3784 Howard Avenue
Kensington, MD 20895
11 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Tuesday-Thursday & Sunday:
5 p.m. - 10 p.m.
5 p.m. - 11 p.m
Gonzalo Barba Sr. was a day away from signing a deal to open
a restaurant in Baltimore when he took a chance detour
Kensington's historic Antique Row.
Although he had lived in neighboring Wheaton for many years, Barba was unfamiliar with the popular Howard Avenue strip and he
liked what he saw. Then curiosity got to him and he asked a painter
working on a storefront if he knew of any existing retail space. Almost
overnight Barba, 63, traded Charm City for K-town.
Nearly four years on, Barba has done what at least two previous tenants of the space couldn't do successfully – open a restaurant and consistently fill tables.
Although his model is different than his predecessors who tried the sandwich/ice cream store route, Barba's K-town Bistro is now firmly entrenched as the go-to restaurant in Kensington.
Not that the former captain at the Watergate Hotel Restaurant has much competition in Kensington, which some describe as a “restaurant-free zone,” that’s not the point. The K-town Bistro would do well in restaurant-rich Bethesda or anywhere else in Montgomery County.
The standard at the cozy, 16-table restaurant is set by Barba himself. And after working in various restaurant positions at the Watergate for 20 years, including time with renowned chefs Jean-Louis Palladin and Robert Wiedmaier, the affable Barba knows about setting the bar high and keeping it there.
He personally oversees almost every aspect of the restaurant, from selecting the paint colors and local artwork for the sunny walls to the silverware on the white linen tables to the menu selections and the food that graces each serving.
“A French-style restaurant is so complicated to operate. There are so many different ingredients needed to make recipes and, of course, they all need to be the best and freshest quality,” Barba says.
Along with his son Gonzalo Jr., Barba is a hands-on owner who knows when to appear to help serve food, bus tables or serve coffee and when to recede and let patrons enjoy the good conversation and food they came for. But Barba isn't shy about quietly asking diners about their opinions of the cuisine. In fact, he enjoys talking about his days at the Watergate with those who know his tenure there.
Born in Bolivia, Barba also isn't shy about his plans for the K-town Bistro. He would like to add a second floor to the currently sky-lighted restaurant with a balcony and an additional 25 tables or so. Once he has the additional space, he would like to bring back a lost art in dining – table side cooking.
“Most restaurants just don’t do that any longer… we could make caesar salads, steaks and desserts,” Barba says.
Until then, he will have to be content with his intriguing menu selections and daily specials that are uniformly good and served with proper spacing between drinks, appetizers, entrees, dessert and coffee.
The regular dinner menu isn't as full of options with sauces that make French cuisine such a delight and gastronomic experience. There are crab cakes, seared scallops, tuna, steak and rack of lamb to go with specials and other entrees imbibed with sauces that make French cuisine a curiosity for some and a must-have for others.
The special of either monk fish or cod with light lobster sauces to the more traditional duck breast with orange sauce and calf liver with sherry wine sauce are fine selections and are appropriately garnished with potatoes and roasted vegetables.
In the end, Barba knows from experience that good food alone is not enough to sustain a restaurant and be successful. A strong level of service has to keep pace with the outstanding product from the kitchen.
“You have to look at people and ask how you would like to be served,” Barba says. “You have to give them three key ingredients – good food, good atmosphere and good service.”
K-town Bistro hits that trifecta and Baltimore’s loss has become Kensington's gain.