Birch and Barley
1337 14th St. NW
Washington, DC 20005
My birthday weekends usually turn into food weekends, and this past birthday weekend was no exception. Only hours after my parents’ plane landed in DC, I drug them down Wisconsin from their hotel to Sushi Ko. Friday night brought a stressful cab ride and an amazing meal at Rasika, where I drowned my transportation nerves in champagne cocktails spiked with candied ginger, fried spinach, and tandoori lamb so tender and flavorful that even my lamb-shy dad raved about it. Saturday was the highlight of the weekend and a meal that had been planned since October: Table 21 at VOLT.
All of these were wonderful, and I waved goodbye to my parents with a full stomach and a larger ass.
It was a great birthday weekend, but none of these meals were on my birthday.
This year, my birthday fell on that purgatory of all days, Sunday, and my parents were on a plane back to Little Rock that morning. Nevertheless, I still wanted to go out and do something for my birthday. What’s a girl who likes to eat to do? Why not … eat some more?
So I rounded up a small group of friends and decided to head to Birch and Barley. Chirchkey had fully impressed me with their beer list during my first and only visit, and the things I had heard about their food were mouth watering.
My friends and I were sat at a long rustic table lined with clear plastic modern chairs by a 10-foot window that covered nearly the entire front of the restaurant. The lighting was low, with a low buzz of conversation filtering through the large room and hovering around the bar.
Birch and Barley’s menu is broken down into 4 catagories: starters, flatbreads and pasta, mains, and sides. The options are small in number, but that didn’t mean I had an easy time choosing what to get. Per recommendation from our waiter, I started with the crispy fried duck egg, accompanied by pork belly, frisee, and quince. I ordered the dish based on the pork belly alone, which was succulent and brined in cider, but the egg was really the star, fried whole with a silky texture.
Lucky for me, I have other friends who love to eat, and one of them ordered the veal sausage flatbread topped with mushrooms, pecorino and parsley for the table. Also lucky for me, one side of the table decided not to try the pizza, which just left more for me. This could easily be a meal, and was really, really good, with a chewy crust and flavorful, fresh ingredients.
Unlucky for me was my main dish choice, the braised pork cheeks with white grits, parsnip, and pearl onions. Usually pork cheeks are deeply flavorful, but these were just bland and watery. The grits likewise lacked flavor, and the whole dish needed a good hit of salt and pepper. Again unlucky, none was to be found on our table.
My friends, however, favored better with their dishes. The hand rolled gnocchi with braised lamb neck was rich and flavorful, although I would not recommend it unless you really like lamb. Both of my friends who ordered the pasta also ordered the maple-glazed brussel sprouts, easily some of the best I have tasted, and they said that mixing the sprouts in with the lamb helped to cut the strong flavor and richness of the pasta. Another friend ordered the brat burger, something I must come back and order all for myself, and others tried the venison (did not get a chance to try) and the duck breast. Everyone else raved about their meals, I think I just ordered the wrong thing. Nevertheless, I would happily go back to try everything else.
Dessert was a real treat and both of our dishes were very imaginative, and very good. My dessert, the french toast, was brought out with a birthday candle and was free of charge.
Birch and Barley was one of the best birthday meals I have had in a long time, even given the weak pork cheeks I ordered. Good friends, good beer, and good food that we all shared, it was like a family meal around the family table.