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 pickles...how 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.