Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Go for the Beer and the Bread: Birch and Barley
Birch and Barley is a unique addition to not only DC's, but as reported recently, the country's culinary beer scene -- and I am not being dramatic. The emphasis on beer and food pairings is unparalleled.
We first tried this restaurant back in early January and were impressed. We were back again on a recent Friday, taking advantage of a cool by-this-summer's-standards evening and dining on the patio. It being mid-August, we were able to walk in without a reservation -- my favorite part of August in DC! While we waited about twenty minutes, we enjoyed summer beers in the upstairs bar: Harpoon and Sierra Nevada. The latter was a surprise standout.
Unlike our first visit we ordered a la carte and took advantage of the 4 ounce taster option available for all 50+ tap beers. We left the beer choices in our waitress's hands. I was quite happy to see Greg Engert approaching with two of the nights choices. The fact that even after being the first beer-guy named to Food And Wine's top 100 sommeliers he is still so hands on is a testament to how unique this place is, as well as how much care goes into both the beer choices and the food options.
Like on our first visit, Greg's knowledge and passion shines through and when he speaks about the beer, from its origins to its flavors, you cannot help but sit on the edge of your seat eagerly engaged and ready to conquer this wonderful world of beer that he so aptly describes. A nice touch was when discussing one of our favorite beers from the last visit, an Italian beer brewed in an African-style with myrrh (tasty!), Greg returned to our table with samples of a beer currently offered with similar notes.
The food is very good, but not good enough yet to garner a place on my top five list -- though it is getting there. If everything was as delicious as the bread board that starts the meal -- this time consisting of pretzels, olive rolls, and cornbread -- then it would surely be one of my go-tos.
An appetizer of head-on jumbo shrimp over tomatoes, feat, olives, and saganaki had a nice, salty bite.
The fig and prosciutto pizza was good, rich, doughy, and such an ample portion that it was easily two meals. In fact, it was even better the next day as leftovers, after the blue cheese and fig flavors intensified and merged overnight in the fridge.
And dessert, a peanut butter tart, with a mini-whiskey milkshake, and malted milk sorbet was delicious and would have been exceptional had not been for a heavy hand with the cinnamon.
Birch and Barley is not inexpensive, but it is a good value. An appetizer, two entrees, dessert, six four ounce pours, tax, and tip was $98.00. The upstairs bar, Church Key, has a different food menu with some mighty fine looking cheese fries, but it is first come first served and we have yet to find a seat up a there -- our next beer conquest!