All Writing and Photography © Alex Livingstone/Owner's Closet

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Barelyswine: Barelyfine

Last week I took my girlfriend to Barleyswine for her birthday. It had gotten great reviews so we thought it'd be good to try on a special night. It turns out that Barleyswine is not the place to go if you want to have an intimate, quiet dinner with someone. We got there shortly after it opened and were immediately taken to two seats between two couples at one of Barleyswine's "communal" tables. I was so caught off guard by this unappealing seating arrangement that it almost caused me to walk right back through the door. But with Jennie giving her nod of "it'll be fine," we sat down at the cocktail-height table.

The couple sitting closest to the kitchen was considerate and spoke at a low level. It was the other couple, a man and woman in their early 70s, who immediately high-jacked our conversation and told us how much we were "going to love it." The gentleman sat on my side, completely invading my space with his elbow and incessantly talking about the menu. What I want when I go to a restaurant is to peruse the menu myself, discuss it with my dining companion(s) and/or the server, and then form my own opinions about the food I'm being offered. And I'm not opposed to someone giving me their opinion, but when someone tells me how I'm going to feel about an experience, I see red. Realizing I needed to dispense with my initial expectations and switch the dinner vibe to non-romantic, I announced I "forgot to lock the car" took a walk around the parking lot in order to regroup.

The talkative couple were very nice but continued to be annoying as they searched for signs (i.e. my name is Alex, they used to live in Alexandria, VA) as to why we were meant to be sitting next to each other. Two examples of their nice beer selection are the ones we ordered; 750ml bottle of Ommegang Rare Vos and 25oz. Brooklyn Local 2 Dark Ale. Thing is, I don't feel like beer is a good beverage for such nice food. Burgers, pizza, wings, hot dogs, BBQ, crawfish boil; totally. Fine cuisine with dynamic and subtle flavors calls for a beverage with subtle yet dynamic flavors, like WINE. I wanted wine when I left the house and I should have stuck with that idea. But by exploring the "barley" concept that this establishment is shooting for, I was left wanting more. Regardless, there were plenty of fine beers on the menu and the two we drank were plenty tasty.

Now the meal... The food was great, for sure. We started with an arugula and beet salad, then moved onto the Waygu ribeye with amazing banana grits, some scallop risotto piece that I didn't try on account of my shellfish allergy, and sweetbreads. The sweetbreads were tasty but hardly worth it. The duck special (which was the best item, in my opinion) and the corn battered pig face were the highlights of the plates we ordered. Unfortunately, the food was overshadowed by every other aspect of the dining experience. The dessert, smoked fudge, was one of the best dishes, not only because it was awesome but because it meant I was that much closer to getting out of there.

Sometime during our meal, the older couple left and we were asked to scoot over against the wall to accommodate a party of three. I do not appreciate being asked to move seats in a restaurant once my meal has begun. The knife was twisted in that wound when these people turned out to be loud talkers and distractingly fidgety. They gave off the vibe of three people at a business meeting who didn't really want to be there. The loudest person was talking like he was being interviewed, pitching himself like a desperate stag at a speed dating session. The other two were just going through the motions and conveying obviously mindless small talk. The man sitting next to Jennie was annoying her to the point to distraction and once our wonderful dessert was over we chose to get the hell out of there.

To sum it up, Barleyswine has a couple of good things to offer. They have a great beer selection and some really tasty food. Unfortunately, it was obvious that under the guise of communal dining and kitchen table homeliness, they've tried to cram as much as they can into that little room and charge a premium for the experience. The outcome is that Barleyswine is not really worth it. My money and time would have been better spent at Uchi. I think Barleyswine is best suited for groups of four to six sharing a light affair (i.e., birthdays, friends in from out of town) or business dinners for wealthy capital venturers from New York or California who are thinking of moving to Austin to open a bar. Lord knows those are common occurrences.

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