Mar 1, 2011

A Sweet Sixteen for Barood

by Nicholas Belzer
In the antechamber of the stony den, I defer to my teen-age, gap-yearing Californian cousin. I’m at a loss; I need an opinion. Her candor was spot on: ‘ They seem a bit confused’. Of course. 
The official leitmotif here is Spanish Jerusalem, although I’m sure the Armada never made it to this side of purgatory (I mean this far east). It was difficult to find the right words for my environment, especially as chunks of beef with the consistency of beef stroganoff were melting in my mouth, liberating echoes of a simmering red wine. The food was almost unreal in its earthy, healthy, richness. The beef stafado, a bowl of rice pilaf with a halo of moist beef chunks and onions; a tartor soup where diced cucumber and parsley mixed with yoghurt provide the buoyancy for split walnuts and an archipelago of lemon juice a and olive oil. The food was an anchor in a sea of distractions. 
I’ve never seen this many references to Guinness outside a Gaelic halfway house, and it struck me as an ambitious attempt to establish the place firmly as a dispenser of beer, lest wanderers amble past this brief encounter of a hamlet.
And a hamlet of sorts this hearthy domicile struck me as – at least initially. Sitting in this antechamber, nursing this cold and robust tartor soup, I figured myself a peasant in the foothills of Moravian Wallachia. The walls here were grey stone, the lighting was wooded and smoky; I suspected a cauldron in the kitchen. And still the wall immediate to my table was dressed in every known vintage Guinness tin produced; the wall opposite hung a tapestry weaved in the style of the Navajo Nation, interrupted by a mirror framed in a Lilliputian mahogany veranda in the center of the fabric. The residual smudge of a babe’s hand obscured any reflection. I questioned their alleged theme.
What’s not in question is their superb collection of alcohols.  Italian chianti, Spanish reserves, Israeli merlots, and although I was assured they stocked no French wine, I spied a Gewurztraminer from the soil of Pfaffenheim., but I’m willing to write this off as a Teutonic concession.
One step down, the walls lose their rocks and become washed a tan stucco, the hacienda is manifest, I think I see it. Still a Guinness reference is never too far. I suppose if I had to characterize the air in the hacienda-now-hamlet, it would be a kind of Iberian lactic. But this place could also conceivably be a leprechaun’s nest- remember the miniature hand print from the other room? The patron, a kindly older Israeli woman of possibly Sephardic descent keeps watch at  the bar.
In the atmospheric clutter of the room (the floorspace was tight but fine) I searched for clues. What can be gleaned from the glut of tchotchkes (a more dignified flair)? A portrait of a quail hangs mounted beside a stuffed quail, surprisingly unassuming, maybe telling, given the fact that I didn’t see any fowl in the menu. Perhaps the perched carcass was fixed in the direction of a sax-wielding porcelain bust to reference The Bird; here, the garden-gnome sized Charlie Parker stands protectively amongst the bottles of marinating and musking home-made vodka: pickled apricots, pickled figs, pickled madarins and more, all coloring their respective bottles interesting cloud pastels.
Below the Charlie Parker and moonshine orchestra, saloon doors demarcate the W.C. – a place of large red candles and other confusing paraphernalia. A place where the men’s door says otherwise in Cyrillic. The search for the spirit of the place is made elusive, what with a vanity plate of a certain Danielle from Texas nailed onto a wine shelf. Or the Corona St. sign displayed above the saloon doors. 
If you were to simply focus on the bar in the hacienda portion of the restaurant, you would immediately admire it for its beautiful appearance, and silenty assume its black market function as a Flemish apothecary. A chandelier of wine flutes and steins hang like icicles above the serving board, reflecting the dim lights of the dining room; below, a topless marble statue in the Greek fashion serves as a handle for one of the several beers on tap – no Corona. Like the walls of this place, the bar area is crowded, but not exactly cluttered, with Hindu currencies, impressive collections of corkscrews (some framed) and various trinkets, some Spanish, some just ‘ish’. An inflatable brown Guinness glass parked above the AC unit behind the bar does not escape my attention.
I think the key here to understanding the ‘Spanish Jerusalem’ idea behind Barood is to be found in the food first and foremost. The menu is rich and is in flux, with new homemade dishes being offered pretty frequently. Calamari shrimp, spare ribs in bbq sauce, homemade truffles and all manner of flavorful meat is to be found here. Really, the food here is flavorful, and I want to stress the ‘home cooked’ vibe to the meals. Even the bread was toasted just the right kind of crisp, still soft, and hearty with butter that was actually churned and salted.
Final verdict? A century ago, in the mines of Jerusalem, the Arab quarriers would shout out ‘Barood!’ before exploding large rocks that went flying hither and thither. Barood this March is celebrating its Sweet Sixteen as a restaurant with a Spanish attitude under the black awning of Guinness. To celebrate, they plan to step up their now occasional Saturday evenings hosting live Andalusian bands, where the syncopations of ‘french soft’ arpeggios can be enjoyed with some sambuca or a port with grapefruit juice, or something like this. Also about sixteen years ago, Gratuitious Sax and Senseless Violins, the sixteenth album released by Sparks, was released.
I certainly hope that Barood has a longer run than Sparks did, although both share in a certain genus of confusion. The scene here is decidedly more gratuitous than senseless. And the food, has a personable sit – it is a handcrafted, warm experience. In fact, very few (like one ) places substitute Happy Hour for Business Lunch better than this homey-kitschy demesne on the upper declivity of the Feingold House courtyard. I hope that many more will barood, or take cover here, for some unique nosh and spirits.

1 comment:

  1. This is well written and a great review. However, like most Israeli websites, this article lacks some important information: the location of this establishment. I get the attempt to be literary, but if I wanted to go to Barood then I would have to google it. This is annoying for non-Hebrew literate Americans just trying to make their way in this crazy country.