You know a restaurant isn't messing around when you peer into the kitchen and you can't quickly count all of the cooks assembling dishes. Such is the case at Birch & Barley in Washington, DC. Of course, no restaurant would take such measures if it didn't have someone exceptionally talented to quarterback the team. The executive chef of this two-year-old restaurant is Kyle Bailey, a 31-year-old who cooks with the maturity of someone well beyond his years. Rarely will you find more than three main ingredients on his plates, and he makes the very most of what he does use. For example, his handmade potato gnocchi, which he serves with braised oxtail and horseradish crème fraiche, literally melts in your mouth.
Beer-centric Birch & Barley is part of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, which is intent on stocking its restaurants with exceptional talent. Working with Bailey is pastry chef Tiffany MacIsaac, whom you'll find showcased in this month's “12 to Watch” feature on page 22. Overseeing the restaurant's 555-beer selection is Gregg Engert, a true beer geek whose knowledge of the world's beers is astonishing. He appeared in our “10 to Watch” feature in 2010. You'll not find many places in America where food and beer are matched any better. The trio is also responsible for supplying the food (a more casual menu) and beer to Churchkey, a 150-seat bar and lounge above Birch & Barley.
Bailey earned the right to toil in such an environment after spending three years at New York City's wine-centric Cru with Chef Shea Gallante (a 2004 RH Rising Star). During his tenure there, Crue earned a three-star review from the New York Times. Bailey's mad devotion to beer came from his work with Dan Barber at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in upper New York. Barber's love for matching food and beer rubbed off in a big way. Bailey's first executive chef opportunity arrived in 2008 at Allen & Delancey, a Michelin-starred N.Y.C. restaurant.
Now at Birch & Barley, he and his cohorts have set an exceptionally high bar for what a neighborhood restaurant and bar can be.