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

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Shortly after moving here in 2007, I got together for dinner with my highschool "little sister" (who actually also went to the same college I did, so we'd stayed in contact). Since then, she and I have pretty much failed to get together, until we ran into each other on the Metro recently and vowed to make it happen. We hit upon Birch and Barley's new all-day brunch -- breakfast food! without having to wait an hour and a half at noon on a Sunday! -- and planned it for an early evening tonight.

I have to acknowledge what I thought was a really nice move when the restaurant called to confirm my reservation yesterday. The hostess said, "I also want to be sure you know that Sundays, we are serving brunch all day, and not our usual dinner menu." This is a lovely customer-service touch; particularly for those who book through OpenTable.com, there is no sign that the usual dinner menu isn't available on Sundays. While it turns out that they have started offering a supplemental menu of a few dinner items, starting around 5 in the afternoon, the main point of the day is still the brunch food, and I thought it was really nice that they made sure no one was going to show up and be disappointed.

(Before I review the food, I want to give full disclosure: GennaroE finished his shift right as we were getting started, so he joined us, and as such we were given a bunch of extras (side of bacon, sausage, and extra hash browns); and despite protestations, the restaurant insisted on applying the employee discount to the entire bill. We tipped on the pre-discount bill and then some.)

I am a huge omelette fan, so I had to get the Birch and Barley version. It came with nicely dressed arugula in a mustardy classic vinaigrette, and the hash browns, which were little patties flecked with herbs and not too greasy at all. The omelette, however, was the true star--a classic French rolled omelette, fluffy and light, with the egg not at all browned or hardened on the outside. It was deftly filled (and not overstuffed) with roasted mushrooms, caramelized onions, and Gouda; the earthy, nutty flavors complimented each other, but did not overwhelm the delicate eggs. I fell in love with omelettes living in Paris (I think I ate a simple omelette fromage avec salade mixte just about every day for lunch there), and I have rarely had one that so evoked the simplicity, and yet utter perfection (in my view), of that meal.

I tasted the lemon-poppy doughnut, which was soaked in lemon syrup and more like a beignet, warm and pillowy, and the sticky bun, which I could swear had whiskey in the sauce. I'm not a big sweets person, but both of these were excellent, and either of them would work well as dessert (which is what we did with the sticky bun) if you are not of a mind -- or sweet tooth -- to start your meal with a sugar rush.

By 5:15 they were out of the "brunch punch," which was kind of a bummer. I'll have to get back and try that, but I'm hoping it will have rye in it as it says on the online menu; now the in-house menu says it's made with bourbon. ;)

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My husband and I had a late dinner here on Saturday night. One of the things I love, in a perverse way, is by-passing the hoards of youngsters lined up in the cold outside the door waiting to get into Churchkey. If you have a reservation, you go right up to the bouncer and he checks your name on a clipboard and lets you in. There's nothing like getting past the imaginary red velvet ropes as if you were the elite going to some swanky club.

This was our second time dining at Birch and Barley and both visits have been wonderful. The bread board is terrific all by itself -- warm pretzel rools, calamata rolls, and something like raisin pecan bread, all fresh, soft and toasty warm from the oven, and served with soft butter and mustard for the pretzel rolls.

I had to start with the crispy duck egg with frisee and pork belly as an appetizer. It sounded so intringuing -- they take a soft boiled duck egg, and after removing the shell, they roll it in fine bread crumbs and deep fry it. The concept was great, but unfortunately, the yolk was a little too firm and didn't run over the frisee when the egg was broken into. The pork belly (3 nice pieces) was wonderful. My husband had the arctic char tartare, which was very good also. It was seasoned with an asian style dressing -- probably soy sauce, a little sesame oil, ginger. The main courses were port glazed fig flatbread with gorgonzola cheese and cavatelli with lambs neck. Both were delicious. The first time we ate there, we had the brat burger, which was so outstanding that it was difficult not to order it again. Everything we have tried so far has been very well prepared; all the textures, flavors, and seasonings have been perfect. We have been very impressed by the high quality and value of the menu. The wine list, somewhat surprisingly, given the focus on beer, also offers some good choices. We had a 2005 Nuits St. Georges from Michel Gros that seemed very reasonably priced.

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I had the chance to go to both Againn and Birch and Barley in the past few weeks, and it was an interesting comparison. You can see my comments on Againn in its listing, but I left Birch and Barley wanting to go back (while I don't see myself going back to Againn until maybe next winter, if I am looking to fill up on some hearty food). I thought beer-wise, Birch and Barley wins hands down (it really isn't fair to compare). If you are a beer lover, I say try and avoid the crowds and go off hours for an great, wide selection. I like that they do half portions as I can't drink as much as I used to, but I liked being able to try different things. The waitress was very knowledgeable and it made for a fun evening of trying new beers.

Food wise I look forward to coming back to B&B and I do hope that they do add some more spring items to the menu, as it was a hearty meal. We liked the flat breads (and they brought a complimentary one which was a nice touch- I am not sure if it was because of a delay or what). I had the braised pork cheeks and they were great. I couldn't finish, but was very happy to eat the leftovers the next day. A friend had the venison, which I found to be well seasoned and I would order it again for sure. I didn't taste it, but a friend has the bass and she did not seem to like it as much. Another friend had the burger and I wish I could have had a taste, as he seemed to enjoy it. I would be curious to try it next time, though I have the luck of having Rays the Classics near where I live, so I usually go there when I desire a burger. We ordered the brussels sprouts at both Againn and Birch and Barley and I thought B&B's were more subtle and interesting. Againn's were so rich, I only could eat a few bites. I guess what I would say I found interesting in comparing the two restaurants came down to subtlety in flavors. I found B&B did a better job there, while Againn was hearty without a break in the heaviness.

Like Againn, we didn't make it to dessert, I honestly don't know how anyone does after eating all the rich food. I hope both restaurants add some lighter items to the menus. While not everyone is a vegetarian, it would have been nice to have some choices (neither restaurant had one on the entree menu). I would also note that both restaurants had oysters and my husband and friend ordered them at both restaurants, but I don't know if either stood out as fantastic compared to the other.

So in the end, advantage Birch and Barley for more subtle flavors and great beers. Both had nice atmospheres, but I think B&B was more funky and comfortable, while Againn's was going for the more clubby downtown venue.

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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.

We had a similar experience with Adam. He is a wonderful, thoughtful and articulate server. ( Of course it did not hurt that Gennaro was working that night, too). Order the Pan Roasted Skate in Parmesan Broth with grilled radicchio and Yukon Gold potatoes. I love skate and this one was cooked perfectly -- and the broth was fabulous. We asked for spoons so that we could finish it. Very umami -- deeply flavored with ham hock and parmesan. The Striped Bass with baby fennel, artichoke and olive was good but the skate was excellent. Someone mentioned that the Crispy Duck Egg appetizer was not runny enough to season the frisee. It is now.

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Went to B&B last night with 4 girlfriends and am really looking forward to going back (especially to check out brunch). The bread board is as awesome as everyone has said. I love when restaurants serve warm bread with soft, spreadable butter, but getting three different kinds of fresh-baked bread (kalamata roll, fruit bread and pretzel with mustard) was great. All three were delicious and I'd have a hard time choosing my favorite.

I got the Brät Burger (Beer-Braised Sauerkraut, Emmenthaler, Fries - $16) and for the most part really enjoyed it. It's definitely more of a brat than a burger (just a brat in patty form), and even though I'm not a huge kraut fan, I thought it all went well together. The biggest problem was that the second half of my burger the bottom bun was so soggy that it was somewhat difficult to eat. It's served with some really tasty boardwalk-type fries and little ramekins of ketchup, mayo and a nice, grainy mustard.

One friend had the Port-Glazed Figs Flatbread (Gorgonzola Cremificato & Prosciutto - $14) which came highly recommended by our waitress. The small bite I had had a very nice contrast of sweetness from the figs with the saltiness of the prosciutto and gorgonzola. I'd definitely be tempted to order this on my next visit. Two friends got the half order of Tagliatelle (Mussels, Clams, Seafood Sausage, Lemongrass - $12) and both said they were glad they didn't order the full portion as the half was plenty of food. It seemed to be a lot more pasta than seafood, with not a lot of sauce, but they both enjoyed it. The last had Hand Rolled Ricotta Cavatelli (Braised Lamb Neck, Manchego - $14) and hers was fairly large for a half order as well. This was much richer and more dense than the seafood pasta.

For dessert we were all full, but really wanted to try something, so we split the French toast (oatmeal ice cream, caramelized banana, bacon caramel - $9.50). This was delicious. A good-sized chunk of french toast nicely toasted on all sides and the oatmeal ice cream was amazing. It also comes with some granola-type chunks scattered around. I really didn't taste much bacon in the caramel, but the dessert still worked well as a whole. I'm looking forward to trying the peanut butter and chocolate torte and the plate of confections that has a homemade Hostess cupcake, oatmeal cream pie, pudding pop, etc. So fun!

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Last night had dinner with the +1 at Birch and Barley prior to checking out the Terra Cotta Warriors exhibit. Since the reservation was for 5:30 we had to wait a bit as I assumed they were wrapping up their staff meeting which was fine. Upon being seated our very gracious waiter (who I can't for the life of me remember his name...I am notoriously bad with names) walked us through the new additions to the menu and draft list.

We started with a half order of the risotto (with shrimp and andouille) and the crispy duck egg salad. The portion of the risotto was a really large size for a half portion and I can't imagine how large the "full" size portion is, non-the less, it was delicious and in my mind a definite improvement over the beet and goat cheese risotto that I had previously. The crispy duck egg was perfectly done, spilling out its lovely yellow yolk when cut in half, providing great contrast to the vinegary dressing covering the greens. She started out with the Gruut (sp?) a very light Allagash like beer while I jumped in with the Troegs Nugget Nectar on cask (delicious, and a great comparison to the bottles I have in my fridge).

For mains the +1 had the brat burger and was thrilled with both the burger and the accompanying crisp fries. I had the braised pork cheeks over grits which I was very pleased with. However, the highlight of the meal came when Greg stopped by as I had wondered if they still had any of the Rye ale that Don had mentioned above. While they were sadly out of that, he came back with 3 4oz pours of the various single hopped Mikkelers that were on draft. Walking me through the differences and listening to how I thought they tasted, it was clear Greg is deserving of all the accolades he has been receiving of late. Jen had a lager from a tiny brewery in an 800 person town in Germany (re-read that...I'm pretty sure absent heading to Germany, the chances I ever taste that beer again are minuscule. Just another reason why we're lucky to have this place).

Even though we were filled to bursting at this point we marched on with the desert sampler. They do an incredible job with their deserts and I would strongly urge that when you go, ignore the pleas of your stomach to stop and order them. While I probably would've been fine with coffee, I couldn't resist pairing the Sierra Nevada Fritz and Ken's with desert and I was not disappointed.

All in all it was a great meal at Birch & Barley. I am really looking forward to diving into their brunch in the near future.

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Don't let anyone tell you that fresh Blue Point oysters on the half shell with a minced green apple mignonette does not work, because indeed it does. Well.

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Don't let anyone tell you that fresh Blue Point oysters on the half shell with a minced green apple mignonette does not work, because indeed it does. Well.

So true. We were sent two of these as an amuse and I sincerely hoped Gennaro didn't want his because mine was so good. (Alas, he liked his. Frak.)

The meal was the second part of a sort of progressive bar dinner so I won't mention everything we tasted, but I just have to say that the gnocchi with ramps, housemade rabbit sausage, and ricotta salata, was out of this world. (Thanks go to the kitchen on this one, as we got a pasta sampler off-menu; if I can give any notes, I recommend putting this gnocchi/tagliatelle/cavatelli sampler ON the menu, as people will order it, and not only is it very good, but its presentation is just adorable.) The gnocchi were so light that it was hard to believe they were real; the rabbit sausage was full of flavor without being in the least gamy or stringy; and while neither of us saw what we thought was an identifiable ramp, the gently onion flavor (almost Thai in nature; did lemongrass work its way in, as odd as that may sound?) was so outstanding with the meaty rabbit that it didn't matter where the ramps were hidden.

I spoke briefly with Chef Bailey and Pastry Chef Macisaac at the end of the night. I rarely swoon over dessert but I do over Tiffany Macisaac's, precisely because they don't hit you with a wallop of sugar; I like desserts (when I even bother to eat them) that err on the side of unsweet, and hers are all about the flavors and not the teeth-gratingly saccharine. Chef Bailey is working his butt off over there, and I have to say, more power to him. The food at Birch and Barley is nothing like I thought it would be when I first heard about the place opening, and if the food at Churchkey upstairs (which I've yet to sample) is, as reported, too low-end bar food for the excellent beer list, then suffice it to say that it's vastly outclassed by the finesse of the food in the restaurant on the first floor.

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The meal was the second part of a sort of progressive bar dinner so I won't mention everything we tasted, but I just have to say that the gnocchi with ramps, housemade rabbit sausage, and ricotta salata, was out of this world.

That gnocchi was, without a doubt, the star dish of the night. I recently had a take on braised rabbit (a fantastic bowl of cavatelli at Radius), and the contrast between that and Chef Bailey's use of rabbit sausage was really interesting. Grinding the rabbit and forming it into sausage, undoubtedly with heavy use of herbs and other seasoning, concentrated its flavor, as opposed to the dish at Radius, which was delicious, but also focused more on exploiting the tender texture of the rabbit: that beautiful, fall apart quality that this meat takes on after a good, long braise. The use of sausage made sense given the tenderness of the gnocchi; it brought variation in texture texture to a dish that otherwise would have been all pillowy and soft. The ricotta salata (made in house), and the ramps, completed the addictive flavor profile, and set it apart as a real Spring dish. I wish I was eating another bowl of it right now, despite being stuffed.

While the Tagliatelle was less than stellar for me, the Cavatelli was extremely impressive. The Cavatelli themselves, almost as tender as gnocchi (no doubt thanks to the ricotta that they are composed of) coupled with rich, braised lamb, while not quite so Spring-like as the rabbit gnocchi, really rounded out the pasta tasting as a whole with its rich, comforting qualities.

Of the food we actually ordered, most every dish was completely successful: the crispy duck egg over pancetta, frisee, and asparagus was lovely (and wonderfully messy: the yoke was so runny that as we cut into the egg, it erupted from the plate); the new risotto, packed with chorizo, shrimp, and parmesan, then balanced with toasted garlic, the sweetness of a balsamic vinegar reduction, and the acidity of chorizo vinaigrette was great; and the new side - sugar snap peas with almonds and preserved lemon - screamed Spring, combining almonds, almond oil, lemon juice, preserved lemon, and butter to form a tight glaze on a bunch of perfectly cooked (not at all mushy) sugar snap peas.

And of course, dessert (along with Tiffany's other direct contribution to the meal, the oft praised bread board) was fantastic. We opted for the peanut butter chocolate tart, a creation that ingeniously exploits the traditional combination of savory peanut butter and sweet chocolate, balancing the two components expertly to avoid oversaltiness as well as an equally dangerous threat: too much sweetness. Tacking on a mini vanilla whiskey milkshake and a sorbet for good measure only elevated this dessert further.

Beers were also great, and thanks to Kevin, the tender, most of these courses were paired perfectly with suitable brews. The most successful of these was the match up of a dark, smoky beer with dessert, a combination that totally blew my mind.

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Brunch at Birch & Barley today was terrific. I was lured in by word of maple-bacon doughnuts, but everything that followed was worth the visit too.

Generally speaking, I don't seek out lemon flavors with food, and never understood the appeal of poppy seeds (although I eat them). Imagine my surprise when I loved the lemon-poppy seed doughnut almost as much as the maple-bacon one. The small dark chocolate dipped doughnut was nice, but dull in comparison to the other two.

My friend devoured her Croque Madame. For my main, I had the terrific sausage and egg sandwich on a creme fraiche biscuit. Along with the sandwich came two delicious little hash browns and a generous side salad. I couldn't finish it all - largely because I ate more than my share of the doughnuts.

With tip, the bill for two was $42 and we left stuffed.

I'm looking forward to returning, either for another brunch or to try dinner.

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Fantastic meal last night at Birch and Barley, highlighted by the gnocchi (which I believe is currently a different preparation than has previously been mentioned here; I'm a bit sketchy on the details from last night) and some outstanding desserts - after finishing the tasting menu, we might have ordered more desserts, just because we could. The goat's milk cheesecake with cherry pepper sorbet was just fantastic, and the carrot spice cake with a passion fruit sorbet worked far, far better than I thought it would.

Overall, it was one of the most enjoyable meals I've had in a long time, and I'm anxious for a return trip.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I did drink for free, but it was unexpected, and had no bearing on my opinion of the food)

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highlighted by the gnocchi (which I believe is currently a different preparation than has previously been mentioned here; I'm a bit sketchy on the details from last night)

Braised veal breast?

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Does anyone have brunch recs for B&B?

Not since this post ... but I have heard more about enhancements to the brunch menu so I hope more people will weigh in.

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Braised veal breast?

With the gnocchi? Don't believe so; I think I'd remember veal.

Tasting menu was, for the record:

-Ahi tuna tartare

-Gnocchi

-Crispy sea bass

-Lamb over bulgur wheat

-Carrot spice cake

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Not since this post ... but I have heard more about enhancements to the brunch menu so I hope more people will weigh in.

So do I. We made brunch reservations for late July.

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With the gnocchi? Don't believe so; I think I'd remember veal.

Probably yellow tomato + coriander sauce, with some pancetta in there as well.

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Probably yellow tomato + coriander sauce, with some pancetta in there as well.

Exactly what it was. Thanks for jogging my alcohol-ravaged memory.

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While I was in town a couple of weeks ago, I made reservations at B&B for my project team - we were delivering a big presentation to the muckety-mucks, and we needed an appropriate place to celebrate when it was all over. The bottom line: the food and beer were outstanding, but there were customer service issues throughout the experience that made it unlikely for me to return (which isn't any big skin of their noses, since I live in Atlanta, but still).

The first pair of issues that irritated me were 1) that I had to plunk my credit card down to make a reservation (we were a party of 7-8), and 2) that even though I did plunk my credit card down to make the reservation, we were not allowed to be seated until everyone was present. Half of our party arrived before the others (but only by about 5-10 minutes), and we had to stand awkwardly at the (small) host area - which, consequently, was right in front of the table they had clearly set up for us - until everyone filed in. Just seemed a little wonky to me.

Like I said, food and beer were awesome - the duck egg appetizer was really nice, the bread plate was great (those pretzels in the mustard are just ridiculous, and I even liked the Kalamata olive bread more than I thought I would), the skate was perfectly cooked and had wonderful flavor, and the cookie/candy plate was very cute and tasty. Others ordered and raved about the risotto, the pastas, and the brat burger. I don't think there was a dish that was less than delicious. The kitchen definitely impressed me!

It's just a shame that we had more service issues to distract us from the wonderful food. Here are the basics: before ordering anything, we request separate checks. Server says "Not a problem, and hey, thanks so much for being courteous and asking beforehand." We proceed to enjoy a lot of food and beverages. Restaurant gets busier and server disappears for long stretches. Server reappears only to tell me that he can't do separate checks after all because he's too busy with his other tables, and then he runs away before I can even get a response out. I go to the host stand and ask to speak to a manager; I explain that we had been told that separate checks would be no problem. Manager's response: "Well, we have a policy not to do separate checks on large tables." I responded that I was unaware of that (unwritten, as far as I could tell on the menu) policy, and that the server had agreed to do it for us. Manager's response: "Well, I don't know why he would have said that." I responded that WHY he said it was largely irrelevant - he said it, and then he took it back at the last possible minute. She said she'd see what she could do, and a LONG while later, we got separate checks...that were all incorrect. We decided to just work it out amongst ourselves, but once we collected everyone's payments, we had to wait and eventually flag down another manager to run the cards. Again, we waited a LONG time - so long, in fact, that I believe the beer sommelier came over and asked what was going on - and then HE had to go flag down the cards. We finally got everything squared away, and nearly three and a half hours after our 6:30 reservation, we were leaving.

If the server had told us up front that separate checks wouldn't be feasible, or if the manager had responded to my concerns in a non-argumentative manner, I think we would have left B&B with a much more favorable impression. The way things were handled, our group felt like the money we spent there just wasn't appreciated - like they were doing us a favor by letting us eat there.

Again, I want to emphasize that the food was incredible - I just hope that others experience service that allows the dishes to shine.

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Why would either of the reservation issues be odd to you? With a party that size, a no-show screws the server (and to a lesser degree, the restaurant). Additionally, if you lied about your party size (which happens a lot - I can't tell you the number of times I've had two people come in and ask for four or six seats because "the rest of their party is running a bit behind" only to quickly jump right in to start the meal and assume the others are gone), money is lost again because the table is underseated. Having a credit card on file is irrelevant - you really can't charge a no-show fee for a party that did arrive.

It doesn't explain or excuse any of the issues you had DURING the meal, but I can completely understand why the restaurant did what they did at the start.

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No, I totally understand the economics of no-shows and cancellations and incomplete parties - I worked as a server and a restaurant manager for many years - but call me crazy, some of these policies just don't sit right with me (and it really can't be JUST me). I would never just not show up for a reservation or lie about my party size, but I suppose the bad apples ruin things for the rest of us. Birch & Barley was the first restaurant in a LONG time to exercise both the credit card AND the incomplete party seating policies, so they got under my skin - perhaps unfairly.

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