Not Waiting Around

After taking a year to post the review of my birthday dinner at Bishop, I decided that I wouldn't procrastinate about reviewing Bari. Doing that is easier because Bari's menu is more specialized and the fact that I've written about it previously when I compared carbonara  dishes between it and Bardog Tavern. In a way, that would have been my only review of Bari. But being the enlightened man that I am, I felt that another, more formal review was necessary. Italian cuisine is more than just pasta and pizza, for it is as well rounded and diverse as any other country or culture. So with that in mind, I decided to go "tutte mare" in approaching my birthday dinner.
Having done research prior to going to Bari, I knew what I was getting beforehand. Given that Bari (named after an Italian city on the country's southern coast) featured many seafood dishes, I chose the Branzino, a fish native to the Mediterranean Sea (Bari's menu spells it "Bronzino" but that's the name of an Italian painter). I'm not sure if this is my first time having it, for I might have eaten it often when I was stationed in Italy. Of course, I never gave much thought to what I ate then, let alone writing about it. Since returning to the States, I've had many fish dinners of various sorts, but none of them matched the flair of an Italian ristorante.

When the main course arrived, it was presented in a manner that I expected. The Branzino was plated in whole, from head to tail fin. For many Americans, getting a fish head is a bit off putting, but it's natural for much of the world (for some Africans, the fish head IS the meal, like I had at African Restaurant a long time ago). The fish, split in half and stuffed with orange slices and celery, looked beautiful. Of course, eating it meant having to deal with the bones inside of it. Fortunately, the Branzino was tender enough for me to remove its vertebrae from the body of the fish, clearing the path for consumption (it would have been cool if the bones were removed prior to serving, but I'm not complaining). Although there were bones left in the fish, it wasn't much of a hassle to eat. Speaking of that, the Branzino tasted great. Like with the calamari that I had previously, the fish was grilled to the point that its skin/scales were crispy. The charred flavor of that, combined with the citrus juice of the orange slices and the flavor of the Branzino itself (which to me is similar to tilapia, a lowly fish that catches flack for being low end seafood), made for a delicious entrée. Of course, I didn't eat the Branzino by itself, for I had it with a side of Funghi Alla Graticola (English translation: grilled mushrooms). The mushroom dish had a sweet vinegar flavor that paired well with the Branzino. Along with a glass of a white wine (Abbazia di Novacella Kerner Alto Adige DOC 2019) having a bit of a fruity flavor (peach to be precise), my dinner was excellent and well worth it. The meal brought back memories of the many dinners I had in Italy, with Bari being the closest Memphis restaurant that matches that experience. Given how much my dinner cost, this is not something that I can do often, but it can be a diversion from the usual. So, whenever I'm yearning for a taste of the Old Country, Bari is the go-to place.

SIDE NOTE: In addition to Bari's limited menu, another reason that I'm able to review Bari sooner is because of the restaurant's opening times that are limited to the evening. Unlike Bishop, I can't get an omelet for breakfast, a burger for lunch and fish for dinner (which at Bishop, could be Branzino if you like eating it out of a can). All it took for this review was one visit, although my earlier "carbonara" write-up contributed to it as well.

I Have My Answer

When I did my calamari comparison, I compared Bari's somewhat more traditional style with Bardog's fried version. It was sort of an apples to oranges comparison, for the two are quite distinct. In the back of my mind then, I wondered "what if Bari had fried calamari?" Well, I got my answer.

Before getting the main course, I decided to get an appetizer. In choosing that, I considered getting something fancy, even a bit bourgeois. However, when I saw "Frutti di Mare Fritto" on the menu, I knew destiny was calling. Normally, this is something I would get while drinking a Moretti (Northern Italy's finest beer) at a bar. That said, I wasn't passing up an opportunity to eat Bari's fried version of calamari. Just like with its grilled counterpart, the portion of calamari isn't as generous as Bardog's appetizer even as it is comparable in other aspects. Both the sardines and the calamari had that familiar seafood flavor that most expect, encased in salty breading. What sets it apart from Bardog and many restaurants is the infusion of lemon that adds a sharp sour edge to the appetizer in a good way. In the end, it's hard to say who has the better calamari. Personally, I lean more towards Bardog because the portions are bigger sans "limone" but I can see others preferring the smaller and zesty appetizer from Bari. From an originalist perspective, pan seared calamari is preferable to most Italians, as far as I could tell from my experiences. However, I'm sure they can appreciate "calamari fritti con limone" from a restaurant like Bari.

SIDE NOTE: As you can tell, I know a few Italian words. Although I'm no longer fluent, I still order fried squid and many other things from an Italian menu. No Google Translate for me. 🙂

A Nice Ending

To finish off my dinner, I got myself a slice of chocolate cake (listed on the Bari's menu by its Italian translation "Torta al Cioccolato"). With chocolate-sprinkled whipped cream on both sides of the cake and a lot of icing, the dessert was a luscious sweet treat. Because it was my birthday, my server (after consulting with a cohort who knows me from his time at Bardog) added a lighted candle to mark the special occasion. Although it wasn't like last year when fellow bar patrons at Bishop serenaded me with the "Happy Birthday" song, I felt good about celebrating my birthday at a table in solitude. It's not often that I splurge on fancy dining, but if I don't celebrate myself, who will? Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed dinner at Bari and recommend it to others looking for a classy restaurant to dine at. I'm definitely coming back, mainly because of my love for Italian cuisine (and it's across the street from one of my favorite hangouts, Slider Inn). Bari is legit Italian, so check it out.


Bari Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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