Sunday, January 22, 2012

Birch and Barley

Superking and I have been wanting to go to this place for a long time and we finally made it there a couple weeks ago.  Birch and Barley, a very cool urban DC restaurant gem, is located near Logan's Circle.  When you walk by you almost miss it because the front of the restaurant looks like a garage door and the actual door is somewhat hidden in the wall.  Its like a secret entrance into an enchanting world of delectable food and drink with a relaxing candlelight (or should I say oil lamp light) atmosphere.

Even though we've lived in this area all our lives and have done many restaurants searches and adventures in DC, we had actually never heard of this place until it was featured on the Cooking Channel's Foodography show one night. Birch and Barley's big claim to fame is not their food but their beer.  Their website boasts that they have "an unparalleled collection of 555 artisanal beers". They don't always necessarily have all those at one time but they do have about 75 working beer taps pouring out the golden liquid every night.  It seriously looks like a huge pipe organ behind the bar! 

However, their food is no slouch either.  The night we arrived, the only reservations we could get was for their Chef's Kitchen Seating, which is essentially a bar area looking into the kitchen.  Some people might find it a little noisy sitting there but I found it interesting; watching all the chef's and kitchen staff bustling about, preparing all the food, each one with their own job, the head chef yelling out orders, and without even acknowledging they heard him, each person whips into action like a well-oiled machine creating amazing and delicious works of edible art.

We began our adventure with a complimentary "amuse bouche" from the chef...a lovely little arancini (basically a rice ball, covered with bread crumbs and seasoning and then fried and topped with a little cheese and tomato sauce)...each one sitting on top of a shmear of butternut squash puree.  A tasty little bite!

Then they bring out the bread.  Not just any ol' ordinary bread basket but a board of several artisanal breads served with soft creamy butter and stone ground mustard.

Next I ordered the Veal Sweetbreads.  When someone talks about eating sweetbreads, we're not talking about cinnamon buns.  Its the fatty part of either an organ or a gland from the animal, in this case it was veal (baby cow) thyroid gland.  That may sound gross but let me tell you, if you've never had it, you don't know what you're missing.  If you can get past what it is and just taste it without judgement, I don't know how anyone could not love it afterward.  Its like eating really fatty bacon, sort of. Its creamy and juicy.  And this was served so nice with some pretty little greens, a beet and parsnip slaw, and a creamy sauce.  Wow, so delicious, I almost forgot to share it with Superking!

He ordered the Sardines.  Beautiful little silvery fish that are house-cured and served with cauliflower puree, some more pretty greens, pinenuts, and confit lemon.  So light and fresh and yummy! And might I add the importance of the seafood sustainability with this dish...small silver fish with the skin on that are caught locally are the best kind to eat for your health and the health of the water environment.

After those wonderful starters, we split a large charcuterie plate called the Butchers Board.  There were a couple different kinds of cured salami, some mini toasts, pigs head terrine (kind of like a pate made from pigs head), foie gras, chicken liver mousse topped with house-made bacon, all served with stone-ground mustard and cornichons (mini cute).  We totally made pigs of ourselves (no pun intended).

Then for dessert, I could not pass this up because it was so unique and I knew it would be amazing.  And I was not disappointed in the least.  Goat's Milk Cheesecake.  If thats not enough in itself, it was topped with port soaked pears and pistachios and served with salted olive oil ice cream. O.M.G.  The cheesecake itself was super creamy and dense with a slight tang from the goat's milk.  The pears were so sweet and juicy (and a little boozy) and the pistachios added a nice crunch.  But the ice cream...salty and creamy, sweet and tangy, so strange yet so delicious.  I couldn't get enough of it. 

As always there were so many other things on the menu that we would have loved to try but there just wasn't enough room in our bellies.  I would go back just for that dessert though.

Sunday, January 8, 2012


Let's say you'd like to take a big vacation to somewhere exotic, like maybe Korea. But a trip to Korea is pretty expensive and you don't really have the money in this economy.  Well, here's a much less expensive alternative to feeling like you're in Korea and you get a unique meal thats super yummy.  Go to the HoneyPig in Centerville, VA (or in Annandale or Ellicott City, MD).

you should note they are open 24 hours too!

When you step foot in the door of this place, you must be ready for an adventure.  Almost nothing is in English. In fact, the walls are plastered with posters, all written in Korean.  All the TV's mounted on the walls are playing Korean news and TV shows.  The music playing overhead is some kind of Korean pop music.  All the waitstaff is Korean.  And if you're not Korean yourself, you can be sure you will be in the 3% of customers there who aren't Korean as well.

this is the foyer when you walk in...the restaurant is pretty much the same

There is just enough English on the menu so you can order your main course food item.  They have things like pork belly, pork ribs, beef brisket, octopus, chicken, kimchi, well as pork necks, beef intestines, tripe, and seafood pancakes.  Even some crazy drink called Soju, which I think we figured out was fermented sweet potato.


The walls are made of corrugated metal and the tables are made of stainless steel with a large burner in the middle.  They light the burner and bring out a large metal lid which is placed over the fire. As the metal lid heats up, thats what they cook your food on.  As we were waiting for this process, they brought out numerous small bowls and dishes, which at first we had no idea what they were or how to eat them.  It turned out to be a really tasty green salad with this sweet dressing plus sides of kimchi and other veggies in this spicy red sauce. They even gave us a complimentary steamed egg soup. I'm not really sure what exactly was in it but it was really eggy and warm and yummy...almost the texture of fine grits. Oh and the only utensils you are given are chopsticks and a spoon for soup. So get your chopstick fingers ready!

the burner in the middle of the table

salad and veggies

steamed egg bowl

We ordered thick sliced pork belly and beef intestines.  The pork belly is pretty much like really thick fatty bacon. The intestines looked exactly as you might expect. As they bring them out raw, they look like slimy long tubes, which they chop up into smaller pieces and cook them in a separate pan with some kind of sweet teriyaki-type sauce.  When they are mostly cooked, they are transferred to our hot metal cooking lid to finish cooking along with the pork belly and a load of kimchi with noddles and soybeans in a red sauce.And we were also served a small bowl of sticky white rice.

my pretty plate with pork belly and kimchi and noodles

Everything....and I mean everything...was super yummy!  I have to be honest, I was a little nervous when Superking ordered the intestines.  I wasn't sure if I was going to go for that.  But I have to tell you, it tasted delicious! I think whatever sauce they cooked it in helped give it a sweet quality.  But it wasn't super chewy like I thought it might be. It was slightly tougher than a noodle. I really liked it!

raw intestines in sauce being prepared

intestines cooked with whole garlic cloves and peppers

It was interesting to see the looks on the faces of some of the Korean customers and our waitress when the intestines were brought out. Our waitress looked at us doubtfully, "did you order this?" as she begins cooking it up.  I'm sure not many people, especially non-Koreans, order that too often.

this was all that was left...

We really felt as though we were temporarily transported to Korea while we were there. This was definitely a true food adventure and we came out on the other side finding a new kind of food to love! If you're feeling adventurous or if you already enjoy Korean food, you must go to HoneyPig!

The HoneyPig himself!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Stone's Cove Kit Bar

What is a kit bar, you may ask?  Its basically a restaurant where almost all the seating is at the bar and in the entire kitchen is contained in the middle of the bar.  Stone's Cove in Herndon, VA is such a place experimenting with this newer dining concept.  It provides a casual and social atmosphere where you can interact with your waitstaff while they cook your dinner.

Because the entire kitchen is contained in the middle of the bar, it does provide some challenges with cooking equipment.  The limited space makes it difficult to have most of the traditional ovens and refrigerators that a regular restaurant kitchen may have. But they seemed to have figured out some creative space saving appliances, including a brick oven in the middle of the kitchen that has openings on both sides, to ensure that the food they offer is also served up with creative quality yumminess.

 We began our meal with a couple "appetapas"...appetizers/tapas/small plates.  The first was Lobster Cones. These were not only adorable to look at, they tasted very yummy and fresh as well.  They are miniature savory poppy seed waffle cones stuffed with a chilled chipotle lobster salad with basil, guacamole, and tomatoes.  I could've easily eaten these all night.

Our second appetapa was Ahi Tuna Sashimi.  Fresh, lightly seared, sliced tuna served with an Asian slaw of cabbage and carrots with a creamy chili sauce drizzled on top. Delish!

We also tried Blue Crab Lettuce Wraps. Also very fresh and light but full of flavor.  Large pieces of crisp lettuce and fresh crab meat tossed with avocado, mango, red onion, almonds, and agave lime dressing.  The dish includes small compartments with other toppings like sliced limes, raw sugar, chopped cilantro, and more agave lime dressing.  The sugar was a little odd at first but combined with all the other flavors it was a nice sweet touch next to the sour of the lime and the savory crab and herby cilantro.

Then they have a couple offerings on the menu called "edibations" and they are foods but they are listed under the cocktails.  This looks interesting.  We ordered the Caramelized Beef Edibations.  We were served a plate with four large tasting spoons.  Each spoon was filled with a bite of beef that has been marinated in bourbon, gorgonzola, smoked bacon, and green onion.  And its all swimming in Maker's Mark...a Kentucky bourbon whiskey...not exactly what we expected. But that's what a food adventure is all about, right?

 If you're like me and not used to drinking whiskey, it may be a little strong at first.  But you really just have to go for the gusto and take the whole spoon like a shot to experience all the flavors together in their fullness.  At first the whiskey is a bit overwhelming but if you let all the flavors sit in your mouth for a second, the whiskey flavor quickly melds with the beef and the gorgonzola and the bacon and the onion to make the most incredible bite you'll ever taste.  The whiskey actually intensifies the other flavors and brings a sweetness to each one, including the tang of the gorgonzola. 

We were pretty stuffed after all that but couldn't resist taking home a dessert...Smores Flatbread! A crispy flaky flatbread covered with cinnamon and sugar, melted chocolate and roasted marshmallows! Super yumm! A great dessert to take home for later!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Windy City Red Hots

More hot dogs! This time from a food truck. And its not a DC food truck but a Loudoun County food truck.  The only Loudoun County food truck.  Its called Windy City Red Hots. They have an actual brick-and-mortar restaurant in Leesburg but the food truck came first and usually parks at the Bluemont Nursery located on Rt.7W just before you reach Ashburn Village Blvd.

We've passed it a million times and always say, "we need to stop in there sometime" but we're always on our way to somewhere else. Well one rainy day, I was by myself, on my way to Leesburg and it was right around lunch time.  I'm sitting at the stoplight and to my right I see the truck. Just sitting there all lonely in the rain.  It was calling out to me.  So I swung the car into the parking lot, pulled up the hood on my sweatshirt, and went over to order myself a Windy City Red Hot.

 I got a Maxwell Street Polish Combo.  An all beef polish sausage topped with mustard, grilled onions, sport peppers on a poppy seed bun.I had never heard of sport peppers before.  They were kinda small and skinny and looked dangerous to me. I had a couple bites.  Not unbearably hot but a few bites was all I could take. I'm kind of a spice wimp.  Superking would've liked them, probably even hotter.

The sausage was nice and juicy, the onions crunchy and the mustard and slight heat from the peppers all combined into a savory and tangy and very satisfying meal.

The combo came with fries and a drink. The fries were very freshly cut potatoes and fried right there on the spot.  I thought it was interesting that they don't salt their fries. They let the customer do that to their own liking.

They also offer Italian roast beef sandwiches, which look something like a traditional steak and cheese.  And also a pizza puff...its like a pizza pocket but the outside is a fried tortilla and the filling is Italian sausage, pizza sauce, and mozarella cheese. Looks yummy! Next time though, I'll have to take Superking and try one of their famous Red Hots.