If you’re looking for some of the best places to eat in another city, who better to ask than chefs who have recently moved to DC from there?  Our visit to The Spotted Pig may have been a foregone conclusion, but we sought out additional recommendations from a few of our favorite New York transplants: Spike Mendelsohn and Mike Coletti of Good Stuff Eatery.

They had some great suggestions, but one in particular stood out.  Bar Q, the new “Asian-style barbecue and raw bar with sashimi elements” opened by Anita Lo earlier this year, had two things going for it that made it the choice for our first dinner in town: it was within walking distance of our apartment, and chef Sean Scotese was someone the Good Stuffers could vouch for personally.

Our minds made up, we snagged a 9:30 reservation for Friday night and hoped our Megabus wouldn’t hit too much traffic on the way up.  We arrived with time to spare, settled in and headed over to Bleecker Street to check out the Q with friends.

It’s easy to walk right past Bar Q if you don’t know what you’re looking for – the restaurant’s name is discretely displayed just below eye level, and the clean, spare decor doesn’t exactly scream “Asian-style,” “barbecue” or even “raw bar.”  It’s also easy to walk right past it when you’re trying to figure out if that guy walking past you holding the pizza box awkwardly in front of him is Daily Show correspondent John Oliver (pretty sure it was).

Full disclosure: upon entering Bar Q and checking in with the hostess, we passed on a hello from Spike and Mike to their fellow Mai House alum and former roommate, chef Sean Scotese.  He came out from the kitchen, welcomed us and even gave us a few suggestions on not-to-be-missed dishes.  We didn’t identify ourselves as bloggers, but we definitely got personal attention above and beyond the average dining experience.

We didn’t require any help to pick our beverages – a list of eight options marries classic cocktails like the Side Car and the margarita with Asian elements like shiso, yuzu and Japanese pickles.  I opted for a “Shiso Julep” that replaced the traditional mint with its East Asian cousin, and Elizabeth tried a spiked Green Tea Bubble Tea that was a bit heavy on the vodka.  We were also sold on an appetizer that offered a plate of roasted pork belly, spicy kimchi and pillowy steamed buns.  The sandwiches we put together from the dish were a wonderful blend of tastes and textures – salty, hot and rich; crunchy, chewy and tender.

From there, Scotese – amNY.com readers’ choice for New York’s sexiest male chef of 2007, by the way – guided us to a grilled squid salad served with hijiki, a traditional Japanese seaweed-like vegetable.  For the vegetarian in our party, Scotese created a delicious mango-filled spring roll appetizer.  This sweet-savory pairing would be a welcome addition to a list of starters that offers few options for those who don’t eat meat or fish.

Our entrees represented a solid cross-section of Bar Q’s techniques at work.  My tea-smoked duck was wonderfully complex, with a salty smokiness, a crispy skin and remarkably tender meat that was a just shade beyond medium-rare (I wouldn’t have minded it a little closer to rare).  The accompanying noodle salad was decent, if not especially flavorful.  Elizabeth’s stuffed spare ribs were flavored with a lemongrass barbecue, and the peanut sauce that accompanied them was a welcome complement to their big, meaty flavor.  She even liked the cabbage that came atop the spare ribs, but it didn’t do anything for me.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was the quality of the miso-glazed grilled eggplant.  The only vegetarian option among the entrees, this could have been entirely forgettable.  Instead it was a VERY generous portion of eggplant layered like a massive piece of lasagna, bathed in a sweet glaze that made it a real treat.  I went back for a second bite when invited, and I would not have felt the least bit deprived or overlooked to have this as my entree.

The hit of the evening was Anita Lo’s take on a dish that shows up in a wide range of Silk Road cuisines: Fried Milk.  While many traditional fried milk recipes result in a sweet treat, Lo’s is infused with garlic and flecked with what appeared to be chives, giving it a savory warmth that blew us all away.  Though our server suggested there was gelatin in the recipe, subsequent reading indicates that most fried milk recipes rely on corn starch or a curdling agent like ginger to thicken the milk.  Lacto-ovo vegetarians may want to confirm the ingredients before ordering, because these battered delicacies are not to be missed.

Overall, Bar Q provided us with a great start to our weekend.  Chef Scotese’s recommendations helped us find some real treats on an impressive, if somewhat limited, menu, and the prices (appetizers $8-$16; entrees $18-$29) were quite reasonable for a restaurant of this quality in the Village.  From now on, we’ll be sure to check in with the experts whenever we travel.

Bar Q
310 Bleecker Street
West Village, New York
(212) 206-7817

Bar Q on Urbanspoon