Tare Down for What

Bara chef Ian Alvarez schools us in tare sauce, Worcestershire and more

Ian Alvarez is, by his own admission, a sauce guy. "You can't serve a dish without a sauce," he says. "And if your sauce is lacking, there's nothing you can do on that plate to really make it work."

Alvarez is the chef and owner at Bara, a petite Japanese-French newcomer on First Street in the East Village. While the combination of those cuisines isn't necessarily groundbreaking (see: Brushstroke, Mihoko's 21 Grams, Takahachi Bakery), Bara is one of the few to encourage a more casual fling between the two; it's a low-decibel mash-up of a French wine bar and a Japanese izakaya.

This makes sense, given that Alvarez used to cook at Momofuku Noodle Bar and French Louie (which is where he picked up his partner and beverage director, Kyle Storm, who has an affinity for interesting sakes, shochus and awamoris). The menu is mostly affordable and sharable, with snacky dishes like crispy pork belly sprinkled with spicy shichimi togarashi ($6) and perfect little butterball potatoes draped with bonito flakes and yuzu kosho-laced mayo ($9).

Chef Ian Alvarez | Crispy pork belly

But about those sauces.

Bara's menu draws from two of the most exacting cuisines in the world. So while his food itself isn't terribly fussy, Alvarez knows the devil is in the details. Like generations of French chefs before him, Alvarez works with a stable of fundamental stocks and sauces, each of which is tweaked and deployed strategically across the menu. But instead of making only beurre blanc and béchamel, he's simmering kombu for dashi and aging anchovies for Worcestershire sauce.

There's tare (see the recipe), a combination of soy sauce, mirin, ginger, garlic, scallions, brown sugar, peppercorns and sherry vinegar. "The word itself basically translates to 'sauce' in Japanese, and no two cooks make it exactly alike," Alvarez explains. At Bara, he bastes an extra-gingery, extra-garlicky version on a handsome whole-roasted black bass, though "you can use it on almost everything—grilled or roasted meats, plain rice with vegetables or even thin it out and stir it into soup," he says.

Then there's that house-made Worcestershire sauce, which, though British in origin, is a beloved condiment in Japan. To make it, Alvarez steeps anchovies, tamarind, garlic, molasses, white vinegar and a veritable cabinet full of spices together for three weeks. Once strained, the funky-sweet sauce can go straight onto eggs, potatoes or even into Bloody Marys. But Alvarez takes it a step further, borrowing the very French technique of mounting (thickening) the Worcestershire with butter (and not-so-French sesame seeds) to make a steak sauce for Bara's grilled flat iron.

"We try to present dishes that are more than the sum of their parts," Alvarez says. "Our plate of fish and vegetables tastes like lots of other things, and you can't do that unless you have a really strong sauce foundation." But even a simple creation like the tare will do—as Alvarez says, "It doesn't have to be complicated to wake up the entire meal."