Saturday, September 03, 2011

birch and barley {insert witty play-on-words here; I'm still too full}

A friend recently asked me, "Hey, where's Gennaro? He never posts on our food forum anymore." Well, true, and when I saw him recently for drinks, I good-naturedly teased him about it. But he has a very good reason: he's moved up to working the line at Birch and Barley, and he is there pretty much every single day. Doesn't leave a lot of time for cooking at home, or dining out, I imagine!

I took two work colleagues there a couple of weeks ago (one of the rare occasions Gennaro wasn't working, in fact), and had a fantastic meal. And I'd already planned to return last night with Ed, who used to live a block away before moving out of town -- and who was part of our foursome when Gennaro and I went to Vidalia 24 last year -- so we were both really looking forward to a great night out, with the remote hope we'd get to see our friend in action.

I'd actually texted Gennaro earlier in the day, and he told me they'd moved the skirt steak to the main menu (from the tasting menu, I think), and he recommended the pastas, as usual. Our server, Eli, remembered me from a few weeks ago, and confirmed that the steak was new to the menu but not much else had changed. We decided to go with the following courses:

Half Fig & Prosciutto Flatbread Gorgonzola Cremificato & Caramelized Onions: this has been on the menu since they opened, I think, and given that it's one of my favorite flatbread/pizza topping combos ever, I almost always order it. A great starter, creamy/salty/sweet/chewy all in one.

Panzanella Salad Heirloom Tomatoes, Grilled Baguette, Whipped Burrata, Groundcherries: the burrata here is almost like an airy cheese mousse, and there's a great interplay of textures here as well. This dish relies on the freshness of the ingredients, and last night's were excellent.

Melon & Cucumber Salad Almonds, Herbs: from the "Sides" portion of the menu, this is another dish that is all about showcasing freshness. The cantaloupe in particular was excellent, which made the salad come together. Really refreshing and light.

Then, a surprise: We were treated to tasting portions of both pastas currently on the menu (remember I said Gennaro recommended them...) Well, as I've said elsewhere on this board, I rarely order pasta out, but Kyle and his team are turning out pastas more than worth ordering. In fact, I'm not sure i have superlatives enough to describe them:
  • Hand-Cut Tagliatelle Roasted Kabocha Squash, Okra, Fried Squash Blossom, Bottarga: one bite of this will remind you why fresh pasta is so outrageously good. Silky squash, tiny rounds of crisp-tender okra, and fried squash blossom on top for crunch and beauty.
  • Ricotta Cavatelli Roasted Chicken, Heirloom Tomato Puree, Housemade Mozzarella: I think this was slightly different than on the online menu (braised chicken, breadcrumbs, and crunchy chicken skin), but this may have been the dish of the night. Outrageously rich, these cavatelli are more like gnudi, the sauce deeply flavorful and comforting.

Not that we even needed main courses by this point, necessarily, but oh well!

Honey Glazed Duck Breast Leg Confit, Wild Rice, Brandied Cherries, Radishes: I've probably mentioned before that I'm a sucker for duck, and Eli recommended it. I concur -- this was some perfectly cooked medium-rare duck breast, but the star may be the confit, which is air-dried and then crisped up. I love wild rice as well; sauteed greens (radish greens?) along with the radishes gave this some nice bitterness to offset the richness of the duck.

Skirt Steak (description isn't online) with whipped potatoes, zucchini: arriving a perfect medium rare, this looked gorgeous and apparently tasted it, too. Yes, I could have snagged a bite, but I restrained myself and let my friend enjoy his steak without having to parry an incoming fork.

(Yes, Ed tried several beers over the course of the night, but I don't remember which, so I can't comment here.)

We were absolutely stuffed at this point, but we managed to share the Tasting of house-spun sorbets buttermilk, plum-yuzu, nectarine-ginger, apricot, exotic spice (you do what you have to!). I love yuzu and it pairs so nicely with plum that this was a stand-out to me, but I would also eat a giant dish of the buttermilk, which is tart and tangy and creamy and somehow both light and decadent at the end of a big meal. The ginger flavor is also one I love, as it's not supremely sweet but retains that great ginger spiciness and kick. This was a wonderful way to end the night.

As one would expect, the restaurant was hopping last night, and Eli apologized at one point for the lag between courses, which didn't bother us since we were having a good time regardless. The staff was so gracious and friendly and seemed to have things running smoothly; I think this is one area where B&B has gotten dinged occasionally, but perhaps they had the A team on last night, or perhaps they're just gelling more as a team. (Oh, and Greg had on a spankin' tie.)

I ran back to the kitchen before leaving just to see if I could catch Gennaro and wave, although I expected he'd be busy. Chef pulled him off the line for a minute which was really nice, just so that I could tell him how awesome it was, and to make sure he shared that with Kyle and the rest of the kitchen. It was truly a wonderful meal and a wonderful experience, and again to repeat myself, if I lived closer, I'd be here even more.

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