Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Birch & Barley

Located on 14th Street near Logan Circle, Birch & Barley delivers a completely unique food and beer experience celebrating a full spectrum of styles, traditions, regions and flavors.  Led by Chef Kyle Bailey, Pastry Chef Tiffany MacIsaac and Beer Director Greg Engert, Birch & Barley is made possible by a passionate team of professionals relentlessly committed to their craft.  Closest Metro is Dupont Circle or McPherson Square.

The website explains: "Committed to the region’s finest ingredients and guided by the seasons, Chef Kyle Bailey and Pastry Chef Tiffany MacIsaac cook deceptively simple, market driven dishes that draw flavor inspiration from the beers of Birch & Barley. Together they transform the once curious marriage of fine food and beer into something unexpected and exciting."  This is evident as over 500 beers - craft, bottled, or casked - are available and each pair perfectly with the thoughtful food creations from the kitchen.

I have been to the more casual sister-bar upstairs, ChurchKey, but have been wanting to try the full dinner experience downstairs for a while now.  My Aunt Debbie was in town with her friend Greg for just a couple days to do their own cherry-blossom-museum-site-seeing, so we met up with them at Birch & Barley for dinner.  She is a long time reader of my blog, naturally, and requested that we go "somewhere good and somewhat foodie-centric", so I thought this place would be perfect.  Luckily, I snagged us reservations at a reasonable time and they had no issue finding the place, as their hotel was nearby.

Our server quickly came over to let us know about all of their fabulous beers and explained how each one is served in its own unique vessel and at a specific temperature.  He was very patient with us all night, as we took our time looking over the menu since we were chatting and catching up, and recommended dishes when we asked.  We nibbled on a board of wonderful freshly baked breads and pretzels while we continued to study the menu.  I was quite hungry and glad we all decided to order a couple appetizers to share. We ate the Ricotta Gnudi, which were large soft pillows of cheese pasta on top of a spinach purée, with roasted salsify, oyster mushrooms, fried sage, and pancetta.  I could have eaten a whole plate of these.  The umami factor created by the mushrooms, butter, and sage was out of this world.  Keith also wanted to try the Stuffed Pierogi, which were filled with grilled duck heart, potato, Emmenthaler, and served on top of a rosemary-apple purée with pearl onions.  Those that tried this dish found the flavors to be quite nice and rustic, and different from any other traditional pierogi.  We also shared a small Chicken-Rosemary Sausage Flatbread that was topped with aged gouda, goat cheese, confit tomato, and pine nuts.  The flatbreads also come in a larger size if you wish to have this for your main meal.  The flatbread was warm and chewy and a perfect compliment to beer.

Speaking of beer, Keith and Greg each tried several different types between them throughout the night.  The one that stood out by far was Greg's favorite called Old Viscosity.  This American Strong Ale is a blend of 80% Fresh Old Viscosity and 20% Bourbon Barrel-Aged Old Viscosity and served in a snifter glass at a chilled 54º.  From the Californian Lost Abbey/Port Brewing Company, Old Viscosity is a smooth dark beer with 10.5% alcohol content. This beer left a permanent grin on Greg's face and he commented how he enjoyed the food very much, but wouldn't mind coming back just for the beer.

For our main course, both Greg and I chose the Olive Oil Poached Kampachi.  This light amber jack fish was served with a colorful roasted beet agridulce, pine nuts, and Castelvetrano tapenade.  There were bits of orange zest on top that really accentuated the dish.  Keith had the Honey Glazed Duck Breast served with leg confit, wild rice, brandied cherries, radishes, and hazelnuts.  While the flavors were good, his plate arrived a tad cold, and he commented that he would have enjoyed it much more would it have been hotter.  Aunt Debbie was debating between another rich pasta dish or the Roasted Pork Loin.  She chose the latter since we already had pasta as apps and really liked the green peppercorn crust and whiskey sauce.  The pork was served with apple-sage spaetzle, cipollini onion, and brussel sprouts.  All of the food was very tasty with quality ingredients.  The portions were perfect - not too large, nor too small.  However, I would have liked to see a bit more creativity in terms of plating the main courses. As each were nearly identical with the protein sliced and layered on one side of the plate with the starch/veggies on the other side.

Feeling satisfied, we couldn't resist dessert. Pastry Chef Tiffany MacIsaac recently made the first round nominations for a James Beard Award, and so I was eager to try some of her creations.  Aunt Debbie chose the classic Lemon Chantilly served with a little cocoa butter genoise, pistachio ice cream, pomegranate molasses, and basil.  The lemon clouds of whipped cream were light and refreshing - a great way to end the meal.  Greg chose one of Tiffany's newest dishes that also featured fruit - Passionfruit Creme Brulee with a coconut dacquoise, watermelon sorbet, coconut tapioca, basil foam, watermelon, and microbasil.  I had a small bite of this dish and found it be quite tropical.  Keith was in a chocolate mood, so he and I shared the House-Made Cookies and Confections.  This fun gathering of treats featured a cashew snickers bar, popcorn ice cream, cookie dough pop, Hostess cupcake, gingersnap cream pie, and peanut crunch truffle.  What!? Popcorn ice cream, you say?  Yes - you read that correctly - pop.corn.ice.cream. It was crazy good - and totally convinced us that we love salty ice creams. Besides the ice cream, my other favorite treat was the peanut crunch truffle.  It was like a chewy little bite of chocolaty-peanut goodness.

Overall, we had a great meal with great company.  My Aunt and her friend were very happy we picked this place and truly enjoyed themselves.  I am happy we sampled a bit of everything from the menu and I look forward to returning to Birch & Barley again.

Total Rating: 4.3
Food: 4.5, Price: 4, Service: 4, Ambience: 4, Accessibility: 4.5

What I ate:
Ricotta Gnudi
Spinach Purée, Roasted Salsify, Oyster Mushrooms, Fried Sage, Pancetta

Chicken-Rosemary Sausage Flatbread
Aged Gouda, Goat Cheese, Confit Tomato, Pine Nuts

Olive Oil Poached Kampachi
Roasted Beet Agridulce, Pine Nuts, Castelvetrano Tapenade

House-Made Cookies and Confections
cashew snickers bar, popcorn ice cream, cookie dough pop,
Hostess cupcake, gingersnap cream pie, peanut crunch truffle

Plus others ate:
Stuffed Pierogi
Grilled Duck Heart, Potato, Emmenthaler, Rosemary-Apple Purée, Pearl Onion

Honey Glazed Duck Breast
Leg Confit, Wild Rice, Brandied Cherries, Radishes, Hazelnuts

Roasted Pork Loin
Apple-Sage Spaetzle, Cipollini Onion, Green Peppercorn Whiskey Sauce

Lemon Chantilly
cocoa butter genoise, pistachio ice cream, pomegranate molasses, basil

Passionfruit Creme Brulee
Coconut Dacquoise, Watermelon Sorbet, Coconut Tapioca,
Basil Foam, Watermelon, and Microbasil

 
 Birch & Barley on Urbanspoon

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