August's Can't-Miss Dish

By Ellen Bhang · 08/02/2021

Looking for a no-fail, mouthwatering, gonna-tell-your-friends-about-it plate? Each month, Boston Globe columnist Ellen Bhang highlights the dish you need to try right now—and something to sip alongside it. 

On the plate: Aguachile

Where to find it: When Paola Ibarra and Yhadira Guzmán opened Barra, a sophisticated 12-seat bar in Somerville’s Union Square, the business partners had a goal in mind: to capture the feeling of going out in their native Mexico City. 

“It’s all about the atmosphere, hanging out and exchanging with friends and family,” Ibarra says. “It’s a good place to hang out without rush or agenda.” That sense of ease envelopes you at Barra, whether you’re perched on a shell-pink upholstered bar stool inside, admiring shelves of artisanal Mexican spirits, or people-watching on the greenery-accented parklet in front. There’s even a tiny patio out back that feels like Union Square’s best-kept secret. 

What you’re eating is the complete opposite of Tex-Mex fast food, thanks to the influence of chef Sofía García Osorio. Consulting from Mexico City, she’s the culinary powerhouse behind Barra’s food menu, including an item that will expand your notions of raw fish. 

Notes on the nosh: That dish, Aguachile, features citrusy chunks of raw cod or snapper, sourced from New Deal Fish Market in Cambridge, plated on an emulsion made from serrano chilis, lime, and passion fruit. It comes decorated with cucumber rosettes, orange supremes, sliced avocado, and a sprinkling of black sesame seeds. The summery, tropical presentation is visually stunning, to be sure; but don’t linger any longer than the time it takes to snap a pic. It’s meant to be eaten as soon as it hits your table. 

Like its cousin ceviche, “aguachile” encompasses more than one dish. The term describes a preparation, which likely originated in Mexico’s coastal state of Sinaloa, that starts with fresh chilis, pulverized in a mortar and pestle with a splash of water. Raw fish or shrimp is tossed in that mixture along with a generous squeeze of lime. The aguachile is assembled and served immediately, differing from other versions of ceviche where seafood cures for a period of time in the acidic juice. The result is a delicate texture for the seafood in aguachile, more akin to sashimi than a marinated seafood salad. 

At Barra, dig into this cool tumble of fish and fruit with an accompanying tostada, crafted in-house using masa made from heirloom corn. And don’t be shy about sipping the zesty liquid at the bottom of the bowl—the proprietors provide a spork for that very purpose. 

Sip alongside: Barra’s version of Michelada is refreshingly straightforward. A tall, salt-rimmed glass is filled with ice, freshly squeezed lime juice, and your choice of beer. (We love it with Colimita, a crisp, lemony pilsner.) Unlike other renditions of the beer cocktail that add Clamato and Worcestershire sauce, Ibarra and Guzmán insist on simplicity. They make it, as they note on the menu, chilanga—”Mexico City style.” 

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