Birch & Barley review for Restaurant Week

DANIEL ANDERSON | Evergreen columnist

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When I was first visiting WSU as a prospective student, I painted this image of a building among stacks of hay and maybe some friendly cows frolicking the fields outside of campus. This thought consumed me as I endured an agonizing eight-hour car ride, one that should’ve only taken five if the weather and traffic had been kinder.

My parents told me to pick a restaurant to eat at in an attempt to make my first college visit memorable. There was a feeling of dread as I anticipated a bleak and unappetizing selection of restaurants. I finally settled on Birch & Barley because of their menu of Cajun/Creole-inspired dishes.

The meal at Birch & Barley was a delightful surprise. There was a possibility that if I didn’t have any good meals in Pullman on that first visit, I may not become a Coug. Birch & Barley played a role in my being here, and I’m thankful for that.

Fast forward to this last Thursday, the last day for Pullman Restaurant Week. I made a third return outing to Birch & Barley. My only question is, what happened?

The hype built around Restaurant Week made me overzealous. In a stressful week of my foolhardy eighteen-credit life, eating at Birch & Barley was the one thing I had to look forward to.

It was shocking to find a handful of empty tables upon arrival around 7:45 in the evening. Maybe the weather or the day of the week had to do with the lack of filled seats, but an event like Restaurant Week should have packed the place.

Their restaurant week offerings were just a two-course serving of their pretzels and their standard burger for the lofty price tag of $18. Comparing that to their regular menu, an order of those two dishes would be around $20.

There are two ways restaurants can determine what menu items will be displayed on the special Restaurant Week promotion. They can either take items from their regular menu for the event or make up new dishes.

While Birch & Barley made the correct move in highlighting its usual offerings for Restaurant Week to give customers a genuine taste, it was disappointing to have such a limited choice.

This is further exacerbated by the decision to omit the specialties they are known for: their Cajun/Creole dishes. The pricing on those dishes may have made it a challenge to adjust to the rigid price tag of $18 for Restaurant Week, but it would have made a better showing if they could have served up their customers’ favorites.

Our party of three decided to steer away from the Restaurant Week menu and move onto their regular menu instead; a decision that would make me regret not just sticking to the burger and pretzel two courses.

Food from Louisiana is some of my favorite in the world. It truly is a melting pot of diverse flavors, spices and a model of what soul food should be.

Somehow, the gumbo I ordered lacked any vigor. This is a mindboggling impossibility to me. A gumbo should have layers of nuanced spices singing together in a harmonious and colorful medley akin to its birthplace’s famous music.

The consistency of the stew was an oddity as well. Gumbos are cooked for hours and reduced for a powerful concentration of flavors. The broth should have a luster to it, and a viscous and almost translucent brown look.

Just because Louisiana is renowned for its swamps doesn’t mean its food should look like it came out of one. The gumbo texture passed the prime of even an edible gravy. It was somehow thin and thick at the same time, a sloppy mess.

Their buffalo bites, which tasted sweeter than the Tyson or Foster Farms brands that people can buy in the frozen food section of the grocery store, are the run-of-the-mill fare. Just sweeter, not better.

The “Rajun” Cajun pasta was the worst offender. As the name would suggest, it should have some heat and smooth spices nestled throughout. Along the lines of the gumbo, the pasta was as lively as a cemetery.

Cavatappi pasta (Italian for corkscrew) failed to impress when macaroni pasta would have done just fine. Julienne peppers should have been diced to better complement the texture and fork bites of tiny noodles.

Slices of tender chicken did manage to somewhat salvage the dish with its robust roasted quality, but even that couldn’t combat the drowning of bland cream sauce that was greasier than it was anything else.

The serving dish didn’t help matters. A square plate with depth in the center awkwardly crowded the pasta and aided in the grease and unidentifiable oil pooling to the bottom. Watching the greasy oil drip from each forkful was hauntingly amusing.

Food had no soul that night, but the servers did. They nicely handled a large party while never waning on the other tables. From the moment our party stepped into the establishment to the moment we left, there was a cordial aura from the staff.

Nearly all the major cities in America have a Restaurant Week of some kind. No matter the city, Restaurant Week is an exciting time, like a Shark Week equivalent for food lovers.

Good for groups

Reservations: yes



Ratings range from zero to five stars. Zero is poor. One star is fair. Two stars, good. Three stars, very good. Four stars, excellent. Five stars is extraordinary or outstanding.