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By Christine Fillat | Photography by Joseph Weaver
Follow the aroma of the wood-fired grill into the bar and dining room, where sculptural fluorescent lighting and the driving beat of disco music set the stage for energetic conversation and lively encounters. Find a perch at the bar. This is the place where things happen.
Bar Spero is chef and owner Johnny Spero’s newest concept in dining and hanging out. The menu is structured around small and large plates; all are meant to be shared. There is an extensive wine list, a selection of bespoke cocktails, cider, vermouth, beer, and tasty non-alcoholic beverages.
Spero is known for his culinary prowess. Everything here is cooked over the open fire. The results are intriguing.
Slices of a single scallop are arranged in a sea shell, garnished with nasturtium leaves and bits of preserved kumquat, and bound by a luminescent green nasturtium oil. Dots of smoked charcoal oil decorate the dish.
In its preparation, our server explains, the scallop is sliced extremely thin, placed between sheets of kombu, and soaked in buttermilk. The smoked charcoal oil is made in a container in the wood-fired oven, where it absorbs the essence of smoke.
The resulting scallops are delicate and practically melt in your mouth. The kumquats lend a candy-like citrusy flavor.
The Gin Mare Gibson pairs nicely with the scallop, rather dry with a boozy purple pickled onion. Very cool and delicious.
The scallop from the Raw Bar section of the menu is emblematic of Spero’s gastronomic sensibility. Ingredients are given special treatment, such as the inclusion of a spicy green, oils for color and verve, and a surprise element to elevate the whole experience.
The menu at Bar Spero is full of treasures, and it is up to us to find them.
Plating is an art here. Everything is carefully crafted. Cinco Jotas is a beautiful arrangement of thin slices of aged ham arrayed in a semi-circle along the inside wall of a dark earthenware bowl. A slice of hearth-grilled Manifest bread sits next to a spread of “ham fraîche:” an emulsification of reduced lardo, crème fraîche, and lemon zest.
Try the bread with the ham and the spread. Or the ham by itself. Or the spread on the bread or licked from a knife. Any combination of these is delicious. “It makes you laugh, it’s so good,” states my dining partner.
It is good. Really, really good.
A glass of Portuguese sparkling rosé is quite fine with the ham.
We opt to have a few more dishes in the From the Fire section of the menu and the Daily Card, which lists the day’s specials. Grilled oysters are lightly grilled and served with a white cider, pickled garlic, and brown butter sauce. Leeks cooked in the hot coals are embedded in a mussel cream with lardo and thyme. While the two sauces on the oysters and leeks are completely different in composition, they look very similar in color and viscosity. Perhaps the similarity was less than prodigious; it would have been better had they not been served at the same time.
Raw oysters from Maine are not to be missed. The night we were there, they originated from Mere Point, Petit Manan, and Wolfe Neck. The giant Maine Belon oyster is in a class by itself and is worthy of trying.
Sunchokes sit upon a Virginia peanut praline and miso sauce. It is rather refreshing to find this odd tuber on the menu. The hearth-roasted chokes are tender; the sauce is rich in umami and reminiscent of a very sophisticated chunky peanut butter.
A Spanish turbot comes in three sizes and is presented in its entirety upon the plate.
Offerings change with market availability. A chunky terrine of pork is peppery and comes with a side of greens. One evening a hearty roasted acorn squash is on the menu.
Grilled scallops share a plate with a potato mousse dotted with pretty, salty smoked trout roe.
A ceremony occurs just before dessert is served. A neat floral-like apparition appears on the table. Hot water is poured over it, and voilà, a steamy hot hand towel is offered for a little freshening up. My dinner partner is delighted and enjoys the luxuriousness of the essential oils.
The desserts at Bar Spero are sweet and unusual—and absolutely must be tasted.
Smoked Labneh Ice Cream with Berries: yogurt is wrapped in cheesecloth and hung over the hearth. As the yogurt thickens, it absorbs the essence of the smoke. An ice cream is made with the resulting labneh and served with a cider sabayon, fresh berries, and finger lime. Is it acceptable to lick the plate? One wonders.
Torrijas and green walnut syrup is a French toast-like dessert, a thick slice of Manifest brioche made eggy, sticky, and tasty, with an egg yolk caramel.
Bar Spero is just the place for adventurous eaters. One should love seafood and have a penchant for ham and perhaps a large cut of meat. The cuisine is thoughtful and delightful in its presentation. I am thinking of future visits and the possibility of trying the chilled seafood plateau, the whole Maine lobster, or the giant ribeye steak paired with a salad and a glass of cider or Spanish wine. But I am mostly thinking of who I can bring with me to Bar Spero to share in the adventure of food and fun.
250 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20001
202.506.3150 | barspero.com
Hours of Operation:
Tuesday–Saturday 5:00–10:00 PM
© Annapolis Home Magazine
Vol. 13, No. 6 2022