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The writing was on the walls. Literally. In dusty white chalk scratched on the slate gray blackboard: “I love this place!” “Josh rocks!” “Call me at 917-349-XXXX” Let’s get it on!” With all that’s been written about Barfry, chef-partner Josh DeChellis’ cool new temple of tempura, I’ve yet to find mention of the bathroom walls and the wild writing on them. Maybe other writers don’t visit the bathrooms? Maybe they’re too concerned with the scene in the dining room or the food on their plates? I can understand that, but come on, these walls are priceless! There’s material here, people. Look, I was quite interested in the scene (low light, loud music, barstools pulled together by couples sharing dinner, four-tops of sexy folks drinking sake and beer and dunking battered bites into assorted dipping sauces), and what was on my plate (wooden boxes housing tangles of tempura), but I was also pretty interested in the writing on bathroom walls. This stuff was hilarious. There were notes about lovers, comments about the food (good and bad, these walls are not censored), complaints about Bush, phone numbers for all manner of services, shout-outs to friends, and in one corner, climbing up the wall, possibly the solution to the Iraq war. It would’ve been easy to stay in there all night. But people might’ve started to worry, and there was eating to be done.Review By: Andrea Strong
I headed to Barfry on another all-too-warm night last week with Alison and Debbie. I was craving someplace fun, where we wouldn’t need a reservation, wouldn’t drop too much money, and wouldn’t have to deal with the formality of a three-course dinner. I just wanted to sit and hang out with my friends, drink some beer, and share a nice meal. In this town, that plan can sometimes be quite a challenge. Not so at Barfry. It’s built for situations just like that—a spontaneous get together, a craving for a cold beer, a pang of hunger that needs immediate attention. Barfry’s your place.
Momofuku has its ramen, Rickshaw has its dumplings, Magnolia has its cupcakes, and Barfry has its tempura. The menu offers 17 tempura options (from cod and shrimp, to peppers to onion rings, pork cutlets to dumplings and chicken fried steak), plus a selection of Po’ Boys, boxes (combo meals), sides and daily specials that reflect Josh’s skill as a chef with a reach that exceeds the grip of his triple fryer.
Alison and I got there a bit early and found two seats at the bar where we were started off with some (free) Nori-dusted popcorn, slightly sweet and delicately salty, and quite addictive. It’s the sort of snack that will have you reaching for your beverage with some amount of regularity. It took all of five minutes until I was slurping the last drops of my Rosemary Julep ($12)—a refreshing hi-ball made from gin, fresh pear, lime juice and ginger beer. Alison had ordered an Asahi ($13), which arrived in a one-liter mini keg. The beer was practically as big as her. She looked alarmed, and I assured her that I’d help her with it, which I did. By the time Debbie walked in around 8:45, we’d finished half of it. A table had just opened up so we carted our little keg over our table against the subway tiled wall lined with black leather banquettes and got to work on some more beer and some dinner.
A fine way to start a meal at Barfry is to get right to the tempuras. But before I get to what I thought, let me explain the factors that I use to judge tempura (The Tempura Factors—TFs). I like a crispy batter, with an airy flake, low grease content and finally, the product inside the batter should be cooked correctly—vegetables should not be overcooked or mealy, meats and fish should not be raw.
We ordered a selection of three—pumpkin ($4), shrimp (3 for $6) and string beans ($4). All tempuras come with a quartet of sauces—jalapeno-soy, sweet miso, wasabi mayo, and red hot chili citrus. While I had heard mixed reviews of the tempura, I was impressed. After one bite of the pumpkin, which went nicely with the sweet miso, Alison turned to me and said: “He could fry (sh*t) in this batter and I’d eat it.” While excrement is not on the menu at the moment, I can see where she’s coming from. To get his tempura this correct, Josh worked through about 100 recipes before he found one that he was pleased with and then took a few weeks of time before he perfected the recipe with the right blend of oil—rice bran and canola. (He switches the oil twice a night and at the end of each shift, recycles it for bio-diesel fuel.) He’s also worked hard at the art of the drop (it’s all in the wrist) and the pick-up (at the golden moment, it’s gotta come out fast). The man is ready to teach Tempura 101, which is probably why the pumpkin met all my TFs—its batter was golden, and quite delicate, almost like a custom-fitted crispy crepe. The grease content was low, though not invisible, but there was no oily sogginess to it. And finally, the pumpkin was cooked perfectly—firm but tender. That’s an A minus. The string beans were an A plus: long and lean and cloaked in a shell of crunchy batter. They were so good that we (honestly) sliced the last one in three small pieces. And as for the shrimp, ditto in terms of the TFs. My only comment would be that I want more, please.
After a round of tempura, we delved into the non-fried off the menu blackboard specials. Josh is someone who was rather secreted away at Sumile and didn’t get enough attention at Jovia either. His talents have not been adequately recognized. It’s a shame that many people didn’t get to know his gifts with sushi and seafood, or his skill with simpler tasks like making killer salad dressings. (Barfry, I imagine will eventually jar and package all their sauces and dressings so you can use them at home, or better yet, Josh should do a cookbook. Call me, Josh. We’ll talk.)
For instance, a pickled watermelon and avocado salad ($9) is tossed with baby arugula in a vivid vinaigrette called HD’s Green Hot—a zippy, eye-watering dressing made from fresh jalapeños that wakes up the avocado, and turns on the watermelon, and leaves you a little heated up, too. Nice.
His sashimi of fluke ($12) is also a 3D flavor experience—there’s the pearly fish sliced in slender rectangles, the spicy white soy sauce, the shower of diced chives and the hit of yuzu that finishes it off with a lemony pinch in the back of your cheek. Tuna tartar ($12) is served in a deep bowl, cleverly folded in with pickled ramps, and dressed with a bit of soy and citrus as well to cut the richness of the fish. The sautéed pea leaves ($7) are terrific as well—verdant leafy shoots that resemble baby spinach, sautéed and dressed with XO sauce and lemon zest for that splash of spark that Josh never leaves off the plate.
While we weren’t really hungry any more at this point, we were having a great time and really enjoying the food, and so we did want to eat more. This is a problem of mine. When food is good, I want to eat it, and the fact that I have no appetite nor any room for it in my stomach is really beside the point. And so we shared an oyster po’ boy, and, why not, a couple of pints of JD’s Gaijin Pale Ale, a bright, slightly bitter ale made special for Josh by Rogue in Oregon. For his Po’ Boy, Josh uses traditional fluffy inside, crusty outside hero bread that he pimps out with old bay mayo, wasabi mayo, sauce gribiche, and a fistful of tempura flake to keep the crunch in the sandwich. Then he piles on some peppery wasabi pickles and the fried oysters. I have to say that while the idea of the sandwich was terrific, unfortunately, the oysters just sort of get squished in there, and their brine leaks out and makes the oysters sort of soggy. So, next time I’m going to try a po’ boy with pork cutlet that’s piled high with kimchee, cilantro and sambal dressing ($12), or the chicken fried steak garnished with horseradish, marinated shiitakes and arugula ($14) or the shrimp one, topped off with spicy slaw and XO dressing ($14). Just ‘cause one didn’t work, doesn’t mean the others aren’t worth a shot.
As we finished off the beer, we contemplated dessert at Market Table next door (love their apple crisp), but then we discovered there is dessert at Barfry. It comes in the form of green tea cupcakes. I don’t know about you, but I’m always up for a cupcake. This one is oversized, and frosted in green, as you might’ve guessed. The color of a tree frog, the cupcakes are soft, moist and fluffy and frosted with a swirl of green tea buttercream, just a slight scent and tannins of green tea. It’s nice to know that food the color of frogs can be yummy. Before we left and walked home, I paid a visit to the ladies’ room. The chalk was there, the walls called me. I’ve never written on a bathroom wall, but then again, I’m not sure I’ve ever had this ease of this sort of opportunity. And so, I figured, why not. I picked up a piece of chalk and pressed it against the smooth slate and wrote. But, I’m not telling you what I wrote. I want you to go over there, have some dinner (or lunch) and let me know if you find it.
Neighborhood: Greenwich Village
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