358 Shrewsbury Street
Pandemic safety precautions: Tables at The Woo Bar are spaced apart at least six feet, placards regarding social distancing and mask wearing were posted from the entrance throughout the dining room, indicative that management takes health precautions seriously. Additionally, the dining room has high ceilings and good air circulation. On the day my companion and I met for dinner we were, for most of the evening, the only diners seated.
What was once the norm: to be warmly greeted and shown to a table by a hospitable proprietor, has become an exotic – if not, wistful – experience. And that’s just how it felt on the drizzly cold night I met a friend for dinner at the Woo Bar. Seated at a table near French doors leading out to their patio, the sight of all that summery furniture stacked and dripping out in the darkness was a sad sight.
Inside, though, the spirit was much brighter and alive with potential. The Woo Bar’s dining room is spacious and open. Taking a look at the menu I was impressed to find the cuisine a blend of Brazilian and Italian influences with Brazil edging its way to primacy.
In that spirit we started with the Chicken Coxinha appetizer. Billed as a popular Brazilian dish, ground chicken is mixed with seasonings and formed into balls, then fried till the exterior was a crunchy deep golden-brown. I should have counted, but there must have been eight or ten of them served in a paper-lined basket.
That’s a lot of chicken croquettes! After two or three of them the whole croquette experience could have become a trudge. But to the rescue came a cup of spicy sriracha sauce. It kept the Coxinha experience lively and tasty.
Also providing flavor contrast and palate-cleansing was my glass of War Castle IPA. This is, easily, one of my favorite brews from Redemption Rock Brewing – just across Shrewsbury Street from the Woo Bar. It pours hazy amber and tastes slightly citrus, a touch bitter, a bit of pine – in short, well balanced, great with food and, especially, on its own.
My friend broke off from our basket of Coxinha to turn his attention to a bowl of Bean Soup. Woo Bar’s is a thick puree of ground black beans and vegetables and contains chunks of smoked sausage and bits of bacon. I snagged a few spoonfuls and enthusiastically recommend the muted smoky flavors and pure heartiness of the beans to be perfect for dispelling shivers in the cold months ahead.
For my entree, I took a step from Brazilian cuisine and chose from their menu of specials; Woo Bar’s Stuffed Acorn Squash. If nothing else, this dish merits excitement for its brilliant presentation. A classic example of one of those intense-forest-green, deeply ridged winter squash had been baked till the flesh was softened, then the cap was sliced off, seeds and pulp removed and replaced with a creamy-rich, cheesy sauce that contained bits of vegetables and a generous handful of shrimp. Then the cap was popped back into place and the squash was returned to the oven and baked till golden cheesy richness dripped down its glistening folds.
It came plated with a large mound of fluffy long-grained rice and surrounded by heaps of crunchy potato sticks.
The resulting dish looked like something right out of the Food Channel’s All Star Thanksgiving Special! But let’s get back to flavor: the chef struck a fine balance; all that over-the-top cheese and cream was relieved by plenty of tasty shrimp and, when desired, forkfuls of righteous squash flesh.
No kidding, this entrée was so large that what I had boxed up to go home with looked barely touched. If you were to prepare this at home, one squash could easily be shared amongst four people as a hearty, attractive side dish.
In contrast, my friend tested the chef’s skill at the basics with their Woo Burger, a half-pound of beef topped with American cheese and lettuce and tomato. Simple? Yes. But he graded it ‘excellent’: cooked exactly as requested, medium rare, with deep char flavor grilled right into it.
Above all, the Woo Bar’s portions are generous. And the place is fun; its voluminous interior was energized by a soundtrack of progressive house and tech electronica. Call to reserve a table, the friendly management will provide a serving of what dining always meant for us: fun, food and friends.