January 27, 2023
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Mabel Swain

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Bar Moro offers a window into the culture of Spanish cuisine with dishes such as Iberico jamón, eggplant, canned fish and sturgeon.

If you ask Ben Poremba why he wanted to open a place like Bar Moreau (7610 Wydown Boulevard, Clayton; 314-296-3000), it has nothing to do with serving the perfect Spanish tortilla, perfecting a croqueta, or enlivening a glass of bright gazpacho. That’s why he didn’t get hung up on cookbooks when he sketched Bar Moro’s proposals, but instead delved into the history, politics, movements, and art of the peninsula. “Food is culture,” Poremba likes to say, and for him, Bar Moro represents a part of the Mediterranean that he has yet to explore as fully as others, which has always fascinated him with its North African influence and significant Jewish culture. , two identities that are expressed in him through his maternal and paternal heritage, respectively.

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This approach is the secret to Bar Moro’s success, not as a Spanish restaurant, but as a snapshot of what it means to dine in Spain, in all its rustic, sexy glory. As you walk through the front doors from the tree-lined Tudor-style Clayton moorland area, you enter an elegant Iberian diner. The space is tiny with about 20 tables and room for about eight more at the bar, making it almost impossible to walk across the room without bumping into someone you’ve never met before. Dim lighting suggests this is a good thing. Add to that black and black walls and banquettes, jeweled fishing nets that hang from the ceiling, a leg of jamon set on a stand and displayed on top of a bar, and a surreal mural by local artist Edo Rosenblit, distinguished by its own style, referring to the Spanish surreal art and you get an immersive atmosphere similar to a restaurant you find on a street in Madrid.

Poręba’s style is a dominant feature of his personality, which is why it seems that he should have taken the reins of such a special restaurant space. Before Bar Moro, this mini-store housed Billie Jean, the iconic restaurateur Zoe Robinson, who passed away too soon and seemed to be the pinnacle of her legendary career. Like Poremba, Robinson paid as much attention to the design elements of her properties as she did to the food (this is not an attack on the food at all, but shows how important aesthetic considerations were to her as part of the overall experience). so its stylish presence in this space makes it a natural successor to its dear friend.

click to enlarge Bar Moro is a small bar overlooking the open kitchen.

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Mabel Swain

Bar Moro is a small bar overlooking the open kitchen.

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Food writers, myself included, love to talk about how dining experiences can be transportable—a beautifully cooked Cuban sandwich can take us to Havana; soul-awakening khao soi evokes the feeling of being in northern Thailand. What’s so great about Bar Moro is that Poremba takes it one step further. The restaurant is not just evocative; he masterfully captured the real experience of dining in Spain. When we chatted for this review, Poremba said that one of the greatest compliments he’s received in his culinary career came from a Spanish expatriate who had real tears in her eyes when she said Bar Moro felt right at home. It’s a feat that’s only possible when all the elements come together to create a special kind of alchemy, and while I’ve dedicated much of this text to aesthetics, this magic couldn’t have happened without truly excellent food that captures the essence of Spanish cuisine. kitchen.

Gazpacho is the first proof of the talent of this cuisine. The bright, chilled tomato soup served with gin has a beautiful, tender texture; the tartness of the tomato brings out a taste for what’s to come, but when swallowed with a bit of gin, it takes on that very zesty white pepper flavor that adds complexity. Likewise, Poremba’s own brand of caviar highlights the sumptuous, creamy egg salad blend with hints of pickle and subtle sea flavors. If the brightness of the gazpacho makes you stretch out in a chair at attention, then the egg and caviar served with toast will make you sit back and enjoy outright decadence.

This uncompromising luxury is typical of the Moro bar, and the $35 an ounce Iberico ham is perhaps the most prominent example. Intensely nutty aged meat, sliced ​​as thin as a hand can reach, is carefully placed on a marble stand, like pork petals. The meat is covered with abundant fat; melts like butter when it hits the tongue. Think of prosciutto like soft pastel silk and ham like gem-colored velvet.

click to enlarge Jamón Iberico is cut by hand to order.

Mabel Swain

Jamón Iberico is cut by hand to order.

One of Bar Moro’s most notable sumptuous offerings is its Canned List, an extensive selection of canned seafood imported from Spain that, while paying homage to Spanish tradition, has become one of the world’s biggest culinary trends in the last couple of years. Of the several offerings, we tried the shockingly tender smoke-kissed scallops and the paprika octopus, both of which were not only delicious but downright sexy.

Three different toasts offered completely different experiences. The first, which featured fresh anchovies and pickled peppers, was a masterclass in balance. The fava bean version paired bean puree with mouth-watering lemon and walnut cheese topping that refreshed the palate after so many intense flavors. My favorite, the pancontomat, amazed me with how such a simple combination can produce such intensity. The taste, equal parts olive oil and tomato jam, I can’t get it out of my head.

Berenjenas quemadas, the eggplant dip, was just as intrusive. For this dish, the kitchen infuses mashed eggplant with honey and tahini, tops it with charred purple vegetable strips, and then accentuates sweet tomato pulp and sherry. There is warmth, smoke, astringency and a very subtle hint of mint – a mixture of flavors referring to the eastern Mediterranean and North Africa.

click to enlarge Bar Moro offers an impressive selection of sherry.

Mabel Swain

Bar Moro offers an impressive selection of sherry.

Pescado al pil pil, or fried sturgeon, combines meaty fish with a variety of mushrooms—some smoky, some creamy, some earthy—that add depth to an outstanding clam garlic sauce that accentuates the dish. This mouth-watering, savory nectar was so perfect that I found myself soaking up every last piece of crispy bread left over from previous meals.

However, none of this comes without a price, and I would be remiss if I didn’t notice that Bar Moro is quite expensive. There’s a reason for the price tag; Poremba offers really great food, most of which is imported and all of the highest quality you can get. He leans into it without apologizing, and if you want to go on this magical journey with him, you have to give in to it and tell yourself it’s cheaper than a plane ticket to Madrid (although if you follow Scott’s Cheap Flights, not by much). cheaper). ).

However, if you think about the value of what it really means – what you get versus what you pay – Bar Moro is a worthwhile experience. It is more than just a restaurant, it is a masterful expression of Spanish gastronomic culture – a window to the world that we are privileged to observe from our corner of the world, and this is priceless.

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