Star power definitely influences our restaurant choices. Knowingly or not, names like Frank Bonanno and Jennifer Jasinski are big neon signs in our minds, flashing "Quality." And there are few bigger stars in this town's scene than Keegan Gerhard, by virtue of having appeared in millions of living rooms on the Food Network. Is his D Bar Restaurant popular because of his name? Undoubtedly. Does his team have the kitchen skills to put forward a tasty happy hour menu? That's what I stopped in to find out.
D Bar's move to a bigger, shinier space at 19th and Pennsylvania hopefully alleviates the frustrating lack of tables that made dining there a bloodsport. Hopefully. This was the first happy hour I've been to where I felt compelled to get a reservation -- none were available. Happily, D Bar holds a fair amount of space for walk-ins, including the beautiful chef's counter with its view of the pastry bar. That's the place to be for D Bar's Nibbles and Sips happy hour, served from 3 to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.
The menu offers a pared-down version of the appetizer board for $2 off each item, along with drink specials like $5 house wines and $4 drafts. One thing that's missing: desserts, D Bar's raison d' etre. Though disappointing, the omission is of a piece with the new restaurants identity as a place for dining as well as dessert. And barring a few salads and a veggie plate, D Bar is about sinful comfort food, the kind Puritan preachers would bellow against had they ever heard of Gerhard's crispy chicken glazed with Frank's Red Hot sauce and maple syrup.
With small plates coming in around $7 a pop, don't look to D Bar for a cheap meal. Best to dive in and stretch the wallet and waistline, perhaps with a bit of bacon mac & cheese ($7). I wasn't one of those kids who grew up eating blue-box Kraft, so my sense of a good mac is warped. That said, this was a dish with not only flavor but supreme confidence. Downsized from the entree portion, the ceramic dish held a perfect square of pasta in a four-cheese sauce that dangled thick strings from my fork. A generous layer of panko and Cheez-It breading miraculously held up to the heat and moisture all the way through.
I almost forgot about the bacon bits nestled among the cheesy noodles, but D Bar's thick-cut, applewood-smoked bacon really gets a workout with the D Bar Dates ($6). Organic dates get stuffed with manchego cheese and wrapped in bacon, with a little Marcona almond inside as a surprise. As superb as these three little purses were, I'd get something a little more adventurous next time I stop in. But adventurous is not the word for D Bar's cocktail program, which plays it safe and simple with classic drinks and to-the-point recipes. A little too simple. My Tail Chaser cocktail ($8) was cloying, unbalanced and unpleasant. I mostly blame the locally distilled Dancing Pine bourbon (too much corn in the mash for my taste), but the bar should know how to roll with it, not drown it in sugar.
Still, D Bar is playing a winning game, and from the joyful people in the kitchen to the playful menu, it radiates fun. Star power is all well and good, but it's what comes off the line that truly matters.
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Perfect for: That one aunt/niece/grandpa who can't get enough of the Food Channel. Subtle as it is, D Bar is unmistakably the work of a cooking show alumnus -- comfort food menu, inflated prices, catchy concept. And hey, it sure beats Guy's American Kitchen and Bar.
Don't Miss: The desserts, duh. I tiptoed off the happy hour menu to try a plate of churros ($10) and was glad I did. Freshly made churros are always a treat, but the roasted white chocolate ice cream nearly stole the show as a sidekick. You'll be kicking yourself if you don't sample the sweets menu.Follow @CafeWestword