Gail and Margaret, two of my Magnificent Seven friends, and I recently celebrated a birthday at Bar Cara in Bloomfield, NJ. As Bar Cara first timers and residents of nearby Montclair, an incredibly parking challenged town, we called ahead for a reservation and some parking hints. We were delighted to hear that Bar Cara has a huge parking lot in the rear; and we were told how easy it would be for us to enter through the restaurant’s rear door. Thank you, DiPersio Family!
We slipped through a casually curtained rear entry and into the dining room; my first impression was of wood: curvy wood chairs with metal legs, shiny wood tables, a polished wooden floor. The colorful crowd at the bar, visible through two large window-like cutouts along the left wall, was like a moving piece of art; although the bar patrons were lively, their chatter didn’t fill the dining room. Large windows, which must make the dining room a sunny oasis during the day, were shuttered, creating a cozy, friendly feeling.
Walter, our waiter, saw us studying the menu, trying to decide which appetizer to share. He suggested the polenta fritta ($10). It arrived tableside, a small pile of golden-colored Lincoln logs, with a healthy portion of Gorgonzola dipping sauce. I bit into my first mascarpone polenta fry cautiously. It was piping hot, crunchy and full of flavor; the dipping sauce put it over-the-top tasty in my mouth. Gail and Margaret concurred.
Our main courses arrived a short while later. Margaret, a fan of branzino, ordered the branzino livornese ($23). Prettily plated, the fish rested on a bed of sautéed broccoli rabe and was topped with tomatoes, olives and capers. One bite led to another until Margaret’s plate was empty. Her opinion? Excellent!
Gail ordered the shrimp dish ($21): shrimp scampi served over a bed of sweet pepper risotto, edged in olive oil. Gail took one bite, blinked, and said, “This is de-licious!” I immediately reached my (clean) fork toward her plate (It’s how we friends roll; the only reason Margaret’s dinner was safe from my marauding fork is because I’m not a fan of fish.). The risotto tasted like a sweet pepper explosion; the rich, red, pepperness of it all was awesome. And the shrimp was perfectly cooked.
In an unusual move for me, particularly on a first visit to an Italian restaurant, I ordered a steak. The grilled filet mignon with a gorgonzola crust, sautéed broccoli and mashed potatoes ($27) Walter slid in front of me looked beautiful. With every bite of the tender beef I got a great crunch of rich blue cheesy crust. The broccoli was crisp cooked and flavorful. And the potatoes? What can I say? Creamy. Yum.
Margaret and I shared a bottle of malbec. At $27-$28 (I can’t remember!) the Jelu brand malbec from Argentina was fruity and smooth, a perfect wine for us. Gail, our chardonnay-only woman, enjoyed a couple of glasses of the house wine and pronounced is “good.”
Dessert. Usually we don’t order dessert (mostly because we typically order waaay too much regular food, but that evening we didn’t) but we did. . .just to celebrate the birthday, you understand. Right? Right. Since it was her birthday Margaret chose dessert: a bittersweet chocolate brownie ($6) with a peanut butter s’more redux (+$2). The brownie was dense and chocolate-y, a real classic. What put the brownie over the top, though, was the two peanut butter mousse mounds capped with marshmallow brulee. It was a grown-up version of a s’more. I could almost smell the campfire!