I went for dinner to Cafe Barjot the other night, a place I have loved by morning and afternoon. Dinners began later, last winter when owner Wylie Bush brought in a new chef.
As ever, the vibe of the North Capitol Hill spot right in the thick of condo madness is Mad Men understated, with a beautiful peninsula of a coffee bar and a patio just right for this summer. Off a sweetly handwritten two-page menu we ordered the lettuces—a salad with creamy herb dressing and shaved almonds—along with a chicken dish and a pork loin plate, and a side order of peas with curds, black sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, and lemon.
The lettuces were beautiful ruffles, their soft flavor piqued with tarragon and crunch from the almonds. The dressing was unbearably salty.
The chicken was lightly grilled, and served room temperature. The pork came fanned in slices, with a rhubarb mustard which awakened it slightly. Both portions were very small for entrees. The peas were frustrating: a flurry of fine ingredients adding up to a blend overwhelmed by its stronger flavors—one of which, again, was salt.
In the realm of restaurant criticism, few things feel more tragic than a surfeit of salt marring otherwise delicate ingredients. Indeed, something feels off with the modulations in this house, as a little ramekin of calendula butter offered almost nothing beyond the butter in the way of flavor.
Wild chamomile ice cream with Saskatoon berry syrup finished things off on an up note, each bringing its unusual savor into an intricate harmony. (You may know Saskatoons as serviceberries; that’s how I knew them.) Service was fond and folksy; just what you need after work.
But here’s the thing about Barjot: It’s better by day. True North Coffee Roasters coffee is peerless here; housemade pastries are too. Toasts and sandwiches, the mainstay of the midday menu, are generally flavor-fests, like the slice of rye spread with a layer of velvety chicken liver pate and a topping of bright, unusual rhubarb mustard—a thinking eater’s PB and J.
It’s just the place to touch down lightly for breakfast or a midday nosh, with something to drink.