Thursday, May 19, 2011

The hidden and quirky Bahr Che

Bahr Che is a curious place. On the surface, it's kind of like any other wine bar in the city: dark-ish, vaguely modern-looking interior; tailored menu of cheeses, charcuterie, and other small bites; laid-back vibe made for lingering. But there are some important differences, primarily that there's nobody there. Seriously. I was there from 8-10PM on Friday night and there were, max, two other parties in the space at any given time. The one server handling the whole room looked almost bored. The lack of traffic is due, of course, to the location, which is in one of the weirder no-man's-lands in Manhattan: around the corner from Aster Place, on a bleak and almost industrial part of Cooper Square, guarded by a tiny, tucked-away door that pretty much nobody notices. And that's a shame, because Bahr Che has its charms and should certainly see much more traffic than it does.

Let's start with the wine, shall we? While the by-the-glass menu is impressively long and varied, here is where Bahr Che makes a misstep, in my opinion. Unless you're ordering a sparkler (which I was), you can't get just a glass-- you can get a carafe, described as around 1.5 glasses, or a bottle. That means, of course, that the prices are much higher-- around $15, give or take--than a single glass at most places, and given that at most bars and restaurants around the city a "glass" pour ends up being about a glass and a half anyway, this ends up being something of a ripoff. But it's easily remedied: Bahr Che, just add a true by-the-glass option, and you'll be fine. In any case, I went with a delicious, crisp glass of prosecco (a real glass at $10), and KS and AC split a carafe of txakolina for $15.

My yummy bubbly

Half the carafe

AC and I also split a five-cheese cheese plate. Our selections were the Selles sur Cher, Tomme Crayeuse, Sharfe Maxx, Pecorino Oro Antico, and Cabot Clothbound Cheddar (this latter an interesting choice for a cheese plate menu, no?). They provided a good variety of bread, a mix of rosemary bread and focaccia, but only a relatively small portion of each cheese except the cheddar, which was a big honkin' wedge. I enjoyed the Selles sur Cher, which was the ash-rinded soft goat cheese, the most; the others were all tasty, but a couple were almost overwhelmingly salty. And while there was a tiny composition of undressed frisee and beet sliver garnishes, that seemed to be more for visual interest than for consumption. There were no accompaniments to speak of: no chutney or jam, no honey, no nuts or dried fruit. For $16, I expected a bit more-- cheese is great, but cheese with the right accompaniments can be transcendent.

Stark cheese

Lotsa bread

So I'll say overall our experience was mixed. Because there were so few other parties in the bar, we could linger as long as we wanted without feeling guilty or being nudged out the door, which is a rare luxury in the city. But also because there were so few other people there, our voices echoed in the high-ceilinged space and it felt a little, well, awkwardly empty. If Bahr Che can fix its menu quirks-- offer wines by the glass, kick up the cheese plates a few notches-- it could be a real gem in a neighborhood not known for relaxed, upscale places to grab a nice glass of wine. I hope then the crowds will come.

Bahr Che
26 Astor Place (but entrance is on Cooper Square)

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