Trail Mix: Birch St. is streets ahead

May 6, 2011, 12:40 a.m.
Trail Mix: Birch St. is streets ahead
JOSH GLUCOFT/The Stanford Daily

Specialization is natural. For example, individuals within a population of trout will tend to specialize in a different type of prey. Focusing makes each fish a better hunter and increases its likelihood of success. The same approach has been taken by the owners of Bistro Elan, who have limited the restaurant to serving only dinner, with the recently opened Birch St., which serves only lunch. In this case, Birch St. is certainly successful in its specialization, and it offers excellent midday fare.

The restaurant has a modern, almost industrial Californian feel to it, with a little commotion stemming from the dense setup. A short wait can spring up from the limited seating inside and handful of tables outside, so the restaurant serves best as a relaxed and somewhat upscale lunch with a friend. The menu is not particularly vegetarian friendly, however, so make sure that friend is omnivorous.

Trail Mix: Birch St. is streets ahead
JOSH GLUCOFT/The Stanford Daily

The menu is suffused with delicious meat options. The lamb meatballs, for example, in the Greek Salad are mouthwatering. The black olives and eggplant crisps save the salad from getting lost in the shadow of the flavor of the lamb, and a splash of color from the radish slices adds to the allure of the vegetarian half of the plate. Likewise, the Sautéed Marinated Beef Tenderloin literally melts on your tongue. The dish is arranged similarly to the Greek Salad, and its accompanying greens are not outstanding; in both cases, they provide a nice contrast to the meat, but the meat is so succulent no respite is really needed.

Birch St.’s seafood offerings are fantastic. The Pan Seared Albacore Tuna is as varied in taste as it is in color. The dish is beautiful to look at and a pleasure to eat. The excitement created by the rainbow hues of the ingredients is fulfilled by the strong but not overwhelming presence of sweet, sour, salty and spicy tones. The Swedish Tartine borders on being too rich from perhaps too much mayonnaise, but it is a decadent treat that is worth the post-meal lethargy. The asparagus and cucumber give just the right amount of crunch to pair nicely with the buttery smoothness of the shrimp, egg and sweet pan de mie.

If you have time for more than one course for lunch, Birch St.’s starters are worth a try. The Swedish Yellow Pea Soup is hearty and flavorful without being too thick thanks to the robust yellow peas and sweet chunks of ham. A touch of Dijon adds just the right amount of sinus-tingling rush and rounds out the dish very nicely. The Chilled Cucumber Soup is more refreshing and weather appropriate for the next few months, although it borders on being a bit too salty.

Overall, the plating at Birch St. is phenomenal, an unfortunately rare feature in restaurants that also manage to have an inviting atmosphere. It’s difficult to order wrong, and the menu need not be particularly expansive to offer a variety of scrumptious dishes. Focusing on lunch allows Birch St. to deliver a solid experience that is likely to improve over time. The restaurant is “Definitely worth trying.”

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