Not long ago, I ate at a bar only when I was desperate for ballast, which meant I'd get something dumped out of a bag or cooked in a fryer, or both. These days, my local bar in Manhattan might serve BLTs with house-cured bacon or any of a dozen inventive takes on pigs in a blanket (it turns out boudin in a blanket is a natural). Sure, it's still bar foodoften salty, a little greasy, and easy to handle while holding a glass of wine or a cocktail. But it's made from scratch by a chef, not pulled out of a freezer, and it's delicious.
What's more impressive, many of these bar chefs are cooking in makeshift kitchens, which inspires some creative solutions. At Rontoms in Portland, Oregon, chef Ryan Gibson doesn't have an industrial deep fryer, so he makes fresh potato chips with a countertop model. Chef Jason McCullar doesn't even have a stove at Cure in New Orleans, so he caramelizes onions in a plug-in convection oven and poaches pears in sherry by zapping them in a plastic bag in a microwave. Even with a limited kitchen, McCullar's menu reads like it belongs in a restaurantfor his crostini, for example, he marinates duck livers in sherry, sautés them with shallots and adds a sprinkle of black lava salt. "It's like solving a geometry proof," McCullar says. "You're trying to figure out a problem, and so you have to do this step and this step and this step in order to get it all done."
I've learned many cooking tricks by studying restaurant menus and figuring out new techniques as I taste a dish. Now that bars are serving inventive food out of spaces that are even smaller than the kitchen in my apartment, I decided there had to be some ideas I could take home.