Trou Normand's Barley Risotto is the Perfect Autumn Meal

As the first real rain fell of the season last week and I watched the lunchtime parade of umbrellas scurrying down New Montgomery from Trou Normand’s tall and narrow Gothic windows, the scene just screamed risotto weather. Everyone was cold. Everyone was soaked from the sudden downpour. Everyone wanted a lunch of something that sticks to your core and comforts you. And outside of actually imbibing in a trou normand of Armagnac, nothing at the eight-month-old bar/restaurant hits that soothing note amidst the FiDi frenzy quite like a recent risotto dish — with an intriguing twist.

[jump] It’s actually not risotto at all, but barley pearls cooked in the long simmered manner of a risotto ($10). Maybe the barley adds more nutritional benefits than normal Arborio rice. However, that all gets cancelled out by the sheer amount of brown butter providing the base for the exceedingly smooth consistency. The barley itself is al dente with a nice little perk that makes each bite pop. It’s a fun contrast to the brassicas (broccoli rabe and cauliflower) that have been softened from the cooking time.

After a few bites I realized the brassicas and barley had essentially switched their traditional roles; the slick caramelized cauliflower and withered broccoli rabe could be sliced with a fork, while the barley provides the significant crunch. A generous hand of black pepper drives everything forward by brightening matters and shavings of parmesan add a welcome sharpness dimension. There is no pumpkin, gingerbread, or persimmons involved, but this is really the definition of late autumn/early winter dining.

In terms of cocktail pairings, The Hawaiian, made with Calvados, green Chartreuse, and pineapple gum syrup could be the companion for anything on the menu yet it’s particularly fun, bringing a little aloha to a dish evoking flannel and fireplaces. Trou Normand’s menu changes all the time, so it’s anybody’s guess how long the barley risotto will remain and note it’s only served right now at lunch as the only vegetarian main course.

Prior to the risotto, the lunch main course was a sandwich with eggplant and red peppers, preceded in the summer by a broccoli and goat cheese sandwich creation. Since Trou Normand is a temple to all things charcuterie, the house pickles are a knockout as you’d expect (with green beans, radishes, red bell peppers, and a host of other vegetables given some lingering heat in the pickling jar), but do keep in mind that besides these things, meat-focused Trou Normand isn't always the best choice for vegetarians.

As the stunning space and persistent rain (and Four Barrel espresso, the perfect antidote to a daytime trou normand) encouraged lingering long after lunch finished, I couldn’t help but think that vegetarian charcuterie would be the next concept for Trou Normand to delve into. Start with some “eggplant headcheese” followed by the seasonal changing barley risotto. Now that’s an idea. I guarantee the Yelp! employees who share their headquarters with the restaurant would give that five stars.

140 New Montgomery; 975-0876.

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