When I think of innovative and modern cuisine, neither wood nor grain comes to mind. But under head chef Kyle Bailey, Birch and Barley offers groundbreaking, delicious food. Birch and Barley opened in 2009 to rave reviews from major publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Food & Wine Magazine. Located in Logan Circle, the restaurant offers a stylish, friendly and unique atmosphere that pairs perfectly with its new-American cuisine. When I first walked in, I momentarily thought that I had somehow apparated to Hogwarts due to the appearance of lights floating throughout the dining room. Once I realized how ridiculous of a thought that was (you can’t apparate into Hogwarts, duh), I realized just how cool this restaurant was. A warm, welcoming ambiance fills the restaurant because of the dimly lit lights suspended from the ceiling via fishing wire throughout the entire building.
When we got our menus, I became a little worried. There were three sections: starters, pasta, and flatbreads and entrees, each with no more than six options. This initial concern quickly passed, though, as I began to examine the contents of this menu. Everything looked delectable. Our server brought over some of their complimentary artisan bread and began explaining the menu in more detail. Unfortunately, I was too busy sampling the bread offerings in front of me to listen to what he was saying. Never before had I seen such an interesting variety on a pre-meal bread plate. This breadboard had three different options, each unique and delicious. I began with the pretzel bread paired with grainy homemade mustard. Next were tender and flaky biscuits, and last the house-made, grain-filled wheat bread.
After much deliberation, I ended up ordering a seared skate wing; for those wondering what skate is, it’s a stingray. After finishing off our second breadboard in about five minutes, I decided to take a look around the space. The entire restaurant consists solely of the dining room and visible kitchen. I personally love getting the opportunity to watch my food being prepared, so this was a feature I really enjoyed. I tend to be a bit judgmental about restaurants when it comes to the bathrooms — nice, clean bathrooms tend to indicate a great restaurant, while dirty bathrooms usually point to a subpar establishment. I was more than glad to find that the bathrooms at Birch and Barley were not only nice and clean but also had some pretty hip and modern decor, which fits well with the general theme of the restaurant.
As our meal arrived, I immediately began trying to figure out whose dish I wanted to sample first. I’ve always had the attitude that, when dining out in a group, food is pretty communal. Skate, it turns out, is a lot like a slightly firmer grouper and doesn’t have too strong of a flavor. Served with pumpkin, chestnuts, dandelion greens and ricotta, it felt like I was eating an ideal fall evening. Other dishes included honey-glazed duck breast, braised goat pasta with yogurt curry and pan-seared scallops. All three were delicious, but the duck was the most notable. Served with wild rice and brandied cherries, the meat was juicy and sweet, while still full of ducky flavor. We also tried of the sides: truffled herb mac & cheese and maple-glazed Brussels sprouts. The mac & cheese was creamy and savory, while the Brussels sprouts were partially caramelized and easily one of the best dishes I’ve had at any restaurant.
Birch and Barley was a grand slam: everything we got was incredible, each offering an interesting take on common cuisine. This restaurant comes with the most glowing recommendation. The only reason I’m giving it four instead of five stars: I can’t enjoy the immense variety of 555 artisanal beers for a few more years.