Is everything great?” the server asks. She smiles wide wearing L.U.V., a matte purple Kat Von D lipstick. I know this detail because when I complimented the shade earlier in the evening, she pulled the studded black tube out of her pocket.
I smiled back at her instead of answering her question. It’s a smile I’ve practiced as a restaurant critic; everyone has one.
The food that night wasn’t good.
That wasn’t the case on other visits to Barrel & Bushel, a new restaurant in the Hyatt Regency connected to the mall in Tysons Corner. (It’s across the roof from Shake Shack.) The open-floor dining room is beautiful—and full most of the time. There’s lots of wood and windows with industrial-chic lighting and no wall between the bar area and the deck. It’s set up for a party.
And there’s lots of easy-to-eat, one-handed party food. Sliders come in a variety of options, including a beef-pork chorizo patty that’s more spicy than smoky and is sandwiched with a pickled, charred Anaheim chili and housemade farmer’s cheese, as well as a smoked prime rib version punched up with pickled red onions and a horseradish sauce that, together, is best dunked in the accompanying au jus. It’s a little bite I’d be happy to find as a hors d’oeuvre at my brother’s wedding next spring. It’s good enough bar food, in other words.
Stabbed with toothpicks, five chunks of pork belly taste more of French toast—it’s seasoned with sugar and cinnamon and glazed in molasses and maple syrup—though it’s plenty juicy and not too fatty after a 72-hour process that includes curing, caramelizing, rendering and braising.
A crab soup starter, not as easy to eat while crowding around the bar, tastes more like leftover boiling liquid than composed broth. It’s deep brown and peppery, though the bits of bacon can’t distract from the bits of shell.
On one night, entrees arrived about five minutes after receiving appetizers. We asked the food runner to return the dinner plates; we had barely started the first course. When the runner came back, we signaled we were finished. The entrees appeared in less than 60 seconds.
The salmon was dry. The too-sweet glaze, from an amber IPA, fish sauce and brown sugar, couldn’t disguise the overcooked texture. Pine nuts covering the plate didn’t make up for the lack of richness elsewhere, and broccolini was still pretty raw. The salmon does slightly better turned into a cake, a la crab cake, but the texture reads more mush than lump and misses a proper sear.
The salmon fillet was still better than the insipid ribs covered in a cheese sauce and served with tater tots, the only appetizing part of that meal. Chef Dan Dienemann, with a Ritz-Carlton pedigree, concocted that dish for the first time in the late ’90s at Burning Man, a fleeting hippie city in the middle of the desert known as an epic weeklong party. Needless to say, Dienemann admits, “I was probably wasted” when he first ate ribs covered in cheese. The dish makes more sense with a backstory: It shouldn’t be consumed sober.
On other nights, dinner didn’t encourage us to bury the meal under a Shake Shack milkshake. Hot chicken, once unheard of outside of Nashville, is done well here, though not as spicy, and paired with bourbon-battered French toast, together a successful spin on Southern fried chicken and waffles. A grass-fed burger is balanced with a sweet stout marmalade and an aged American cheese, cooper.
In the never-ending contest for creating hybrid desserts, Barrel & Bushel takes on the puffin. Puff pastry dough stuffed into a muffin tin, with a dab of cream in the middle, turns into a flaky and light treat. The s’mores jar packs a flourless chocolate cake into a small glass topped with singed marshmallows that the bartender/server “doesn’t recommend for the ladies” because it’s “too heavy.”
I ordered it nonetheless, but it was hard to swallow.
Barrel & Bushel
Bring a growler for beer fill-ups.
Appetizers: $3-$14; Entrees: $13-$44
Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.
7901 Tysons One Place,Tysons Corner