By Logan Hollers
There are really only two problems with the new Beast Feast dinners being offered by Chef Bailey and the kitchen crew.
The first is that the menu is offered only with advance reservations, and only on Tuesday through Thursday nights (though Chef Bailey did concede that nothing’s really off the table in the right circumstances). The second is that, as delicious as *every *single *thing that hits the table is, you’re probably not going to be able to finish.
When these are the two things you have to worry about, you know you’re doing ok.
But seriously, bring some friends. The Beast Feasts, priced at $95 per person regardless of group size, are perfect for 6-8 people (everyone will likely take home leftovers – not a bad thing). The idea for a meal centered around whole animal cooking originally started when Chef Bailey roasted a whole suckling pig; the kitchen loved it, and wanted to keep the idea going.
Now, the focus is on highlighting the nose to tail ethos espoused by Chef Bailey and his crew. Each group’s experience is unique, with their specific menu highlighting the best of what Birch & Barley’s producers brought in that week. Expect to see goat, pig, lamb, rabbit, duck, fish – anything that looks good that week. Almost everything (except the fish, but we’ll get to that) is from local farms, with whom Chef Bailey has a great relationship.
Even better? Greg Engert, a Food and Wine “Sommelier of the Year”, lends his beer brilliance, pairing super rare big-format bottles with each course. So, basically, you have one of DC’s premiere meat chefs sending out course after course of whole roasted animals and one of DC’s premiere beer experts matching the perfect drinks with each bite.
BYT recently tried out the Beast Feast menu. We were impressed.
To start, Engert brings out a light aperitif – we sampled a small-batch farmhouse table beer from Austin, Texas. Super low in alcohol, this was an eminently drinkable beer that’s light and fizzy, with a pronounced acidity and earthy funk. Perfect palate primer.
After that, the meaty onslaught begins. First up: an enormous charcuterie board, packed with house-made meats, sausages, terrines, pates, and the like. Best bites included the slick lardo, the mildly spicy sopprasetta, and the sliced half-smoke (sorry, Ben’s), which deftly paired with the deeply smoky, malty fastenbier Engert poured.
Grilled whole Suzuki (Japanese sea bass) made an appearance next. While not local, it was a bycatch from one of Chef Bailey’s fisher producers, and he didn’t want it to go to waste. It didn’t. Deboned, grilled, and presented whole, the moist, flaky whitefish’s subtle sweetness was a great foil to the deep char imparted from the grill. A lemon and salt rub permeated the flesh, while pickled garlic scapes and wood sorrel added some needed brightness. The best part of the plate? The accompanying smoked tomatoes and mayo, whose fat lends richness to the dish. Engert’s dry, tannic Jolly Pumpkin wild ale had some great citrus notes that played off the lemon rub.
Duck also made an appearance, roasted and stuffed. Could the skin have been seared a little harder? Sure. Did I love the dish anyway? Absolutely. The salt-roasted carrots make a short journey from the restaurant’s own rooftop garden, but the real star was the nasturtium pinenut pesto; salty and bright, a smear of the condiment elevated the duck to another level. An enormous lobe of seared foie gras, while gratuitous, was excellent (as always). Cherries and duck, as well as cherries and foie, is a classic combination; as such, Engert’s choice for beer pairing was a cherry lambic. The dry Belgian ale had big, bold cherry flavors, without being too sour, intense, or funky (though there are the slightest traces of all three). A great pairing.
Last, but certainly not least, is the pig, shown to the table in the form of roasted porchetta and barded tenderloin. The porchetta is fatty bacon on steroids; thick, rich pork belly surrounded by a shatteringly crisp skin, crunchy giving way to soft. Even better is the tenderloin, whose “barded” cooking technique (wrapping the meat in a thin layer of fat before roasting over high heat) leaves incredibly moist meat saturated with the fantastic flavor of the pork. Grilled scallion and charred lemon, cured asparagus and pickled rhubarb, and glazed new potatoes give a break from the porcine parade. Engert’s paired beer, a hop-forward saison, had a great cinnamon sediment that helped wash away some of the fat.
It was also at this point that Chef Bailey came out with a little surprise for the table. Apparently, the kitchen respects any guests that order the Beast Feast; sending out some of their private stock of booze is their way of saying thanks for trusting them enough to just send out great food – real recognize real. In our case, healthy pours of Basil Hayden Reserve reminded me: whiskey and pork…doesn’t get much better than that.
Chef Bailey also stayed and chilled with us to discuss the last course, a wineberry and sour cherry trifle. The beautiful dessert is huge – layers of cake, pudding, fruit, pastry cream, and lemon chiffon. Sour cherries are upstaged by the wineberries, brought in by a local forager from whom Chef Bailey buys the restaurant’s mushrooms. Miniature florets of nasturtium buds, tasting of anise and black licorice, sprinkle across the top. Rhubarb also makes a repeat appearance in the form of a bracingly refreshing rhubarb and raspberry sorbet. Engert’s Firestone Double DBA extra special bitter is an excellent dessert beer. A plum and burnt caramel nose gives way to toffee and graham cracker notes; just a great match with the trifle.
Intrigued? You should be. Find five friends (or seven!). Make sure they love delicious food and beers. Make the reservation. Settle in for a long, delicious night.