Five Dishes That Reveal How Bar Restaurant Flips the Script on French Food
At Bar Restaurant, which debuted to big crowds and great reviews in November 2019, executive chef Doug Rankin and owner Jeff Ellermeyer knew exactly what kind of place they wanted to open: an art-centric neo-bistro with new takes on French favorites. That was still their intention as they labored through the pandemic just months after opening, pivoting repeatedly by turning the entire parking lot into a dining room and offering rotisserie meals to go. Now, after several iterations, Bar Restaurant finally feels brand-new.
There’s no more extended patio, and the rotisserie has been sidelined for the time being. Inside, the dining room bustles again, and the bar, after some minor renovations, has new life. Rankin’s menu is back to his France-meets-California menu, with dishes including hits from day one (moules frites with fast food-style curly fries) alongside new, ingenious reinterpretations of classics (brûléed steam buns with chicken liver mousse and blackberry vinegar).
After working for chefs like Ludovic Lefebvre at Trois Mec and Petit Trois, and Michael Voltaggio at Ink. and Jose Andres’ Bazaar, Rankin is a master of technique. “A lot of my career was working for French chefs, and a lot of them would say you have to find what your cuisine is,” Rankin says. “I think this is where I found mine. This is me finally getting out of my comfort zone.” Here’s where the chef sees Bar Restaurant now and into the future, as seen through six dishes.
1. Frisée salad, crispy potato, egg yolk bonito
“The frisée salad was the first dish we put together. I knew we needed a salad that had some body and didn’t just feel like a pile of greens. This is like a cross between a crispy potato dish and frisée aux lardons. First, we cook peeled potatoes in a brine with garlic. After they’re cool, we freeze them and cook them directly from the freezer. They take a long time to cook, but you get this molten center of a garlicky potato that’s incredibly crunchy. That’s the bottom of the dish. We top the potatoes with Everton, a sharp raw cow’s milk cheese. It almost tastes like an amped-up baked potato.
We toss the frisée in a Champagne vinegar and Dijon mustard vinaigrette, and it goes on top of the cheesy potato. Then we grate egg yolk bonito, which we cure ourselves — the yolk is sort of custardy, and there’s some smokiness — and katsuobushi on top. So you get crispy potato, acidic dressing, egg, and a smoky flavor without the bacon. We tried to make it vegetarian, but now it’s pescatarian and I’m cool with that.”
2. Carrot salad, pommes allumettes, coconut, and lime leaf
“This is one of our newer dishes. A lot of French chefs are purists — they’ll only use French butter or won’t use spices. I’m not that. I’m more in the New Age French way of cooking, and this is a great example. We take the very classic French carrot salad, but the only thing we keep traditional is the grated carrot.
We found that a lot of carrots don’t have that fresh, sweet carrot taste. Brining them in carrot juice with a bit of sugar and salt was a way to solve for that. We wanted to add some flavors like a Thai papaya salad, so this has avocado, sliced shallot, mint, cilantro, and Thai basil. And then we wanted a crunchy element, so we make pommes allumettes, which are basically potato sticks, and toss them with dehydrated lime leaves.
On the plate it’s a mound of carrots, a coconut milk-lime-Dijon dressing, herbs on top of the carrots, and crispy potatoes all over everything. I swear it kind of smells like Fruity Pebbles when it hits the table. It’s very fragrant. I’m not a vegan chef, I’m not against vegan cooking, but any time we come up with a vegan dish, it’s by accident.”
3. Bluefin tuna with smoked eel brandade
“To me, this is the fun, cheffy dish that would grab the attention of a food person. We wanted to do a lighter crudo-type dish but didn’t want to do a traditional crudo, just sliced fish on the plate. And we’ve never used tuna; this is our first whack at it. We wrap a whole loin in kombu to cure overnight, which adds some umami to the exterior. And then instead of breaking down the tuna into sections, we slice it so you get the whole range, from the top of the loin to the belly. You can see all the color changes on the plate.
I wanted a smoky element to complement it. I fell in love with smoked eel a few years back, and this beautifully fatty eel we get from Holland goes perfectly with mashed potatoes. So we make a brandade to go on the bottom of the plate. Then we add the sliced tuna, topped with olive oil, lemon, some spring onion, and finished with capers and sorrel. We season it with a wild garlic powder we make ourselves — when it’s in season, we take the tops and dehydrate them — which adds this bright green color and nice hit of garlic. It’s simple but has really interesting flavors. I swear it tastes like a really good tuna salad.”
4. Falafel, sunflower seed hummus, English peas
“I’m 30% Lebanese, which is what I think made food exciting for me. My dad is English and Scottish, and there was a lot of brown food and overcooked vegetables. On my mother’s side, the food was bright, vibrant, and flavorful. This dish is something that brings together French and Lebanese food, a combination that’s really interesting to me.
Falafel in general can be really dense and heavy. So we tripled the amount of herbs, pulled out some of the chickpeas, and ended up with this really fluffy, herby falafel. It’s shaped into a cylinder and fried to order. To go with it, I developed a sunflower seed hummus that’s just seeds, butter, and garlic. This is where the French technique comes in. Instead of olive oil, we slowly cook garlic in butter, strain it out, and let it cool separately. Then we add it all back together and emulsify in the raw sunflower seeds. It creates this very thick, buttery, nutty paste that looks like hummus but just tastes awesome. It’s one of my favorite things.
On the plate, it’s the hummus, then the falafel in the center. We blanch some fresh English peas and mix them with preserved lemon and a spicy yogurt sauce, and spoon those on top. It’s garnished with some dill and garlic chive flowers. It’s another vegetarian dish that’s been on the menu for a few weeks and is already a big hit.”
5. Moules frites
“OK, they’ve been talked about so much, we sell a million of them every night, and they’ll probably never come off the menu. Even if I’m tempted sometimes! Never say never, but for now, they’re definitely the most popular thing.
We knew in the beginning that we wanted to do a bistro that felt like the future, with completely new food ideas. So doing plays on classics was a way to tie that all together, and it blends well with my style. First I thought about what I don’t like about the original, and what I hate about moules frites is dealing with the shells. I don’t like picking them at the table. Like maybe if I’m at a crab shack in the middle of Maine, cool. Otherwise, no.
Instead of serving mussels in the shells, we cook them in white wine and garlic, just how you normally would. But as they pop open, we pull out the meat, and shock them in ice water to stop the cooking. This way we can catch them individually when they’re just right. Then we take all that mussel liqueur and make a sauce with it and Dijon mustard, cream, and a bunch of other stuff, which we use to warm the mussels to order.
To add body and prop up the mussels, we make our own Japanese milk bread — all of our bread, baguettes included, are made in-house — and slice and toast it in clarified butter. That’s on the bottom, then the mussels. Then it gets covered in curly fries. We knew we didn’t want to do traditional frites. We tried a ton of different fries before we found just the right ones — we wanted them to taste like Jack in the Box with the coating on the outside. We don’t make them in-house. Sometimes you can’t mimic perfection. Bill [Addison] kind of nailed it in his review: a high-low masterpiece.”
6. Gâteaux Bar Restaurant
“Bar Restaurant’s owner, Jeff [Ellermeyer], is immersed in the art world, and we sometimes channel that through food. We wanted to make a cake that looks like a Wayne Thiebaud painting. So we make these individual little two-layer cakes that basically look like tiny wedding cakes. They look simple, but there’s so much happening through it all.
We change the flavors through the seasons, but right now we’re doing a vanilla chiffon cake brushed with hazelnut syrup. It has a brown butter white chocolate ganache on the outside, and a brown butter pastry cream inside with candied hazelnuts. It’s encapsulated with a hazelnut white chocolate mousse, and finished with a velvet spray.
We spray the cakes to order — our pastry chef Raymond Morales is in the back, spray-painting cakes for hours. It gives this really cool look, almost like ceramics with texture. We serve it whole and not in slices, because who doesn’t like a whole cake? Don’t you want to get all the parts of it, like extra frosting? One cake is good for two people, but we will cut it in half.”