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Mar 30, 2011 05:02 AM

what to get at birch & barley?

eating here saturday. what's good, what's not?

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  1. I can more easily tell you what to avoid:

    The tartare of Atlantic char is nice, but boring. Same thing for the trout with pumpernickel spaetzle. Just not much 'there' there.

    The cavatelli is just dense and chewy pasta with a sauce that is too salty, probably from the aged provolone which I guess was grated into the sauce.

    I think you'll do better if you go by the KISS rule. Go for the brat burger and fries.

    1. My parents and I really enjoyed the polenta appetizer there, though we were not blown away by the duck breast entree. I liked the charcuterie plate as well, especially with the bread basket they give with all orders.

      2 Replies
      1. re: hamster

        I wouldn't avoid the duck breast entree, personally. Like hamster said, it's not mind-blowing, but it's tasty and simple. The desserts I tried at Birch and Barley were quite good; though looking at the dessert menu now, it seems they rotate what desserts they serve, but the pastry chef seems to know her stuff.

        Birch and Barley
        1337 14th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20005

        1. re: hamster

          The breads and dessert here are exceptional from what I've tried. I would go here just for them. Good call on the charcuteure.

        2. I enjoyed the polenta last time I went, as well. I also really enjoyed the veal loin and the loin of lamb. I wasn't a big fan of either fish entree last time I went. (I went with a group and we all tried a little bit of each entree, so I got a good variety of tastes in.)

          If you are a mac and cheese fan, I would recommend the mac and cheese side. It's excellent! I haven't had too many of the other sides/appetizers, or if I did, they weren't memorable as either good or bad.

          1. I've had a lot of stuff here. Obviously, try a lot of beers. Possibly a pairing with everything you order. Or I did the tasting menu with the beer pairings and loved it. If you get the tartare, definitely ask for a suggested beer pairing for that - who knew tartare and some beers played off each other so well?

            As for apps, get the beet risotto. It's awesome. I made some at home last week, and now I appreciate even more how truly well-balanced theirs is. It's not too sweet like it can be - it's perfect.

            Also, the ricotta cavatelli. I've had lamb there that was absolutely perfect also. I guess that's my tip, really, for this restaurant - don't look for something edgy or exciting - order something that looks good to you that you'd appreciate especially if it was executed perfectly. That's what they do well there. Their produce is good enough to be noteworthy to me also; they must have a really good supplier.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Raids

              Yes, the beet risotto is fantastic.

              In a completely different vein, I agree with Steve--the bratburger is super. It's very rich, so plan (or omit) appetizers accordingly.

            2. The good news: beer was great and the bread plate was ok. it was fun to get $2 4oz beer samples. Ambiance was great, hip, and urban. The bad news: Steve and I had similar experiences. Food was suprisingly mediocre. It looked great on the menu but the execution was poor. Apps: Arctic char tartare was bland, uninteresting, too chunky. Escargot salad: snails were mostly unadorned & bitter, definitely not delicious and the morels were sandy (!), not flavorful. Goat cheese tartlet was good, but the bed of arugula was wilted, but not on purpose, like they need to fire the prep cook. Flatbread: crust was bland and too thick. anchovies looked like baitfish (i like oily, caper-ish anchovies). too much topping. The cavatelli: pulled pork sauce just didn't work. it felt like someone accidentally dumped pasta into pork stew. Didn't try and desserts, but maybe should have. might go back but just for beer and charcuterie, simple bar food.

              4 Replies
              1. re: mallhattan

                Oooh, that sucks. Whenever I see reviews like this I get nervous that this will happen to me the next time I go there.

                Sounded like a lot of things were indicative of a not-so-great prep cook....OTOH, the only I've had that you had is, I think, the ricotta cavatelli with pulled pork, which was not stew-like when I had it. The tartare I had when I was there - which was awesome - was a fluke and tuna tartare, which doesn't appear on the tasting menu anymore either. Really too bad that your bread was only okay - that's usually a highlight there. Can I ask what day of the week it was?

                FYI, you probably already know this, but if you just want beer and charcuterie, both are available upstairs at Churchkey.

                1. re: Raids

                  wednesday. i agree, it all sounds like a management/prep cook issue. not necessarily the chef's fault. having worked in kitchens, i know the kind of derelicts that can be employed in them that drive chefs batty. nevertheless, our meal was just not very good, and they always say a restaurant is only as good as its last meal. that said, my wife and i had a great time, prolly because we don't get out much these days (thanks, kids). yes, if we go back it'll more likely be to church key.

                  1. re: mallhattan

                    Ah, okay. I've only been on Saturday and, also, after my first visit, I always request one of the tables in the room by the kitchen.

                    This place single-handedly converted my husband to the idea of spending money on restaurants besides steakhouses, something no Jose Andres restaurant, Proof, Estadio, Dino, Cashion's, J&G, etc. ever managed to do before (which is not to say that my experiences at those places weren't good, just that they didn't mean my husband's - arguably unenlightened - "I'd rather have a rib-eye" test, for whatever that is worth to you).