When Max Toste of Lone Star Taco Bar told us he had recently eaten some great pozole at Barra in Somerville, we knew we had to get the team on board for Bowl of ‘Zole. We are excited that the restaurant will be bringing a classic pozole based on a family recipe to the event. We talked with owners Paola Ibarra and Yhadira Guzman about how Barra came to be, their feelings about mezcal and pozole and what aspects of Mexican cuisine are under appreciated in the US. You can visit the restaurant in Somerville and taste their pozole at Bowl of ‘Zole on April 6th – tickets are on sale now!
Food Karma: How did you decide to get into the restaurant industry?
Paola and Yhadira: BARRA is a joint project between Paola Ibarra and Yhadira Guzman. We both had a few previous separate experiences in the industry, but mainly as collaborators in other’s projects or short-term endeavors. Paola designed the bar project for a well known local restaurant just before the BARRA project. Yhadira organized pop-up dinners in Mexico City. BARRA began with conversations about those experiences and a common interest in starting a project entirely under a unified vision and for the longer run. We were very excited when a renowned Mexican chef, Sofia Garcia Osorio, accepted an offer to design our menu. She is very experienced and her restaurant, El Lugar Sin Nombre, was a one of our favorites plus had many characteristics in common with our vision of BARRA. The menu design has the creativity of Mexico City restaurants, adapted a bit to the ingredients that can be sourced locally and meet our quality standards.
FK: Do you have any culinary experience or are you a good home cook?
P/Y: The kitchen experience comes mainly from the above-mentioned chef that collaborates with our local team. The team’s delivery on site and dedication have been crucial. It’s a team effort under a unified vision. All our menu relies on fresh ingredients and traditional production methods. We want to offer food that has high quality and brings new flavors and an understanding that Mexican food as a cuisine is methodical, varied, contemporary and creative, unlike the rather limited fast-food idea that is sometimes associated with it.
FK: What about Mexico City’s bar culture did you want to bring to Boston?
P/Y: Mexico City is very vibrant in all fronts: from its people and rich culture to the arts, museums, restaurants, night life and everyday aspects of a metropolis of its scope. The moment you step into Mexico City, stimuli arrive from all directions. Socially, people in Mexico gravitate a lot around food and drinks. The experience we wanted to replicate is that of having a full experience: good food and drinks, added to an exciting atmosphere that makes you want to share, stay and repeat.
FK: What’s your favorite type of mezcal?
P/Y: We choose our mezcal, and our agave spirits collection, very carefully, so customers can expect quality and sustainability.
Cocktail-wise we have teamed up with Mezcal Union, whose products meet our quality standards. Besides, it’s a pleasure to collaborate with their committed team and good work ethics involving the community and their producers. The coincide on being in Somerville’s Union Square, where BARRA is located, is just perfect.
We offer small batch producers for sipping. Some of our favorite brands on site are Rezpiral, Cuish and El Bueno. A good way to think about it is like wine: they are many brands, agave types and regions. So, the combinations are endless and there’s not a single formula to decide what to like. Small batches are purer and more unique. The same maestro mezcalero producing small batches will not necessarily replicate the exact same flavor. We’ve learned and are happy to share through our Mezcal Club and tastings that the agave type is not the only way to measure a good mezcal: the regions and producers are essential for a mezcal trained palate. We pair our sipping options with fruits sprinkled with salts made with chile, fruits, flowers or insects.
FK: What’s your relationship to pozole?
P/Y: Pozole is comfort food, a traditional dish and a household recipe that bring us back to our roots and family gatherings. Pozole is prepared only on special occasions or religion related events. It is also the signature dish of certain festivities, such as Independence Day. We introduced pozole in our menu respecting how special it is to cook it and share it with a group of people. We love pozole, its collectiveness and it’s perfect for New England’s weather.
FK: What’s your favorite way to top pozole?
P/Y: Our pozole is Yhadira’s mother recipe. We serve it with traditional toppings such as onions, oregano, radish, lettuce, lime and tostadas. But the secret to BARRA’s pozole is the chile de arbol salsa.
FK: What other Mexican dishes that are under appreciated by Americans do you serve at Barra?
P/Y: Insects and cactus. At the beginning, guests were hesitant about insects, but now they’re signature items. We use grasshoppers and chicatana ants in food and drinks. People go to BARRA to try them out because we’re the only place in New England to use these products, as ingredients – in well balanced dishes, not as a gimmick.
Mole and pipián. Americans have a preconceived idea about moles in general, so we’re working on changing their minds and palates. It’s a process but we’re getting there, especially with our house made mole and duck.
Handmade tortillas. We’re trying to communicate the importance of a good tortilla (flavor/texture) and the labor involved.
Anything else you want to mention?
We hope to visit in New York pretty soon. Stay tuned!