Restaurant week. The week where you gorge yourself on the special list of entrees set aside for one flat rate. In a way, reviewing a restaurant during restaurant week is cheating because you get to taste what they think is special and unique enough to serve for one week out of the year. Or whatever is cheap and easy to make in mass quantity. Classy.
Cass and I went on Saturday night with a reservation made to sit chef side. Reservations online were booked, but a few tables were set aside for people who bother to call. We had a chance to sit and watch the chefs work, and even chat it up with them a little. The proximity to the chefs tempered our conversation about our food.
After complimentary rolls (including soft pretzel rolls) and risotto balls, we started with two appetizers. Mine was a flat bread pizza with chorizo, pine nuts, onions and shrimp. I was very surprised how well chorizo and shrimp went with one another, although pine nuts go with everything. Still, the nuts gave the chorizo a very satisfying crunch that conjured ideas of mixing pine nut pieces into meatballs in the future. Cass had the panzanella with heirloom tomatoes, fried green tomatoes, whipped burrata and greens. A tangy vinaigrette really brought out the tartness of the oh-so-fresh and juicy tomatoes. One more fried green tomato would have been nice for this southern girl, but overall it was a good-sized and flavorful appetizer.
My entree choice was the brat burger, which was not beef but a mixture of pork and (if I remember correctly) lamb and veal, on a bed of sauerkraut and a soft bun with caramelized onion pieces on the top. The meat was drier than I expected, but sweet and enjoyable. Although a spread of a condiment could solve the moisture problem, the special choice of meat deserved a unique sauce. Cass ordered the braised lamb with bulgar wheat, favas and zucchini, after a brief discussion with the waitress and a chef about the taste of the lamb. The lamb could have used a touch more flavor and been a little more tender for Cass’ taste, but she admits that she is not a lamb connoisseur or even a huge fan of the meat.
The final touch for me was the bittersweet chocolate cake. What surprised me about the dessert was not the cake itself, which tasted of a chocolate graham crust, but the sorbet on the side. It was a bright red bulb which tasted sour over sweet, contrasting nicely with the overall sweetness of the cake. Cass ordered the cookies & confections plate with homemade takes on the Snickers bar, Hostess cupcake, cereal milk sorbet, and oatmeal cream pie. The cereal milk sorbet was an adults’ version of cookies & cream, with a liqueur taste in the ice cream and rich chocolate cookie crumbs sprinkled about. Cass declared the Snickers bar her favorite dish of the night- 2 by 2 inches of a chocoholic’s dream. The other two confections she saved to carry the indulgences on for another day. Still delicious hours later.
Birch & Barley and its upstairs companion Churchkey are known for their ever-changing beer list, but we chose to refrain from imbibing too much to save room for food. I did order the AK-47, a malt liquor from Elysian Brewing, and Cass ordered a taste of the Cerise, a tart beer fermented with cherries, by Founders Brewing Company. Our lack of drinking at dinner just gives us an excuse to pay Churchkey another visit.
This was our second time eating at Birch & Barley, the first time being brunch for Cass’ birthday last November. Cass preferred brunch over dinner (desserts aside), but should probably reserve the verdict for once we’ve dined at Birch & Barley for a non-Restaurant Week meal when the full menu is available.