By ELIZABETH KEYSER
10:10 AM EST, December 4, 2013
Baró knows what it wants to be: a New World cantina serving craft cocktails and small plates of inspired Latin cuisine. This three-month-old restaurant in the Brick Walk section of downtown Fairfield features a spare, industrial-rustic décor in which to enjoy the flavors of the Caribbean and Central and South America. There's a high-top counter facing the open kitchen, a cozy niche with a big rustic table, dining room with bare tables and wood banquettes, and a bar area with a high-top communal table.
Cocktails are serious here. The Redeemer is a harmonious blend of many good things. Brazilian rum cachaça, Italian orange-and-herb liqueur Aperol and fresh lemon juice, are poured over big, clear ice cubes and splashed with club soda. One refreshing sip and we're transported to Rio.
Red sangria is an invigorating mix of hibiscus tea, pomegranate juice, and fruity red wine spiked with aged tequila. Pomegranate juice is the magic ingredient. Its tannins balance the sweetness. White sangria is flavored with sherry, fresh lemon juice and mango, creating a fruity, thirst-quenching elixir. The smoky daiquiri is a chiaroscuro of aged rum and mescal. It's served straight up in a champagne goblet. We enjoy the flavors, but the presentation is lacking, making it not seem worth $11.
Cute, round rolls are brought to our table. They have a pleasing springy texture and cheesy flavor. They're Brazilian, made of gluten-free yucca flour. Fish ceviche, featuring halibut, is cool, clean, fresh and spicy. Lime juice is mellowed by sweet citrus yuzu and sharpened by the orange-zest flavor of kumquats. Toasted corn nuts add contrasting crunch.
Pica pollo is an homage to the street food of the Dominican Republic, where owners Rich and Juan Reyes's mother comes from. (The family also owns Mezon in Danbury.) Pico Pollo is served in a brown-paper bag, just like in the Dominican Republic. We can't stop reaching into the bag for piping hot strips of seasoned, breaded, fried chicken and golden, super-thin tostones (twice-fried plantains).
Baró's vegetarian skewer tempts with cubes of squash and pineapple, dusted with cocoa nibs and pumpkin seeds. But we don't often see corazon on the menu. It's from Saugatuck Craft Butchery in Westport, so we have to try it. Cooked on a charcoal-fired grill, the cubes of meat have a wonderful charred flavor. Inside, they're pink and juicy. Boldly and simply seasoned with oregano, salt and pepper, the skewers of heart are showered with crisp frizzled shallots. The dish is so rich and satisfying, the accompanying salsa is superfluous.
We almost overlook the tacos, which would be a mistake. Most tacos are made from dried masa flour. Baró makes their masa dough, soaking dried hominy in lime, and then grinding and kneading it into dough. The texture and flavor of the tortillas makes these tacos exceptional, especially when filled with grilled shrimp, bacon, guacamole and spicy salsa.
The "family" portion of the menu offers larger plates to share (or eat alone). Rabo is spicy oxtail, meltingly soft, served over creamy polenta and garnished with toasted corn nuts. For dessert, we try chocolate flan, flavored with coffee and chile. It's indulgent, yet light.
Baró is one of the most exciting and original new restaurants to open in Fairfield County.
Baró, 1229 Post Road, Fairfield, 203-292-9560, baroct.com
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