopsticks, a combo we’ve seen before. Very little of the food really requires chopsticks, so their presence is mainly to set a mood.
The compact (and inexpensive) menu, which changes daily, features about a half-dozen apiece of “1st” ($6–12) and “2nd” ($18–22) courses, with four sides ($2–9). Many of the dishes could easily be imagined at a Momofuku restaurant, with their eclectic mix of local and Asian ingredients, and predominantly Western cooking techniques.