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tcarman

Birch & Barley, 14th Street at Logan Circle - Chef Kyle Bailey and Beer Sommelier Greg Engert Downstairs from ChurchKey in 14UP

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I know I've been harping on this, but why keep announcing dates to the public if you're really not sure you're going to be open? I don't understand the philosophy here other than frustrating potential customers with the tease of finally opening. I walked by on Saturday during the day and they looked more than a week away, but we'll see.....

Peeked in on my walk to work today, it's at least window dressed for a soft opening (maybe that was the Monday date?). Greg was tinkering behind the bar, I suppose that's a good sign.

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Peeked in on my walk to work today, it's at least window dressed for a soft opening (maybe that was the Monday date?). Greg was tinkering behind the bar, I suppose that's a good sign.

dates move as construction issues pop up here and there. Contractors give you a date to turn over the place, and sometimes the inevitable happens, a late shipment on a piece of equipement, an inspection doesn't go as well, a contractor gives wrong dates. It happens in this business all the time, and yes it can be frustrating, but would you rather have a restaurant open half-ass, and work around you while you dined? Or gave you a false impression of what the place was really to look like and then change it 6 months later? The rule of thumb is "once you open those doors, there is no shutting them once you start".

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It reads like rusticos menu... But is far from it. The bar menu while seemingly simple is very different. Our pizzas are far more upscaled, and at 11x6 rectangles with organic quality ingredients prepared fresh every day; I feel are worth the price. The Veal Neck Sausage flatbreads and Quail Egg BLTs are must tries. Days of Marinara and mozz are gone my friends, welcome to the dark side.

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We checked out the scene at Churchkey and it was absolutely packed, so my group and I decided to hang out downstairs rather than deal with the crowd. We were seated right away. An almost 10-minute wait for our drinks was my only complaint of the evening - and certainly understandable, since it was their first night open to the public. Our server, Max was polite and knowledgeable - and brought us a few free beers ('mistakes' from the bar) to make up for the wait. We tried a few different beers between us, and my favorite was the pumpkin cask ale.

Between five of us, we started the arctic char tartare, the octopus and the scallops. The tartare was standout dish of the three. Breads were brought to the table around that time - a "pretzel" roll, and a bacon/sage bun which was beyond delicious. As far as I am concerned, all bread should be made with bacon.

For entrees, we all either got the burger or the cod. The burger was very good - made with prosciutto and topped with cheddar and pickled red onions. Cod was also tasty - served with green beans, fingerlings and and preserved lemon. These are very solid versions of classics.

The desserts are big enough to share and worth saving room for. We tried the apple beniet and something called a confection plate which featured "upscale" versions of classic treats like a "Hostess" cupcake, oatmeal cream pie and a pudding pop. Holy crap. These are some delicious sweets! And then we got the bill...they were only $5 and $6! In fact, the entire meal was very reasonable - about $200 including tip for the five of us.

This is a great addition to the neighborhood and I have a feeling that they are going to do very well.

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Rovers2000, leleboo, goodeats, and I shared a pretty awesome dinner at Birch & Barley tonight. The service was great, and I really love the whole design of the place. And of course, I'd be remiss in not mentioning the monster beer list, which offers more options than one can wrap their head around (as some at our table, who didn't get to the food menu for a good 20 minutes, soon found out, haha).

Since we were pretty much set on sharing everything we ordered, we avoided entrees and aimed for a slew of appetizers and all the 2nd course or pasta/flatbread options on the menu. I won't go all out and give a complete breakdown of the meal, but I will throw out a few of my favorites...

Seared Sea Scallops Israeli Couscous, Cauliflower, Lemon Confit ($11): I really liked this dish. The scallops had a nice sear, but weren't chewy or overdone. They sat on a mound of delicious israeli couscous, along with some perfectly smooth cauliflower puree. I believe the lemon confit was grated into that creamy mix. It was all sprinkled with toasted pine nutes, which added good flavor and a bit of crunch.

Arctic Char Tartare Yuzu Gelee, Ginger, Basil, Sesame Crisp ($12): I'm pretty sure everybody was a big fan of this dish. A generous portion of diced arctic char, seasoned beautifully with the yuzu, ginger, and basil, and served with crisp sesame chips. It was hard to stop eating this in order to share.

Vialone Nano Risotto Roasted Beets, Wilted Greens, Goat Cheese ($10 half/$15 full): This was the dish I'd been most looking forward to, and it didn't disappoint. At first glance, it's simply stunning: a mountain of insanely purple risotto topped off with a scoop of snow-white whipped goat cheese. Upon digging in, you soon find chunks of roasted beets, as well as those wilted greens, dispersed throughout the amazingly creamy risotto, which, surprisingly, did not have an overly strong taste of beets, even though it was thoroughly purple. The whipped goat cheese really pushed it to the next level though.

Tagliatelle Braised Rabbit, Thumbelina Carrots, Housemade Ricotta ($13 half/$19 full): This was the second dish of pasta with rabbit I've ever had (the first being from Dino), and it's tough to pick a winner between the two. What I can say is that this version was very well done - the pasta was cooked well, the braised and shredded rabbit meat was truly succulent, the carrots added a touch of sweetness, and the ricotta brought some creaminess to it all. Either this or the risotto would have to be the dish of the night for me.

Definitly a great meal, and I'll definitely be making a point of trying some of the entrees in the near future (while I know that the duck is a fantastic dish, I'm in the dark about how the rest of the options taste). I'm sure the others will have plenty to say on their favorites, so I leave the rest to them.

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As usual, Gennaro has given quite a lovely run-down of last night's dinner. I might add a few things...

Rovers2000 ... goodeats, and I shared a pretty awesome dinner at Birch & Barley tonight.

Honestly? The company couldn't have been better. :( However, I have to say that the service could have been. It seemed as though there was a bit of confusion among the waitstaff as to who actually had our table. Service was incredibly solicitous and accommodating of our taking our time as we worked our way through the beer and wine lists, but when we actually needed to get the attention of ... well, anyone, it proved overly difficult, particularly in a room that at that point was only about half-full (if that).

Arctic Char Tartare Yuzu Gelee, Ginger, Basil, Sesame Crisp ($12): I'm pretty sure everybody was a big fan of this dish. A generous portion of diced arctic char, seasoned beautifully with the yuzu, ginger, and basil, and served with crisp sesame chips. It was hard to stop eating this in order to share.

This was my standout dish, hands-down. The flavor of the fish stood up to the citrus and spice of the yuzu and ginger, and the crunch of the sesame contrasted with the silky texture of the tartare.

I also greatly enjoyed the Charred Octopus Warm Fingerling Salad, Pickled Eggplant, Capers ($11). We probably should have ordered a second one of these to share, as we each got only a small bite of octopus, but wow did the kitchen know what it was doing with that small piece. Perfectly charred with a nice smoky flavor, the octopus had not a hint of rubbery texture, and the tiny dice of potatoes had bite and flavor, not getting lost at all in the brininess of the dish. I would really like to try this again.

The bread board was a lot of fun, particularly the warm pretzel rolls with the grainy mustard that have been mentioned upthread. (Aside: as I bit into the roll, I had a total Simpsons moment, flashing to the episode "Homer the Smithers," wherein Mr. Burns is frightened by a drunk Lenny after a baseball game and complains that "his breath reeked of beer and pretzeled bread." Pretzeled bread, indeed...hee!)

The flatbreads were both very tasty and would be wonderfully satisfying "fancy-casual" food for a night of exploring the beer list further. I am incredibly picky about fig and pork flatbreads, although the Port Glazed Figs Gorgonzola Cremificato & Prosciutto Flatbread ($13) came pretty close to the one that will forever be my Platonic ideal of this dish (note to kitchen: maybe add very thinly sliced scallions before serving?). The sausage on the Veal Neck Sausage Roasted Mushrooms, Pecorino Flatbread ($14) had an incredible flavor for an unsweet sausage (usually my preference in a pizza/flatbread situation).

I took one for the team and tried to do a little exploration of the wines available. Sadly, the list isn't online, and I don't want to misstate what I tasted, but the selection was enough for a restaurant focused so heavily on beer, and decently priced as well ($8 to about ... $13? $14? I can't recall the upper limit on the by-the-glass list). One request would be to have a small one-sheet of the glass list, as having to wade through the entire, formidable bottled beer list to find the single sheet of wines available by the glass was a bit of a downer.

I definitely want to go back and try some of the entrees -- given the quality of the arctic char and octopus and scallops, I'm interested to see if the kitchen can hold its own with the cod and striped bass (my guess is yes) -- and if there's ever a time when Churchkey isn't a total madhouse, I'd be tempted to head upstairs as well and give the bar a try.

Thanks to Gennaro for the idea -- last night was a blast. :P

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Gennaro (and now Leigh) beat me to it, but I'll chime in with my thoughts on the meal and beers from last night:

First the beers, of which I had 3:

-The Mahattan Project by Brooklyn Brewery - This tempted me b/c I'm always down for a good Manhattan and I was curious to see how a beer crafted to taste like one would come out. Deep red color with some strong cherry syrup/bitters notes at first with a definite rye aftertaste. Served in a tulip glass.

-Palo Santo Marron by Dogfish Head - Went with this as I've never seen it on draft before, definitely a deep black color with some caramel malt at the front and a spicy bite on the finish. The high alcohol content is apparent but it is a surprisingly easy drinking beer. Served in a snifter.

-Black Chocolate Stout by Brooklyn Brewery - Tried this Russian Stout after discussing a few different options with the server. Great aroma of chocolate and coffee. Definitely a creamier feel than the Palo Santo and it was a nice end to the meal as it was definitely a more filling brew that went very well with the deserts we had ordered.

As someone who has now eaten both upstairs in Churchkey and downstairs in Birch & Barley, while the service is spotty I think it is important to remember that the place has been open for what, a month? In terms of the food, I really enjoyed the Arctic Char Tartare from the app course and the Fig/Gorgonzola flatbread and the Risotto from the seconds we had at the table (Gennaro and Leigh have captured the food well above so I won't go into detail). Additionally I really thought their take on a dessert plate was cool ("hostess" cupcake, oatmeal cream pie, pumpkin pie ice cream with graham cracker crumbs, home made marshmellow, etc) and extremely tasty and a great conversation piece.

All in all, I really have enjoyed my two visits and look forward to many more to both Churchkey and Birch & Barley. While the upstairs bar gets packed they definitely do their best to keep it managable (resulting in a line out the door). The decor downstairs is mesmirizing (fortunately I had my back turned to the "Beer Organ" or I would have been staring longingly at it all evening) if a bit loud. The place is off to a great start in my opinion and once the staff get some more seasoning this will really be a bright spot not only for beer, but for food in Logan Circle.

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As someone who has now eaten both upstairs in Churchkey and downstairs in Birch & Barley, while the service is spotty I think it is important to remember that the place has been open for what, a month? In terms of the food, I really enjoyed the Arctic Char Tartare from the app course and the Fig/Gorgonzola flatbread and the Risotto from the seconds we had at the table (Gennaro and Leigh have captured the food well above so I won't go into detail). Additionally I really thought their take on a dessert plate was cool ("hostess" cupcake, oatmeal cream pie, pumpkin pie ice cream with graham cracker crumbs, home made marshmellow, etc) and extremely tasty and a great conversation piece.

Can't wait to hear my friend from South Boston order this dish.

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I had a nice dinner at Birch & Barley. Honestly my favorite part of the meal was the bread board that was served! It's an incredibly generous bread board; the night we were there each person got three rolls: a pretzel roll (served with grainy mustard), a ciabatta roll, and a cranberry/nut bread. So good and everything is baked in-house by their pastry chef.

As did many other people on the board, we split the artic char tartare which was very, very good but I wanted more chips!

For entrees, my friend and I ordered together and split both entrees. We had the rabbit tagliatelle which I we both thought was quite tasty. The rabbit had a great texture and I think it was a very approachable dish; even less adventurous eaters would surely enjoy it. We also got the pistachio crusted cod which I did like but I am less of a fish person than my friend is, so this was her choice. It was good though.

For desert we got a peanut butter chocolate tart that was served with ice cream and a mini vanilla shake. It was soooooo good if a bit decadent.

We walked out of there very pleased and I will definitely be back!! This is a great new restaurant.

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Bob and I managed to snag an 8 P.M. dinner reservation last night, which seemed like a good pre-snow, last dinner-out before Christmas. We had a not-too-long wait for our table at the slammed ChurchKey upstairs, and were escorted to a table behind the host's counter--not ideal, but there's a reasonable vestibule to protect from too much draftiness. The staff was very friendly and gracious, though not without some awkwardness (see below) and our meals--fig flatbread shared as a starter, brat burger for Bob, beet risotto for me--was very good. I love the 4-oz. pours of beer, especially those served in snifters--it's a style that encourages sipping, not chugging, and the friendly prices encourage trying several different styles. The beer sommelier (is that the right term?) brought us the Monk's Blood Ale to pair with the flatbread, and we ordered the cask Bell's Cherry Stout to round out the menu--both were great.

There was one big problem, however, that I'm not sure how we should have handled--all the food was delivered at once, even though the server had put in the flatbread order as a starter. It seemed silly to send back the entrees to the kitchen until we were done with the flatbread, but having everything there all at once was cumbersome, and made it less possible to enjoy the beer pairing that had been picked for the starter. The server asked if there was anything he could do to compensate, and we said no. I don't blame him for the mix-up, and we didn't chintz on the tip, but I sort of feel that it should have been up to him to offer a solution for us to accept or reject rather than ask us what a reasonable comp might be, which puts the diner in an awkward spot.

That said, it wasn't a deal breaker. The food's good, the beer is great, as are the pour options, and I'd covet coming back on a less busy night, and hopefully when they get some of the kitchen/serving snags worked out.

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I'd covet coming back on a less busy night...

Is there such a thing? I've tried 3 times now unsuccessfully to snag a spot at the bar upstairs...it's always been crazy busy.

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Is there such a thing? I've tried 3 times now unsuccessfully to snag a spot at the bar upstairs...it's always been crazy busy.

It's my understanding that Monday's are generally the most low key night there...I've gone early each time I've headed to Churchkey and its been ok, but once the 630-7 time frame hits, it seems to get crazy.

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It's my understanding that Monday's are generally the most low key night there...I've gone early each time I've headed to Churchkey and its been ok, but once the 630-7 time frame hits, it seems to get crazy.

Mondays are definitely low key in comparison to the rest of the week, as are Sundays. Either going on one of those days, or arriving before 6:30 any other night, pretty much guarantees you a table/spot at the bar at Churchkey.

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Mondays are definitely low key in comparison to the rest of the week, as are Sundays. Either going on one of those days, or arriving before 6:30 any other night, pretty much guarantees you a table/spot at the bar at Churchkey.

Unfortunately this is not the case Tuesdays, as my wife and I stopped in at 6:45 and both Churchkey and Birch & Barley were packed, with a 2 hour (!) wait for a table at B&B quoted by the hostess.

I'm dying to try this place but kind of annoyed that it is still so crowded months after it has been open.

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Unfortunately this is not the case Tuesdays, as my wife and I stopped in at 6:45 and both Churchkey and Birch & Barley were packed, with a 2 hour (!) wait for a table at B&B quoted by the hostess.

I'm dying to try this place but kind of annoyed that it is still so crowded months after it has been open.

I figured the day before Christmas Eve would be pretty low-key there, and I was right. From 4:30 to 6:00 there were seats remaining at the bar, and things were pretty calm. A great atmosphere to talk to the knowledgeable, friendly guy behind the bar, and explore their amazing beer menu. I had tastes of most of the cask ales, but the highlight for me was the "King Crimson" from Peak Brewing. And the charcuterie board, which among other treats included an absolutely tremendous chicken liver mousse.

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I may need to stop by tonight or tomorrow while the city is still empty and we can get a seat at a decent hour ...

Don't count on it (or at least, try to get there early). I stopped by at 5:45 tonight ... there wasn't a seat to be found, and there were a half dozen people waiting at the top of the stairs for barstools to open up.

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Don't count on it (or at least, try to get there early). I stopped by at 5:45 tonight ... there wasn't a seat to be found, and there were a half dozen people waiting at the top of the stairs for barstools to open up.

Ouch--this place is too popular (deservedly so, I think), at the moment. DC needs more great beer places. Uggh. Keeping my fingers crossed on the beer selection at the new Wiedmaier place in Bethesda, whenever it opens.

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Had dinner last night at Birch & Barley with leleboo and her husband, and despite the 3 course RW options on offer, I couldn't resist going for the 5 course tasting menu. At $55, it was definitely worth the price.

Scallop Crudo pink peppercorns, blood orange : This was my first encounter with a raw scallop (well, with any intent other than to cook it), and it may have been the dish of the night for me. If versions I try in the future are even half as good at this dish, I'll wish I'd started eating them much sooner. It seems like Chef Bailey really has a way with raw fish, given how delicious his Arctic Char Tartare was, and now this. The thinly sliced scallop was dressed with (I think) a blood orange vinaigrette, and topped with tiny blood orange segments and a bit of frisee. The blood orange brought simultaneous sweetness and tartness, while the frisee cut in with the sort of freshness that only a green component can bring. The best facet of the dish, though, besides the silky texture of the scallop itself, was the contrast offered by the coarse salt and the pink peppercorns, as well as the subtle heat brought by the latter ingredient. It all just worked together perfectly.

Gnochi al Forno tomato sauce, pancetta, ricotta salata : While good, this was probably the weakest dish of the menu. The gnocchi were perfectly soft -- I can't recall having a better version -- but the sauce just wasn't quite complex enough to make me want to eat this again. It was nice and tangy, but it just grew slightly boring after a bit. The ricotta salata, however, was a great touch, as was the house cured pancetta. I think that simply adding more pancetta (I didn't really find the few small pieces present until I'd finished the gnocchi) would probably have brought this course up to the same level as the others.

Halibut roasted fennel, violet mustard (Fudged the wording on this one, can't quite remember it) : The violet mustard was what set this dish apart. And shockingly, the most flavorful component was the fennel, which was roasted exactly to that oxymoronic point so frequently referenced in vegetable-centric recipes: crisp-tender. The halibut was certainly good - moist within, nicely seared without, and paired well with what I think was a grapefruit vinaigrette/sauce - but I might have been just as happy with a big plate of that roasted fennel and the violet mustard.

Venison wild rice, cherries, roasted chestnuts, brussel sprout leaves, butternut squash puree : I'm undecided as to whether this was better than, or just equal to, the amazing first course. What made it so impressive was the level of synergy between all the components - it was far more than the sum of its parts. I'd never had venison before, so this was another first. Alone, the venison (cooked rare, so that it was perfectly tender) tasted like a purer form of beef. It was good, but not mind blowing. Similarly, the wild rice, with cherries and chestnuts was good, but not something I'd necessarily hunger for again (the wild rice with dates and hazelnuts, which Chef Bailey serves with his duck dish, seems head and shoulders above this rendition). But upon joining the rice and venison together, the dish reached perfection for me. The butternut squash puree was like a glue for these two components, not merely because of its texture, but also because of its earthy sweetness. And somehow, the light sprinkling of charred brussel leaves each had such a concentrated flavor of brussels that it felt like I could have been eating a mouthful of them, without the bother of taking up mouth-space or chewing time that was rightly devoted to the rice and venison. All together, it was just awesome.

Figgy Toffee Pudding candied walnuts, ice cream : Tiffany MacIsaac, Birch & Barley's pastry chef, wins at dessert (and bread, though that subject seems to have received enough attention lately). Between my last dinner and this one, I've tried a number of her offerings, and all have been good...but this one might just be the best. Leleboo described it well: the level of caramelization, and the subsequent depth of flavor, was what made it so awesome. It wasn't overly sweet, just warm, rich, and wrought with the kind of dark flavors that develop from long, slow cooking. Hitting the mission figs scattered throughout the column of cakey pudding meant a slight spike in sweetness, and a nice change of pace (both flavor and texture wise) that could have kept me interested well into a second or third helping. The candied walnuts offered some crunch, and the ice cream paired nicely with the pudding (though I'm blanking on the flavor), rounding out each bite.

Pictures - some of which are awfully dark thanks to the iPhone's stellar ability to capture images in low light:

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All day brunch begins today, and goes from 11:00 AM to 8:00 PM. It's listed on the brunch guide, but here's a link to the menu anyway.

Few things in life are more enjoyable than the Sausage, Egg and Cheese served on crème fraiche biscuit ($14). Based on the McDonald's classic, but 3 times larger and infinitely better. A folded french omelet instead of microwaved eggs, a five ounce patty of juicy, house-ground breakfast sausage instead of a one ounce hockey puck of mystery meat; and pepper jack instead of barely meltable Kraft singles style cheese, all on a house-made biscuit that's tender and insanely rich thanks to the crème fraiche in the batter.

Come, eat, and say hi. If there's a wait, just go upstairs and drink beer until you get a seat -- it'll be like emulating the college students (and plenty of others) who get drunk and turn to Steak 'n Egg and similar diner-like institutions at 4 in the morning for sustenance, except it'll be the middle of the day, with better beer than Natty Light, and awesome food.

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Few things in life are more enjoyable than the Sausage, Egg and Cheese served on crème fraiche biscuit ($14). Based on the McDonald's classic, but 3 times larger and infinitely better. A folded french omelet instead of microwaved eggs, a five ounce patty of juicy, house-ground breakfast sausage instead of a one ounce hockey puck of mystery meat; and pepper jack instead of barely meltable Kraft singles style cheese, all on a house-made biscuit that's tender and insanely rich thanks to the crème fraiche in the batter.

That sounds tasty. But, you got Egg McMuffins all wrong...

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I had a truly great meal at Birch & Barley tonight. I had the venison, which is now (or at least today was) accompanied by braised red cabbage, potato puree, and cipollini, not the wild rice GennaroE had. The venison was tender and paired very well with the sides. I'm not a big meat eater generally, but I gobbled all of this up, except for the slice I swapped for a taste of my friend's crispy wild striped bass, with baby fennel, artichoke, sunchoke, and olives, which was also delicious. We rounded out the main courses with maple glazed brussels sprouts, which were a good accompaniment to the venison, though they were a bit sweet (not surprisingly, I suppose). For a starter we shared the Arctic char tartare, which was nice and light and flavorful, and I loved the accompanying sesame crisps, though would have liked a few more to add more crunchy bites to the dish. Our server, Adam, was great. The highlight was when he swept in just before the char tartare was served with a small glass of a light beer because he realized that the dark beer (the Gouden Carolus, I think) he recommended for the venison would overwhelm the fish. Now that's service.

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