The Washington Post
Critic rating
Neighborhood: U Street/Cardozo
Cuisine: American
Price: $$ ($15-$24)
Sound check: 75 decibels (Must speak with raised voice)
Bar Pilar's recent renovation left its downstairs bar untouched. The drinks here are still good, but the food (large plates) aren't as compelling.
Our Review

By Tom Sietsema
Sunday, May 20, 2012

Then: One floor of fun (2011)
Again: Bigger isn't better

Let me get the sad news out of the way. Doubling the space hasn't doubled the pleasure at this Hemingway-inspired watering hole, which unveiled a cozy second-floor dining room in March, along with an expanded menu of entrees that can only be ordered upstairs.

You can still get small plates throughout the sibling to the nearby Cafe Saint-Ex, and they are the best way to experience the kitchen. Every spoonful of the fish soup hauls up from the bowl something delectable - sweet peas, crisp bacon. Country ham and herby bread crumbs turn out to be good company for wine-rich snails, while sweet scallops draped with green salsa are a pleasant, two-bite shock to the tongue. As for dessert, spring for the moist red velvet cupcake paved in sweet cream cheese frosting.

The bigger the plate, however, the greater the letdown. I cheered the appearance of roasted pheasant on the menu, until I got a tepid pile of shaved poultry flanked with green beans that needed more time in hot water and freezer-cold poached grapes. Same for a tasting of spring lamb that trotted out near-raw liver as part of the composition. Monday night's suckling pig smacked of having been Saturday's (the centerpiece tasted rewarmed), although a side dish of black beans was scraped clean.

Elevating every visit are the wise and welcoming servers and beverage master Jonathan Fain's serious cocktails. One historically accurate, cognac-fueled Sazerac easily leads to another.

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