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Bara Restaurant

58 East 1st Street
Bara Restaurant 1 Japanese East Village

Executive Chef Ian Alvarez of Bara had no intention of opening his own East Village Japanese-French restaurant. With an affinity for French cuisine, Ian was perfectly satisfied working as Chef de Cuisine at French Louie in Brooklyn, but when his business partner, restaurateur Dimitri Vlahakis, offered him a location in his favorite Manhattan neighborhood, he could not say no.

While chatting at the bar with Ian, he told me that he was born and raised within the five boroughs. When he was fifteen years old, his mother, Rose, got him his first job as a bus boy at a seafood eatery in the Bronx. Later, while he was serving as a waiter at a country club, the chief cook at the “Halfway House” – the snack shack on the club’s golf course – walked out without any explanation, so Ian stepped up to take his place. From that point on, he knew the kitchen was where he wanted to be. After culinary school in Los Angeles, he returned home to New York in 2008 and "got serious" about breaking into the industry.

Ian explained that his mother passed away six months before Bara’s opening. He decided to christen the restaurant with her name, but there was already an establishment with “Rose” in its title nearby. With the planned menu being a play on both Japanese izakaya and French wine bars, Ian eventually chose the name “Bara,” the direct Japanese translation of “rose.” Ironically, in Japanese “bara” is also used as a casual term for “second stomach,” something that diners may develop while feasting on the wonderful spread at Bara.

I watched from the sleek modern counter as Ian prepared a crisp, roasted black bass with salted cucumber and garlic ginger tare, the menu item of which he is most proud. For Ian, the whole fish bathed in its delicate sauce exemplifies the blending of French and Japanese cultures with simple yet elegant flavors and presentation. This is one of the most important aspects of Bara - Ian does not want the food to read as “fusion,” but rather as a genuine culinary cultural exchange. With approval and appreciation from both Japanese and French guests, Bara seems to be on the right track.

The unique menu has attracted a lot of positive press, but Ian ensures that the restaurant is not exclusive. In fact, he desires to be a neighborhood staple and not a “destination.” He encourages visitors to feel comfortable both entering solo for a quick bite similar to a traditional izakaya and for hours-long family style meals: the menu was designed to facilitate both. After chatting with the General Manager Kyle Storm behind the bar and watching Ian plate an artful meal in the kitchen window, it was quite evident that all patrons and palates are welcomed.

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Bara Restaurant 1 Japanese East Village
Bara Restaurant 2 Japanese East Village
Bara Restaurant 3 Japanese East Village
Bara Restaurant 4 Japanese East Village
Bara Restaurant 5 Japanese East Village
Bara Restaurant 6 Japanese East Village
Bara Restaurant 7 Japanese East Village
Bara Restaurant 8 Japanese East Village
Bara Restaurant 9 Japanese East Village
Bara Restaurant 10 Japanese East Village
Bara Restaurant 11 Japanese East Village
Bara Restaurant 12 Japanese East Village
Bara Restaurant 13 Japanese East Village
Bara Restaurant 14 Japanese East Village
Bara Restaurant 15 Japanese East Village
Bara Restaurant 16 Japanese East Village
Bara Restaurant 17 Japanese East Village
Bara Restaurant 18 Japanese East Village
Bara Restaurant 19 Japanese East Village
Bara Restaurant 20 Japanese East Village

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Nalata Nalata

A dainty shop located on Extra Place - that little side street off of 1st Street where the Ramones photographed an Album Cover - Nalata Nalata features high quality décor sourced mainly from Japan. In the same way that Manhattan Sideways shares the stories of businesses on the sidestreets of Manhattan, Nalata Nalata, as their website explains, “is a retail experience founded on promoting awareness of the people and stories behind our curated lifestyle products. ”On my first visit to Nalata Nalata, I spoke with Angelique J. V. Chmielewski, who co-founded the business with her husband, Stevenson S. J. Aung. Originally from Alberta, Canada, Angelique came to New York to study fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Technology while Stevenson, her boyfriend at the time, fulfilled his masters in industrial design at the Pratt Institute. Nalata Nalata began as a website beautifully crafted to feature sections like Backstory, with write-ups on the brands behind the pieces, and Journal, detailing the journey and artistic endeavors through captioned photographs. In late 2013, Nalata Nalata opened in Extra Place as a pop-up store and, after falling in love with the spot, the owners decided to make it a permanent stay. Though functional in a traditional way, each product in the store contains intrinsic artistic and narrative values, many sourced from “multigenerational craftsmen who continue to refine their skill. ” Angelique first directed me to the porcelain Ju-Bakos, Japanese stacking boxes, which are traditionally used for food on special occasions. Representative of multilayered happiness, each box was crafted with a different glaze. Later, Angelique held up a glass terrarium box designed by 1012 Terra, a company based in Chiba, Japan that is focused on celebrating plant life. In the box was a dried flower reminiscent of the rose in Beauty and the Beast. “In order to preserve a flower, ” she explained, “pin it in the box and flip it upside-down. When it has completely dried out, it will be straight when turned upright. ”Though devoted to sharing the works of others, Nalata Nalata is cemented by the artistry of Angelique and Stevenson. From the custom-made cabinets to the slab roof ceiling, the two redesigned the entire interior of the store in the months before its opening, with the help of some additional hands. The carefully selected products perfectly complement the spare, bright space. The store's website also reveals a great deal of artistry, with each piece beautifully photographed, set to a white background, and matched with a whimsical remark and a few lines about its origins, making online shopping more homey and intimate. The wool blankets exclaim, “Cool nights, brisk mornings, frigid afternoons. Whatever weather the day may bring I’m a tried-and-true, dyed-in-the-wool cozy friend… Always by one’s side to provide warmth and comfort. ”Nalata Nalata is also working on their own line of products. One recent addition, the denim Ojami, bridges Japanese traditions and contemporary American design. Handmade in Kyoto, the Ojami are versatile pillows. Angelique and Stevenson enjoy using them as seats to “live low, ” but they also function as throw pillows. In the future, the couple hopes to get into more denim and hardware products, while continuing to curate objects they appreciate artistically and sentimentally. For now, Angelique says, “We are just happy to be here. ”