Located steps from Rittenhouse Square, Baril, 267 S. 19th St., is a neighborhood bistro specializing in French comfort food —which should be a slam dunk, given the neighborhood. And for a few bright moments, it was.
First, let’s give Baril a pat on the back for keeping it traditional and relaxed with a small and focused menu that leans in classical directions. It doesn’t chase every new and sometimes-pandering twist like many other menus attempt. At Baril, you’re getting classic French dishes served up by an attentive and friendly staff.
But while the vision is well-fleshed-out, the execution hit some bumps in the road.
Let’s start with the positives. Baril’s fromage (cheese) game is on point and its steward really knows how to put together a lovely cheese course. It also served up a wonderful ginger carrot soup as an amuse-bouche, which was a frustrating tease because it was so excellent (buttery and complex with a nice smooth consistency) that we really wanted a gigantic bowl instead of the thimble-sized shot that we got. The escargot ($12), while a tad overdone, was bathed in a delectable sweet garlic cream that elevated the dish.
The entreés were exquisite. The striped bass ($26) was perfectly seared, resting on a lovely fennel puree that added a nice heartiness to the dish and with a pleasant hint of vanilla sweetness. The lamb shank ($26) was insanely tender and juicy, with black lentils and a silky carrot puree that gave it a welcome contrast in textures and flavors. There was also a nicely prepared piece of sweetbread on the plate that added depth to the experience.
While there were hardly any flaws to the food, other things at Baril could use some tweaking. The service at times could be painfully slow, considering it was a weeknight and the restaurant was less than half full. Then the cozy and dim French-bistro vibe was thrown off by the music, which on the night we visited, was tuned to a radio channel specializing in up-tempo funk (which we love under the right circumstances). But the older couple two tables over didn’t seem to fully appreciate Rick James howling “Give It to Me Baby” or Janet Jackson asking, “What Have You Done For Me Lately?” at club volume while they were trying to eat their coq au vin.
Despite the upbeat music, the meal ended on a limp note with dessert in the form of brioche bread pudding ($8), which was soaked in a cream sauce that came across like ice cream. The dish was allowed to melt to room temperature, drowning out almost all of the texture and the hints of chocolate that the bread pudding had to offer.
Baril has enough talent in the kitchen to really go far. If it can streamline its service and find the right music for the aesthetic and menu, it will be on a roll.