I began to wonder if we would ever get to order something to eat. The staff seemed confused -- and infected my table with that confusion -- over exactly how things are supposed to work at b-bar, the newish watering hole next door to Boulevard Bistrot. First we were told that yes, we could order appetizers from the Bistrot's menu, but only outside. When we couldn't get a table outside, we were informed that, okay, maybe we could get waited on inside. When a server failed to materialize, the bartender said that, well, the right thing to do was to come up to the bar and place our appetizer order with him, because no, there wasn't any table service inside.
Oh, well. Once our appetizers arrived (which they quickly did), my frustration disappeared. The food far outclassed what I've come to anticipate in the way of bar cuisine. But what else should I have expected, really? After all, Monica Pope is the one behind this operation.
There was a field green salad delicately doused in a nutty vinaigrette and laced with thin, sour green-apple wedges. There was a mess of cornmeal-battered fried calamari with an edgy, cilantro-charged ranchero sauce. I could actually taste both the calamari and the cornmeal in the batter! There were three Mediterranean-style dips to be spread on triangles of striped-from-the-grill flat bread: a sweet, briny, ink-colored olive tapenade and two kinds of roasted red pepper spread, each with a subtly different color and flavor -- one orangey and sweetly mild, the other crimson with a bit of a pepper bite. (I had ordered hummus on that appetizer plate as well, but it mysteriously never arrived. The substitute dips were so good, though, that I ultimately didn't care.)
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And, for the perfect touch on an early Houston evening, there were cotton candy pink clouds to be viewed from just inside the French doors of a bar that's decked out like one might imagine a bordello in Haight-Ashbury to be: shabby-chic with worn leather armchairs, mix-and-match damask upholstering the banquettes and psychedelic patterns painted on the walls.
Pope wanted to bring the Montrose corridor a bar reminiscent of what one might find in New York, a place to just hang out, early or late, and have a snack and a drink. In the b-bar, she's succeeded in creating a welcoming space conducive to just that. And for any patrons lingering till the wee hours, the bar's nooks and crannies might also be conducive to some serious snuggling.
b-bar, 4319 Montrose Boulevard, 524-6922.
cornmeal-fried calamari $7.95.