December 14, 2009
When it comes to cities and restaurants I seem to put all my focus on New York City. But, Birch & Barley in Washington, D.C. has shown me what the nation’s capital has to offer when it comes to a culinary experience — and it’s a lot.
The door to enter the restaurant resembles a simple wooden closet door that anyone could easily pass by. Upon awkwardly and slowly twisting the silver knob door and not knowing what I would find, my family and I were greeted by the ChurchKey’s bouncer. Confused?
Birch & Barley has an upstairs bar (called ChurchKey) which has over 50 beers on tap and 500 different bottles to choose from. Yes, 550 beer choices. And the kegs are changed daily thanks to their beer specialist, Greg Engert.
After a quick look around at the extensive 55 ft. long bar, I headed back downstairs and into the dimly lit Birch & Barley. Wooden floors and shelves decorate the restaurant along with simple lights and candles throughout. Sitting down at the sleek booth I couldn’t help but notice lined golden pipes coming down from the ceiling. Since my brother had dined here before he informed me that was their “beer organ” with beer flowing from the upstairs.
Knowing how beer-friendly this place was I decided to order a 4 oz. beer for myself. Since I am no beer connoisseur I instead decided to let the menu’s descriptions help me. It broke it down into categories and by region. My eyes went down to the Fruit & Spice section and I then couldn’t help but notice the beer titled “Monk’s Blood.” Even better was that it was served in a goblet. If drinking monk’s blood from a goblet isn’t medieval than I don’t know what is.
I enjoyed my sweet Belgian beer and I enjoyed it even more when Engert came over to our table and gave us the history of most of the beers at our table. His ability to casually explain the history of the beers while throwing in specific dates and time periods were impressive to say the least. My Monk’s Blood beer dates back from centuries ago when some monks migrated up north into Belgium. It was there that they continued to brew their specific beer. This beer and other beers on the list at the restaurant were once used by monks to curb their appetite during their fasting periods.
I never realized first off how many beers there are in the world. Second, I never realized the extensive history that a beer could have. After listening to Engert and all of his interesting facts about beer, I think it’s now going to drive me nuts when people say they are “craving a good beer — like Bud Light. “
I should also mention that their bar has three specific temperatures for their kegs. The lighter beers should come cooler and the darkest beers will arrive in your glass at around a 54 degree temperature. Besides the keg and bottled beers, they also have a few cask beers.
To compliment the beer we decided it was time for some food. We started off with the port glazed figs flatbread that comes with fresh gorgonzola and prosciutto. The gorgonzola cheese was actually cremificato. It taste just like it sounds — creamy.
Although our appetizer didn’t come out till much later it was still very much worth the wait. The sweetness of the figs, saltiness of the prosciutto and kick of gorgonzola all complimented each other fantastically.
Birch & Barley also brings their own bread to every table. The pretzel roll and olive roll are the standouts. They are served alongside with a spicy Dijon mustard and butter.
The fresh bread is actually the creation of the restaurant’s very own pastry chef, Tiffany MacIssac. It’s as if the bread serves as a teaser to MacIsaac’s culinary capabilities when it comes to dessert.
For my entree I decided to go for a first for me. The honey glazed duck breast was served on top of wild rice, dates and radishes with a vegetable puree underneath.
Since it was my first time having duck I had nothing to compare it to. But I do know that I finished my entire plate so I am going to go ahead and say the duck was perfect. It was extremely tender and served as a great contrast to the hardness of the wild rice.
My brother’s dry aged beef ribeye with balsamic braised cabbage had a similar presentation to my duck. When ordering meat at Birch & Barley it is asked that the chef, Kyle Bailey (fun fact: he is MacIsaac’s husband) cooks the meat to his liking to ensure all the flavors in the meal come out correctly. Upon taking a bite it’s obvious Bailey knows what he’s doing.
After munching on the my dad’s leftover crispy spiced fries that were paired with his brat burger I was preparing myself for some dessert.
The dessert menu has an upscale yet comfort food feel. For example, one dish comes with an assortment of childhood favorites. There is an homage to the hostess cupcake injected with white chocolate mousse, an oatmeal cookie, a pudding pop and even pumpkin pie ice cream. But I decided to go with another childhood favorite: french toast.
According to a “Washington Post” article, MacIsaac says this dish came about from her childhood trips to Burger King and munching on their french toast sticks. The brioche bread was crisp on the outside and deep fried. On the inside the bread was still moist to the point of having a slightly creamy consistency. MacIsaac also serves the dish with bacon caramel, homemade pecan granola and oatmeal ice cream and a caramelized banana.
My mom ordered the assortment of sorbets. The concord grape, cranberry, apple cider, vanilla buttermilk and passion fruit are served on top of homemade graham cracker.
While they were all delicious, the buttermilk was the favorite of the bunch. There are fourteen flavors that MacIsaac rotates so you never know what delicious sorbet you’ll get.
Besides all the food and beer, Birch & Barley also stands out when it comes to their customer service. You will be greeted by the hostess and quickly greeted by one of the general managers. On Saturday night Mandy was the GM and was delighted to share with me a bunch of interesting facts when it came to the restaurant for my blog.
It’s not hard to see how passionate the entire staff is at Birch & Barley. And it’s not hard to be just as passionate when you’re walking out with a full stomach and awaiting your next trip to the nation’s capital.