City Paper is not for tourists
The Location: Bar Pilar, 1833 14th St. NW, (202) 265-1751
The Price: $4
The Skinny: Barton Seaver‘s exit from Café Saint-Ex and Bar Pilar actually knocked out two main support pillars at these sister restaurants on 14th Street NW. How so? Because the chef lured his top assistant Joshua Whigham, formerly the guiding light at Bar Pilar, to help him open Hook in Georgetown. Billy Klein, the chef de cuisine under Seaver, has since moved into the top toque position at Saint-Ex, but Pilar, the moody tapas tavern named after Hemingway’s boat, remained rudderless until early April, when principal owner Mike Benson hired Justin Bittner as chef. Fresh from a stint at the respected Elkridge Furnace Inn in Howard County, Maryland, Bittner is still developing his sea legs if several of his new dishes are any indication, notably an underseasoned small plate of wild morels and pappardelle, which tastes mostly of oil and water.
Until Bittner gets the kitchen shipshape, it’s probably best to stick with the reliable delights of pastry chef Lizzy Evelyn. Her frozen agave parfait really caught my attention—-partly, as it turns out, for the wrong reasons. The dessert brought to our table had two layers, as if it were an interpretation of that bastardized confection known as American parfait. When I brought this fact to Evelyn’s attention during a phone chat, she almost gasped. The dessert, she says, is supposed to be a classic French-style parfait, a smooth, almost ethereal custard built from a heated syrup of tequila and agave nectar that’s mixed with egg yolks and then folded into whipped organic cream. My parfait apparently had been sitting too long outside the freezer and had started to separate. Truth be told, it didn’t matter a bit. The agave nectar, it seems, acts more as sweetener than flavoring agent; there’s an ever-so-slight smokiness, but that’s perhaps due to the tequila. The dessert’s main feature is this fleeting, impressionistic creaminess. Just when it hits your tongue, it’s gone, leaving you with this sweet, warm feeling that you’re hard-pressed to fully explain.