Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Definitely Not Bottom of the Barrel Barbecue

Barrel and Ashes
11801 Ventura Blvd. 
Studio City, CA 91604

It's funny where a drunken phone call on New Year's Eve can have you end up. We had just left Katie's parents house when I decided to drunk dial Katie's cousin Bridget. After some long winded conversation about how we haven't been up to LA for awhile, we made some tentative plans to head up that way very soon. With my impending vacation coming up, we decided the approaching weekend would be the perfect time to see Katie's cousin and friends, and also a fantastic time to try an LA restaurant that has been on my list forever, Barrel and Ashes.

This Studio City restaurant came across my radar and ended up on my restaurant wishlist because of the review that acclaimed LA Times Restaurant Critic, Jonathan Gold gave it, and also because I had heard that this was Gordon Ramsay's favorite restaurant when he's around these parts. I'm sure it is, besides his own place, Boxwood Cafe in West Hollywood. Needless to say, I had high hopes for this restaurant, so I quickly made reservations via Open Table, and eagerly awaited our meal here.

After checking into our hotel, and a quick nap for Katie, we made it to Barrel and Ashes right at our 7:15 reservation time. Parking is tricky in this area of town, so we valeted for the modest price of $6. With our reservation, we bypassed the half hour wait and were seated right away. This is a smaller than I imagined restaurant, with I'm guessing fifteen or so tables inside, and maybe another five out in front of the restaurant. The tables were pretty close together, but we were still pretty comfortable here.

The menu at Barrel and Ashes is barbecue-focused, and the items on it are meant to be shared family style. Not a big barbecue lover? There are a few sandwiches and salads on the menu to help you out, but I was of course here for the meat. Heading the kitchen is Chef Tim Hollingsworth, who earned Michelin stars at his former place of employment, a little restaurant you might have heard of, French Laundry, where he worked with the iconic Thomas Keller and was the Chef de Cuisine there for four years. With this pedigree, it got me even more excited to see what was in store for us, so let's dive in.

When I saw that they had Frito Pie ($9) on the menu, I had to give it a try. I have to admit that this was my first time having this Southern staple. I really enjoyed my maiden Frito Pie, which in case you do not know is a bag of Frito's split open, and then topped with chili, cheese, sour cream, green onions, and pickled Fresno chilies. I wished that there was a little more chili included here, as it was kind of hard to get a bite of everything included with this starter. I look forward to many more rendezvous with Frito Pie in the future.

If you read through the Yelp reviews of this restaurant, one thing you pick up on is that the Hoe Cake ($8) is a must order. A hoe cake is another southern staple that I had never had/heard of before this evening. It's a little hard to explain what it is, but I'd describe this one as part cornbread, part french toast, with a savory pancake vibe, which has a touch of sweetness from the maple butter used to finish this off. I could have and probably should have ordered an extra one of these for myself. A little more sweetness included here could have pushed this to even greater heights, but still pretty impressive, and a must get when eating at Barrel and Ashes. Guess those people on Yelp do know a thing or two.

The cocktails need to be highlighted here, as the beverage program was started by Julian Cox, a prolific bartender/beverage director, who left LA last year for a new gig in Chicago. His legacy lives on at Barrel and Ashes, which has numerous drinks posted on chalkboards above the open kitchen. I had the Mai-Ty Joe Rum ($13), which utilized a five rum blend, L'Orgeat, Combier, and is aged in oak for 37 days. Our friend Christy is all about bourbon, so she zeroed in on the Kentucky Mule ($12) right away. This riff on a Moscow mule substituted bourbon for the usual vodka and also incorporated lemon, ginger, honey, and angostura into the mix. I felt both drinks were pretty professional, and they were meant to be enjoyed. The alcohol was present but hung out in the background of each sip. Nicely done.

Both Christy and Katie ordered the same thing, which helps me cut down on writing, which is always appreciated, (probably more by you readers, than myself). What got both of them so excited? The rather boastfully named, Best Damn Chicken Sandwich Y'Ever Had ($11). While neither of them claimed this was the best chicken sandwich they have had, both really enjoyed it. The chicken was moist, not too heavy, and Katie detected a little heat from the breading. The sandwich was finished off with some coleslaw for texture, jalapenos, for even more heat, and pimento cheese, which bound everything together nicely. Katie liked the way that the items on this interacted with each other. Not the best, but pretty damn good.

Barbecued meats are sold by the weight at Barrel and Ashes, as they do not offer any combo plates, which I was a little disappointed with. Combo plates are my usual order at barbecue restaurants so I can get a chance to try a little bit of everything in one trip. Luckily, I had a partner in crime on this evening, our good friend Rosanna. She was willing to split a meal with me and even allowed me to pick the meats we were going to have. I went with the Half Pound of Brisket ($17), Half Rack of Spare Ribs ($19), and a Jalapeno Cheddar Sausage ($7). The brisket was some of the best I have had, in most of the bites. The outer portion had a nice crust to it, which was thicker in parts, and might not be to everyone's liking. It was to my liking. I did have a few bites that were a little on the dry side, but for the most part, this brisket was moist and tender, and one the best briskets flavorwise that I have had. The sausage was also a winner. It's made by Electric City Butcher, which is based out of Santa Ana's 4th Street Market. It was really cool being in LA and having a little taste of OC up here. It really lends legitimacy that the OC food scene has come a long way. Back to the sausage, it had some good cheddar cheese and jalapeno in it, but the prevailing flavor was the sausage itself. Very well made, with a nice snap to its casing. The weak link on this plate were the spare ribs. They were a little devoid of meat, but the meat that was there was tender and pulled away easily from the bone. They were enhanced with flavor by adding the provided barbecue sauce, which was kind of pedestrian but did the trick by adding a little more flavor to these ribs.

Of course, you have to get some sides when eating in a barbecue restaurant, but since we had two appetizers, we only got two to share between the four of us. The Mac and Cheese ($9) was a solid choice. This cheddar based version was nicely done, lighter than I thought it would be, and with the addition of the slightly browned bread crumbs, had a great texture to it. The Tater Tots ($7) do not show up on their online menu so they might be a new addition to the lineup here. They were pretty average, and nothing special, even with the cheese topping them.

Dessert was our last hurrah at Barrel and Ashes, and we indulged by having the Apple Crumble ($9). As far as fruit desserts go, I really enjoyed this crumble. It came with plenty of homemade vanilla ice cream, the crumble was nice and crunchy, and the apples underneath were not bathed in a syrupy mess, but were pretty natural tasting, which was a big plus in my book. The Banana Pudding ($7) was a little more of a letdown for me. The toasted meringue topping this dessert really overpowered the banana pudding and Nilla Wafers underneath, which was a shame because both were pretty good.

Even with a few minor hiccups, Barrel and Ashes really lived up to the hype. The barbecue here is legit, and definitely in the running for one of the best we have had in Southern California. Yes, I would like them to have some combination plates on their menu, but I'll probably just stick to their brisket and sausage on future visits, and I won't be shy about ordering a lot of both of them. Our waiter, Clay was a great server, explained the menu to us perfectly, and gave us some great advice on what to order here. Thanks for everything Clay. I ended up being pretty happy that a drunken phone call in the wee hours of the start of this year led us to Barrel and Ashes.

Out of five architects, (because the house used for exterior shots on the Brady Bunch is located a few blocks from this restaurant, and it was supposedly designed by the patriarch of the Brady clan, Mike, who of course was an architect), five being best to zero being worst, Barrel and Ashes gets 3.5 architects.

For more information about Barrel and Ashes, head to their website here:

1 comment: