Restaurant Review: Bar Ivy
Chef Jonathan Till transforms mid-Atlantic ingredients into stunning West Coast-inspired dishes in Clarendon.
It’s a balmy evening and Bar Ivy’s retractable floor-to-ceiling doors are wide open, creating the impression that its 75-seat dining room and 125-seat patio are one contiguous space adorned with crape myrtles and flora-filled planters. Over the sound system, Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox declare: “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves.”
Executive chef Jonathan Till—known for his exceptional foraging, preserving and pickling skills—is busy in the open kitchen, translating the fruits of his labor into beautifully plated odes to seasonal cooking. In midsummer, his latest finds include gooseberries, dandelion greens, spiceberries, wild garlic and wineberries.
“We’re closed on Sunday and Monday,” he says, “so I go foraging at 5:30 or 6 a.m. on those days within a 30-mile radius of the restaurant. I won’t divulge exactly where. Let’s just say hyperlocal.”
Given Till’s penchant for seasonal sourcing, many of the dishes covered in this review will be gone by press time, so it borders on cruelty to relay the succulence of tender Manila clams nestled with cubes of lamb pancetta in a glorious broth of white wine, lemon, butter and garlic chives. Till says he created that dish in collaboration with Bar Ivy chef/co-owner Nathan Beauchamp.
“Manila clams are a California thing, and the menu is meant to be an homage to California restaurants,” Till explains. “Plus, I had a surplus of lamb belly to use up.”
Beauchamp and restaurateur Greg Algie opened the 3,500-square-foot café (the patio is an additional 3,000 square feet) in June, the latest in a string of local dining successes. Their company, Blagden Hospitality Group, is also the engine behind Tiger Fork, Calico, The Fainting Goat and Hi-Lawn in Washington, D.C., and Hei Hei Tiger in Tysons Galleria. The partners had the good sense to hire Till, who previously helmed the kitchen at Del Ray’s Evening Star Café from 2016 to 2018. Now he’s shining at Bar Ivy.
Till, 38, was born in Honolulu and grew up in Hawaii, Louisiana and New England. A third-generation chef, he first started learning the craft—especially canning and preserving—at a young age at his grandmother’s restaurant in Saratoga Springs, New York. In 2008, he graduated from the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier and Burlington, Vermont, where, he says, old hippie teachers inspired his interest in foraging.
After honing his skills at restaurants in Boston, Saratoga Springs and Nashville, he landed in the DMV in 2015, where he worked for the Bartaco group and then at William Jeffrey’s Tavern in Arlington. Just prior to his stint at Evening Star, he and his wife spent a summer in Europe, foraging for mushrooms.
Beauchamp’s concept for Bar Ivy finds mid-Atlantic ingredients starring in mostly seafood and vegetable dishes with straightforward preparations. (You won’t find a steak on the menu; lamb and Amish hen are the only nonaquatic animal proteins.) The emphasis on fresh, seasonal, local fare was inspired by the cooking style Beauchamp first experienced on a 1995 trip to the West Coast, where he staged briefly under chef Traci Des Jardins at Rubicon (now closed) and dined at the game changers of the time, among them Elka in San Francisco (now closed), Chez Panisse in Berkeley and the French Laundry in Napa Valley.
Bar Ivy’s décor is meant to evoke the breezy, al fresco elegance of Southern California (the restaurant’s name references The Ivy, a West Hollywood restaurant and celebrity magnet) and the ivy-clad fences of sister eatery Calico in D.C. I find the setting more on trend than West Coast—with greenery trailing from macramé planters and shades of seaside green and blue in details large and small, from the barstools circling the 20-seat terrazzo bar down to the Steelite porcelain plates and servers’ aprons. D.C.-based Edit Lab by Streetsense is the company’s go-to designer.
The feel is modern and ebullient. Wooden banquettes with lime-green cushions and polka-dot pillows are especially inviting. For the winter, Algie and Beauchamp had the foresight—and experience from operating restaurants without indoor seating during the worst of Covid—to install underground gas lines for heat lamps outside.
Till excels at bringing Beauchamp’s culinary vision to the table. In the lead-up to Bar Ivy’s opening, he did a lot of advance prep, such as making flour out of sweet potatoes, dehydrating nettles and pickling vegetables.
I recommend ignoring Mom’s advice and filling up on bread, just as I did, quite happily, during one visit, when my $7 assortment included three thick slices of house-made sourdough accompanied by miso-honey butter, fermented butter with strawberry salt and pickled squash and okra.
When dandelion greens and wild garlic came up in early spring, Till foraged them, parlaying the greens into crunchy, golf ball-size salt cod fritters, while the wild garlic showed up in an aioli-based remoulade with chopped capers and cornichons.
One dish that will remain on Bar Ivy’s menu year-round—and perhaps my favorite—is wild mushrooms sauteed in tartufata (black truffle sauce) and piled onto two slices of toasted semolina bread. Earthiness and richness conspire to make this a stunner for which I’ll happily return. Till, by the way, is certified to forage and serve wild mushrooms for public consumption, which the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services requires.
He is also particularly deft with seafood. For a subtle and refreshing starter, order the scallop crudo with pickled chanterelle and beech mushrooms, julienned cucumber, sliced radishes and barrel-aged soy sauce. Another scallop dish—this time seared and served over a painterly dash of red pepper purée—is accompanied by a succotash of purple sweet potatoes, chanterelles, wax beans and corn. This side is so delectable it could easily stand on its own.
A plate of grilled head-on prawns with baby artichokes and romesco sauce evokes the heady flavors of a Barcelona café.
Till’s Hawaiian roots are on display in a small plate of braised, grilled octopus, served on a bed of wakame (seaweed) slaw and drizzled with elderflower teriyaki sauce and yum-yum sauce. “Being Hawaiian, I have wakame in my blood,” he jokes.
I have some minor issues with two of the larger plates I tried. A beautiful, crisp-skinned chunk of redfish comes with a medley of cauliflower, chanterelles and hearts of palm roasted with brown butter, finished with sliced apricots and apricot beurre blanc. The components are tasty but somehow lack pizzazz as a whole. The dish would benefit from heat and acid.
A duo of roasted lamb loin and seared lamb belly confit is accompanied by glazed carrots and royal trumpet mushrooms. The meat, served rare, is flavorful but a tad chewy. I prefer lamb medium and suspect the extra cooking time would have aided its tenderness.
In addition to a cheese plate, there are only two desserts at Bar Ivy. My visits concluded with a perfectly fine lemon meringue tart; and chocolate pot de crème with strawberries. In the future, I’ll stick with Till’s remarkable talent in the savory department and forgo dessert—like Californians do.
3033 Wilson Blvd., Arlington
703-544-8730 | eatbarivy.com
Tuesday to Thursday: 5:30 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday: 5:30 to 10:30 p.m.
Diners will find plenty of metered parking in a lot behind the building. The restaurant is a block from the Clarendon Metro Station.
Appetizers (“snacks” and “smalls”): $14 to $18 (Manila clams: $23); Main dishes (“plates”): $29 to $38; Desserts: $9
What to Drink
Blagden Hospitality Group’s beverage director, Ian Fletcher, has put together an intriguing collection of libations. Eight cocktails ($9 to $14) are categorized as “proper” (riffs on classics) and “session” (made with low ABV spirits). A drink called “I’m Wearing Khakis” (gin, absinthe, brine, red bitters) is an example of the former, while “Can You Hear the Drums” (Amaro and Chinotto, a bitter red soda) represents the latter.
Wine selections focus on low intervention (made with minimal additives) quaffs, many made by young producers. The wine list includes 48 by the bottle ($44 to $155, with most around $60), 10 of which are also available by the glass ($10 to $15). There is a separate section for orange and pink wines.
Draft and canned beer, seltzers and cider round out the drink options.