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Bar Pilar, Cafe Saint-Ex Sibling on 14th and T Street in 14UP - Chef Jesse Miller and Sous Chef Justin Bittner


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Last night I stopped by the brand new somewhat Hemmingway-themed Bar Pilar on 14th St between S and T. The small space that used to be El Camino Real has been completely renovated and is now dominated by a huge and gorgeous antique bar, with a few east coast beers on tap (including the superb Clipper City Small Craft Warning Pils and Dogfish Head Indian Brown) and a full kitchen. I had the Tacos Pilar, which were more like a couple of small bias cut chimichangas, and they were a bit on the sweet side but very good. Service was spotty, which I think had more to do with the server than the kitchen or bar. About a dozen other bar food mexican type interpolations showed up on the menu along with side dishes like mac & cheese and tater tots. The great news is that, according to owner Mike Benson, the kitchen will be open from 6pm-1am daily.

In the meantime, related bar/restaurant Saint-Ex a few doors down has a new chef, Barton Seaver (disclosure: I DJ at Saint-Ex once a month, but I'm there more often just as a patron). The menu is a bit more fishy now (pescocentric?) and I had a house cured salmon, chevre, tomato, and greens sandwich which was generous with the salmon and tasty aside from the bland roll. It looks like they're narrowing down the scope of the menu while putting a bit more thought & prep into each of the remaining & new dishes. They've also added Coniston Bluebird on draft, to my knowledge the first place in the city to carry it.

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I have tentative plans to get drinks at Bar Pilar this week. Is any of the grub worth ordering?

There's guacamole on the menu, but will I like it if the guac served at Cafe Atlantico and Rosa Mexicano (hold the ventworm nuts, please) are used as a measuring stick?

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You will not like the guacamole. The Tacos Pilar are pretty ideal bar food, the tater tots are crunchy and good, the burger's decent. Haven't had the other things on the (limited) menu. The tap lineup is nice, but I think Saint-Ex's is better right now (the kolsch!).

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A friend and I had some beers at Bar Pilar last Monday, and man was it crowded! I'd advise getting there early. Decent taps, though. Haven't eaten there yet, but never having been too much for St. Ex's food, I'd probably head to Oohhs and Aahhs, Rice, or Ninth St. Ethiopian first. Or Ben's after?

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Is it a matter of style (chunky vs. smooth) or is Bar Pilar's just not good?

I really hope they have strong a/c!!

It just wasn't good when I tried it - nor were the homemade chips and salsa.

I was in there on Sunday and the AC was going but it was still a bit warm - if you can position yourselves at a table under one of the air registers it should be fine.

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Thanks for your honesty. My friend and I have switched venues and will either be at Palena (good a/c!) or Dino (I've only been there once and can't speak to their cooling abilities).

It's a shame 2 Amy's isn't metro-accessible. That fizzy red wine (chilled, of course) would hit the spot tonight.

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Oh, I certainly wasn't trying to steer you away! And if it's not to your liking there's always Cafe Saint-Ex a few doors down. Dino might be a little dicey as they've been pretty crowded and the bar is so few seats.

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Went to Pilar last night around 8, and as is to be expected, the place was effing crowded. Belly up to the bar, trying to eat with my elbows glued to my obliques... not fun. It got a little better later on as the happy hour crowd melted away.

Dinner was the lomo saltado. For those of you who enjoy your faux amis, this was an appropriately named dish -- the salt was overpowering. I was taking sips of my Viking beer after each bite just to chase the salt away. The whimsy of tater tots gave way to the necessity of some starch to dilute the overpowering sodium chloride. And I LOVE salt... when something is too salty for me, I worry about the normal people.

I have used or referred to salt in this post five times, making it my saltiest post but not near as salty as the lomo saltado at Bar Pilar.

Salt salt salt.

K

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I had a quick catch-up session with a friend at Bar Pilar last night. That's a darn good grilled cheese sandwich! I also enjoyed my brown ale (name is escaping me). The tomato soup didn't really hold my interest except as something to dunk my sandwich in. Yeah, it's bad manners. So what? :)

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I stopped in there for coffee and dessert prior to seeing the Raveonettes at the Black Cat a few months ago, and I had a fried banana that was pretty darn good. I concede that it's hard to screw up the frying of fruit, but I enjoyed it, and I appreciated that the bartender gave me coffee from their private stash. According to one of the servers, they don't offer coffee on the menu; they just keep some brewing in back to keep the staff caffeinated.

I just looked at their menu online, and I don't see the desserts on there. I hope they haven't done away with them!

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Well, I had an interesting evening at Bar Pilar tonight. They are about to revamp the menu but they WILL be keeping the hush puppies on the menu. Dinner seemed fine except for the poor service.

Literally, I mean "poor service" as in I felt sorry for the server. At first it was irritating how poor the service was but then it became abundantly clear why... a group of over thirty people had descended on the bar for a party without calling ahead... on Monday's they only have two people working, a bartender and a server, because it is generally s-l-o-w. So I mean the poor server, it was a lot for him to handle.

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Nope.
So, you might ask what makes people swoon over them? I wondered the same thing so I asked the chef... generally the tots you get at home are baked, these are deep fried. Just like french fries at restaurants like Corduroy and Iota taste better than fast food restaurants, something in the preparation makes them different. For one, they are not greasy. Second, the internal texture is very smooth compared to the external texture. Just my analysis based on what the chef said...

You have to ask for extra ketchup though... no bottles at Bar Pilar...

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something in the preparation makes them different. For one, they are not greasy.
Preparation might include harvesting said "tater-tots" from tater-tot bags (organic, naturally) that grow inside frozen Simplot- genesis-tuberpods in Canada, way up there. Every American eats 7 million tons of the damned things in their lifetime. Stacked end on end, that’s a tower 7 million tater tots high. That’s how J.R Simplot can afford to live on an iceranch above the Arctic Circle maintained by ice robots cloned from members of the Shackleton NIMROD expedition.

Then, the "tater tots" (presumably pre-cooked at a cooler 250 degrees -its colder up there) could be fried in the deep end of a fryer filled with canola or motor oil which is heated to a temperature of 350 degrees Fahrenheit/449.816649 Kelvin for 5 Magic Minutes (same as regular minutes) until the starch absorbs water thereupon exuding dissolved starch into the potato cell... granules...surface dries...pores...

...until they are golden brown and crispy on the outside! Leave ‘em in the hot oil overnight and they’ll be brown and crispy all the way through! Perhaps, they then dump them onto paper towels, possibly purchased as well, - maybe even from the same purveyor!?- which absorbs all the grease. The science is magic. :unsure:

Or vice versa. I forget.

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Preparation might include harvesting said "tater-tots" from tater-tot bags (organic, naturally) that grow inside frozen Simplot- genesis-tuberpods in Canada, way up there. Every American eats 7 million tons of the damned things in their lifetime. Stacked end on end, that’s a tower 7 million tater tots high. That’s how J.R Simplot can afford to live on an iceranch above the Arctic Circle maintained by ice robots cloned from members of the Shackleton NIMROD expedition.

Then, the "tater tots" (presumably pre-cooked at a cooler 250 degrees -its colder up there) could be fried in the deep end of a fryer filled with canola or motor oil which is heated to a temperature of 350 degrees Fahrenheit/449.816649 Kelvin for 5 Magic Minutes (same as regular minutes) until the starch absorbs water thereupon exuding dissolved starch into the potato cell... granules...surface dries...pores...

...until they are golden brown and crispy on the outside! Leave ‘em in the hot oil overnight and they’ll be brown and crispy all the way through! Perhaps, they then dump them onto paper towels, possibly purchased as well, - maybe even from the same purveyor!?- which absorbs all the grease. The science is magic. :unsure:

Or vice versa. I forget.

Poivrot, you're magically delicious. Sweet post.

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Highlights from a few recent meals: Roasted olives arrive hot and I have yet to leave a single one behind; greens of any kind - kale (cooked with pickled fennel) and collards were really flavorful; tender pork belly; and soft chorizo with white beans. The charcuterie and cheese plates (with changing selections) have been really nice also. Since there are only 10-15 things on the menu, it's easy if you have 3 or 4 people to try one of everything.

And the wines really are super cheap. Glasses are $4-$8.

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Highlights from a few recent meals: Roasted olives arrive hot and I have yet to leave a single one behind; greens of any kind - kale (cooked with pickled fennel) and collards were really flavorful; tender pork belly; and soft chorizo with white beans. The charcuterie and cheese plates (with changing selections) have been really nice also. Since there are only 10-15 things on the menu, it's easy if you have 3 or 4 people to try one of everything.

And the wines really are super cheap. Glasses are $4-$8.

We tried the new menu last night and it is good.

They have Cava sparking wine from Spain and its great. We were also pleased to see a Rose from the rarely found Cote de Thongue region. Anyone who knows where I can find any other bottles from this region, please PM me. We've been looking all over for it since trying it in Paris a couple years back and have only twice found it in DC - at City Zen and tonight at Bar Pilar. The mojito, however, was boring - I'd stick to wine here.

The pork and collards were a tasty piece of shoat leg, which was quite nice, though the greens, while quality produce, were slightly overdone and overspiced/vineagared. Chorizo n beans were white beans with delicious little chorizo links and a real highlight. Somehow the two really seemed to belong together. The dandlion green salad was great with super fresh greens, walnuts, and sweet peach bits. The rich dressing seemed to have a hint of bacon in it. The squid is a must for anyone who longs for squid without the batter. Fresh and firm - but not chewy - unsliced, with just a hint of garlic and oil these were a treat. They came with some sweet yellow tomatoes, which paired nicely.

The cheese plate was less exciting. It had a Wisconsin bleu which was potent, but the bleu was paired with something from Georgia and a "camary?" both of which tasted like slighly aged, but not at all sharp cheddar. Neither was very interesting and they were definitely too similar to be together on a plate of three cheeses.

Overall we were really pleased and will return soon. Oh, and dinner for two, with two drinks a piece, tax, and 20% tip was only $75. Hard to beat for the quality of the food.

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Stopped by there the other night before heading to the Black Cat. It was the first time I'd been since the menu change- I was impressed. They get the "small plates" format right, with a carefully assembled range of dishes at 4-12 bucks or so. Simple but well-thought out preparations, very fresh ingredients.

The roasted olives are just great. Can't resist 'em.

I had a delicous little slab of mahi mahi on a light eggplant puree, my friend had four perfect little squares of rare seared tuna.

I was impressed with the wine list too- it shows some real thought, an adventurous sensibility and an eye for value. I had a good minerally Picpoul de Pinet (can't remember the name! argh) and a solid "not-a-soave" Garganega by Anselmi, who kind of work outside the Soave regulations..we'll call them "super-Soaves" I guess. 6 and 8 bucks respectively.

So, one more diner applauding the changes they've made. I walked away very happy, with apparently way too much money left over for beers at the show.

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After being a member for over 4 months i think this might be my first post. I love checking this site out for reviewing restaurants and thought that I would take this opportunity to put my 0.02$ on what i think to be one of the best bargains in the city. Bar Pilar is delicious. i am not a picky person about service, i'm all about the food, but i find both to be well above average. I've been there twice now eating having tasted the following:

- Chorizo with beans - its a nice take on the traditional spanish dish with very tasty chorizo (which tastes, i might dare to say the same as the chorizo from jaleo - but they do a better job of it)

- Fried Potatoes in Olive Oil with alioli they were excellent, perfectly fried the first time, but the alioli was runny. The second time the potatoes weer still a bit hard, but the alioli was on point.

- Roasted olives - This is really good, it is what it is, good ingredients.

- I had a walu served over bok choi delicious. I love the way they prepare fish here, its so simple and it tastes like very fresh and thoughtful food, also had Seared tuna, mahi, basically any fish here tastes great to me

- Pork Belly with Kiwis in a habanero cilantro green sauce, really good stuff. It was nice to eat the mild spicy sauce paired with the halfed little kiwis, kind of the difference maker from the ever so trendy pork belly dishes every restaurant in DC does now.

Since the menu changes daily its hard to recomend dishes, but i just wanted to share a great experience i've had so far at Bar Pilar. Now, since i'm not posting with my real name i wanted to let everyone know that I worked at Jaleo for 3 years and have recently moved onto being a slave to my cubicle, so I do know Josh (the chef at Bar Pilar) and Bart (over at Saint Ex).

Cheers,

Manuel

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Man is this place cool. Had tapas with pops last night and we both left grinning.

White beans with Chorizo. Roasted Olives. Fresh sardines. Calamari. Walu. Picking your poison off a chalkboard new-every-day tapas menu is a treat. The food is simple, hearty and rustic, and it comes out quick and hot.

The beans were creamy, the chorizo was mild, and it was the best rendition of frank-and-beans I think I've ever had. Perhaps not saying too much, as previous incarnations were of the ballpark-and-bush's variety, but these easily separated themselves from such pedestrian fare. I found myself wanting to use my fingers as I corralled the last few beans onto my fork.

The roasted olives are simple and a wonderful snack. Unfortunately, my father is not much of an olive eater, and I ate the entire bowl. If I were to eat lunch elsewhere and wander over to Pilar for a soccer game, I might order the olives. Then, I'd order something else, but I'd start with the olives when I was still trying to convince myself that I really didn't need anything else.

The fresh sardines were the first I'd ever had. My father was excited at the prospect, recalling a dish he'd had in Portugal featuring flash-fried fresh sardines. These were entirely dissimilar. Two whole sardines were presented heads-on , roasted, or so I suspect. We filleted them cleanly and, aside from the occasional bone, threw them down. I'm a convert. The heavy, greasy, fishy taste that I associate with sardines was not entirely absent, but it was muted enough that I enjoyed the dish and would order it again.

"What are we missing?" I asked the waiter after rattling off four tapas. "The calamari", he replied. It came on a bed of watercress and I believe it was griddled. The presentation was unpretentious, coming in three large pieces. We hacked it up and, much like the sardines, threw it down.

Though the walu was good, it was my least favorite. It came rough-chopped with hunks of citrus, and too-few pieces of toast. I though the dish was under seasoned, and just didn't have the depth of flavor I was hoping for. I understand the desire to let such a rich fish stand on it's own, but I felt it was missing something... I'd like to see it with a little more heat in the dish, some sort of pepper.

We split some Italian pinot noir with dinner. "It's no Carneros" was my father's verdict. I agree.

All told, it was a wonderful meal, and for $87 (including tap, tip and wine) it was real bargain. Check it out.

Alex

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I wholeheartedly agree, alex. I find Pilar to be mui underrated, especially with the folks i know who frequented before the menu switch. i think that they think its less hipster now. (Tater tots are so hipster, you know what I mean? Gah.)

I end up going once a month or so, usually on Sunday nights, and while there are usually one or two small plates that I'm not as into, there's always something new to try as well as standards that I absolutely love, and I leave feeling very happy for not too many bucks. I had felt as though it had slid into mediocrity for a while, but for the past four or five months I've been consistently satisfied. Like eveyone else has mentioned, the menu always changes, but here are my favorites from the past and present:

* Chicken liver pate with crostini

* olive oil potatoes with pimeton aioli

* pork belly with kiwi berries (the. best. pork. belly. evah.) (I know, bold statement. but its so gooood)

* ribeye with lemon almond sauce

* my SO loves the chorizo and beans

I haven;t tried the olives yet but since everyone loves them so much, next time I'm there I'll give em a try.

Oh yeah, and I posted a full write-up of Bar Pilar on my blawg a bunch of weeks ago, so if you want more, check it out. www.eatdrinkdc.com

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I had a long leisurely brunch with friends today at Bar Pilar. Y'all the smoked trout 3 ways is amazing. One of the smoked trouts involved beets, another was traditional and the third had cinammon or some other spice. Each was better than the next. Ask for extra bread though as they give you enough trout for two to share but just two pieces of grilled toast. Oh yeah, the bloody mary was really nice too.

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Sampled some really nice flavors at Bar Pilar tonight. A friend and I caught up over two glasses of wine each, chorizo with white beans, creamy risotto with pecorino romano, mushrooms and those potatoes with rosemary, all for about $32 per person including tax and tip. Sweet!

Not much to add based on previous posts. The dishes we sampled were relatively simple ones done well. For happy hour, that's pretty much all I ask. And with the new smoking ban, Bar Pilar is pretty much perfect. We left able to breathe without our clothes and hair stinking. Love it.

I could have eaten multiple orders of pretty much everything but the mushrooms (which I liked, but overall mushrooms aren't my favorite). Even better, I saw several other dishes, including braised chicken with lentils, that grabbed my attention for next time.

Our server was really lovely. Pleasant and informative, and opinionated when we requested "either/or" help.

One thing: although Bar Pilar has put up curtains to shield customers from the cold, the front of the restaurant still gets cold each time new customers come in.

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Tonight I finally tried dessert at Bar Pilar. The $3 portion was enough for us to share, though one of them was so delicious we ended up getting another.

The line up tonight:

Roasted Olives

Homemade Riccota Cheese

Braised chicken with a preserved lemon & jalapeno relish

white beans & chorizo (which blew my New Orleans friend away)

Chard with almonds & ???

Chopped chicken liver (okay, its not called that but that is what it was and it was good)

Chocolate mint pot de creme

Cinnamon Apple with housemade granola (this we ordered a second)

As Bar Pilar has become one of my go to places, I have also had other extremely tasty dishes of which I have not reported:

Charchuterie (sp?) platter: I wish I knew more about this stuff (perhaps a class would be nice), but all of the meats were delicious.

Collard Greens w/ bacon: yummm.

It is nice to have a neighborhood place where great food can be had in a really fun setting. Even nicer is being able to explain to friends that produce is seasonal and local and the meats/fishes treated nicely until the end :lol: .

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yeah, the desserts have been really great lately. i've found that certain ones are a lot bettter lately than they used to be - especially the chocolate mint pot de creme, the apple cake, and the honey goat cheese cake. now i think most of the desserts are just as good as the savory dishes.

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Does anyone know who the new chef will be? I gather Chef Whigham is heading to Georgetown with Chef Seaver. The Post piece said there was sous at Saint Ex who was taking over, but made no mention of what would be happening here. I'd be sorry to see it change much, its been one of my go to spots for good reasonably priced meals of late.

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me too... i hit up Pilar about once a week

but Hook is going to have Heather Chittum on desserts, and she flat-out rocks.

so the good news is that Hook will probably be awesome. just not a neighborhood restaurant for me.

it will be interesting to see what happpens with Pilar...

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After a really enjoyable, inexpensive meal at Bar Pilar about two months ago, I was excited to return. Last night's meal fell flat. We ate at the bar and couldn't help but feel like most of the staff found our presence an intrusion; they seemed like they'd much rather talk to each other and eat.

We ordered risotto with rutabaga, chorizo with white beans and strip steak over greens. The risotto lacked any flavor at all. It was watery and went back to the kitchen after we each had about three bites. The bartender said he tasted the risotto previously, he said, and didn't like it either (I wish he had warned us, but understand why he did not). The steak was sweet. Yep, sweet. I don't know if the chef was going for caramelization or what, but the end result was a sugary sweet steak. The chorizo, not as good as it was on my last visit, was the best of a bad bunch.

Fortunately it was cheap. With the risotto off the bill and two glasses of wine each, the cost was about $54 pre-tip. Can't say I'll be racing back.

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Man, oh man -- went in last night for a little nosh and had the Chorizo and white beans... YUM. The beans were stewed to melting perfection and hinted at some kind of warming spice--a smoked paprika maybe? I dunno, but MAN it was good. The beet salad with marinated onions and blue cheese wasn't half bad either.

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Stopped in here for a bite and a brew before a Blackcat show on Sunday. The Clipper City Loose Cannon IPA was great on tap, but the Marlin that I had was painfully overcooked. Dried out and very very weak. Hopefully this is just an aberration, as I've had good meals here before.

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The good:

* Grilled bread with organic tomatoes and a light sprinkling of goat cheese. Delicious tomatoes, good bread.

* A nice-enough selection of wines by the glass.

The bad:

* A just OK chocolate "cake" that replaced a poorly heated dish (see below) which was, fortunately, complimentary.

The ugly:

* Everything else, particularly the service. It wasn't maliciously bad, like "I wish I didn't have to wait on you, tonight or ever." But it was neglectful, spacey and seriously slow. We sat for ten minutes without so much as a greeting or menu. Then our drinks (a glass of chenin blanc for my friend, and cava for me) took at least another ten.

Our server knew nothing about the cheeses. My friend asked for a rundown, trying to figure out a nice compliment to one cheese we knew we wanted to try, telling us that Pipe Dreams was blue (I let my blue-hating friend know that it's chevre). Our not-special cheeses were $4 each for a tiny cube although the condiments weren't bad.

The coup de grace was the merguez sausage. When I was finally able to cut through the tough casing, I realized that the outside was lukewarm; the inside, cool. Bleah. I tasted the lukewarm purple potato that accompanied the sausage, also cool, and sent it back.

After my last lackluster visit, I was OK going back albeit with reservations. Next time it is suggested as a venue, I'll pass unless it's drinks only. Bar Pilar isn't an expensive mistake, but that doesn't mean it's not a mistake.

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Stopped in here for a bite and a brew before a Blackcat show on Sunday. The Clipper City Loose Cannon IPA was great on tap, but the Marlin that I had was painfully overcooked. Dried out and very very weak. Hopefully this is just an aberration, as I've had good meals here before.

The Clipper City is still pouring very nicely here.

And the Orange Martinez is an awesome cocktail. Adam is doing tasty things here.

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Just went to Bar Pilar for the first time on Sunday, for brunch. And, have to say, it was delicious... in that, nice, local, inexpensive walk-in type of way. Which was just what I was looking for. The eggs benedict with homefries was a generous portion for $7, and the sausage biscuits and gravy, with a salad, was even better at $8. Also, the coffee was dark and strong, but not bitter, which is a serious plus in my book. But, to be honest, the best part was the Bacon Bloody Mary. Odd-sounding, I am sure, but absolutely delicious. Warm, crisp, greasy bacon in a spicy bloody mary. What a perfect start to a morning.

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Adam is doing brilliant things with his Tuesday night drink specials. They are Tuesday night only because of the preparation time for each one.

They are delicious exercises in complementary beverage flavors. If anyone is interested in some truly fun cocktails, get thee to Bar Pilar forthwith on Tuesday nights.

Oh, and try the pappardelle with Bolognese sauce. It's delicious.

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Are they still doing small plates. I used to love Bar Pilar when Josh and Bart were working there, but stopped ever since he left for hook. I have the urge to return

You are truly missing out! The small plates at Bar Pilar are cooked from the same stuff that dreams are made of.

Although I have not been there in months because of my geographical restriction, these are my all-time favorite dishes coming out of this establishment:

Potatoes

Sautéed Green Beans

Marcona Almonds

Sautéed Mushrooms

Baby Carrots

In addition, there always seems to be a beautiful crisp layer of skin to any fish that I’ve ever ordered there. Get the scallops too.

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Who is chef here now?
Yes they're still doing small plates. No idea who's the chef, but I went last night and the bone marrow was pretty tasty as were the potatoes. And I don't know if they house-cure the olives (seems unlikely), but I liked that they were warm and on the spicy side. P.S. Adam's Tuesday drinks are really exciting, despite not knowing exactly what half the things he put in were.
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