Birch & Barley, Logan Circle

Yes, I know: it’s packed every night. Yet Birch & Barley is on my shortlist of most underrated restaurants in the area right now (superlative #1).

Last night I had a full-fledged, start-to-finish, awesome dinner, without a weak link in the entire meal. Among his other cask ales, the amazingly talented beer director Greg Engert is featuring a Lewes Castle Brown Ale ($8). This fine, harmonious brown ale was just perfect with the pretzel bread (and house-made mustard) on what just may be the finest bread plate offered in the city right now (superlative #2) featuring the pretzel bread, and also a corn bread and an olive bread. I cannot over-emphasize just how good these breads are, especially given how many of these plates they’re turning out. And the beer?  Obviously I haven’t been to every beer hall in the nation, but if there’s a better one than Churchkey (upstairs, but also pipes its beer down to Birch & Barley), I’d like to know what it is (superlative #3).

I almost felt guilty ordering wine here, but was in the mood, and a bottle of 2009 Moulin de Gassac Guilhem Rosé ($36) went with everything, possible exception of dessert.

The last time I came here, I thought the beet and goat cheese risotto was astonishing, and so it was again with the Vialone Nano Risotto ($11 for a smaller order), a slightly wetter version than the last time, and maybe a tweaked prep, but it still came with beets, beet stems and leaves, and whipped goat cheese, and was worth any risk of beet urea that the diner may incur. A fantastic risotto!

Ricotta Cavatelli ($13 for a smaller order) was also house-made and wonderful, the braised beef shortrib, salsify, brunois mirepoix, and Parmesan shavings bringing out the redness in the rosé.

White Anchovy Flatbread ($14) was every bit as tasty, and even more sophisticated, than the one I had the night before at American Flatbread. Served with cauliflower, pine nuts, fried capers (!), and aged Pecorino, I am thrilled to report that fully half of this sits in my refrigerator as I type, waiting patiently for a late-night scarf.

And that’s only because I had to save room for dessert. There was a lot of starch in this meal (breads, risotto, pasta, flatbread), and many of the desserts were wheat-flour based. Although I desperately wanted the Sweet Cream French Toast (which had smoked bacon caramel pant, pant), logical me went with the Tasting of House-Spun Sorbets ($8.50), a generous sampling of five little scoops, nestled on a crushed cookie with caramel, both to hold them in place, and also to add texture and, just, well, caramel. Buttermilk, apple cider, cranberry, grapefruit, and what was termed “exotic spice,” but seemed like passion fruit – this was a fine plate of sorbets, and comes highly recommended by yours truly.

Another great night at what is fast becoming one of my favorite restaurants. The number of people working in both the kitchen and the FOH here is amazing – I do hope that Birch & Barley can maintain its level of excellence. It can’t possibly get any better than this; it just can’t.

Am I ordering wrong? Are there bad things on this menu? Please enlighten me! Man, I am so tempted to go back there. Right. Now.

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