Welcome to the Northern Virginia Restaurant Blog.

Restaurant reviews in Tyson's and surrounding area... mostly

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Greenhouse Bistro and Samovar Tea Lounge in Vienna, VA (Tysons Corner area)

2070 Chain Bridge Road
Vienna, VA 22182
Tel: (703) 537-5700

There is nothing not to like about the newcomer Greenhouse Bistro and Samovar Tea Lounge, which claims to be the largest restaurant (by seats) in Fairfax County. Located in the "toilet bowl building," as it is known in the neighborhood, the restaurant is the brainchild of Masoud Aboughaddareh, well-known D.C. area restauranteur and nightclub impresario. Families, couples, friends, and diners of all gastronomic orientations will find a menu that is diverse and accommodating, as well as evening themes to appeal to a wide variety of tastes. 

Greenhouse is four restaurants in one. First, it is an upscale dining environment offering sustainable "nature-to-table" dishes, including some outstanding all-organic, vegetarian and vegan choices. Food is sourced primarily from local and regional farms... did you know there are over 300 farms within a 250-mile radius of where we are? The chef, Dale Schnell, originally from the West Coast, has an impressive resume, including the famous Russian Tea Room and the Rainbow Room in New York City. His creations have an urban vibe with an emphasis on the healthy and the light... as he says,  "foods that energize."  

Second, depending on the night you dine here (note: they are closed on Mondays), you will get an entertainment treat.  We came here on Thursday - Flamenco night - with a live guitar band and dancers that twirled around the restaurant.  While the music was a bit loud at times, the extravaganza was definitely entertaining, exciting and fun to watch. By the end of the evening, we saw families of all ages dancing near the band and enjoying a fun evening out that multiple generations can enjoy. The entertainment selection is a clear a manifestation of many years of nightclub experience carrying a distinctive Middle Eastern and Spanish style from Middle Eastern and Latin DJs to Flamenco and Latin American pop and rustic beats.

Third, the adjacent Samovar Tea Lounge provides a completely different feel.  It is a more relaxed, quiet, subdued and secluded atmosphere.  A dimly-lit romantic setting, it is a separate large room, outfitted with couches, embroidered pillows and, yes, samovars that brew an extensive variety of delicious flavored teas. There is a selection of food pairings that accompany the samovar service, ranging from baked pastries to fresh veggie and herb dishes. Food pairings can include savory finger foods or sweet baked pastries.

Fourth, is the large outside patio area with coffee tables and couches on one end and dining tables on the other, where you can enjoy the same menu as indoors. The patio has ground-up heating, so even on colder days, this is a place where you can hang out. You can come here either in shorts or dressed up... up to you.

Now for the food. There are plenty of options for carnivores, pescatarians, flexitarians, and vegetarians, including some vegan. Some dishes have a hint of the delicious Middle Eastern flavors interwined throughout the various items on the menu, using herbs and combinations to create a nice medley of tastes.  There is also the traditional Persian brunch that is offered here on Sundays.

All the dishes we tasted are pictured below. We enjoyed all of them, but particularly liked the salads and the short ribs in the dining room. In the Samovar Tea Lounge, the veggie platters were terrific - really that could be a great dinner in and of itself, as well as all the desserts offered here, which were wonderful.

We would definitely return here. 

 Outdoor view of the "toilet bowl building" with the Greenhouse patio

 Restaurant patio food menu

 Modern welcoming decor

 Walls are lined with an "herb garden" as well as flat-screen TVs

 Live Latin American Band with Flamenco Dancers

 Enjoying drinks out in the patio bar area
Chargrilled East Coast Octopus $17

 The Hearty Salad $13

 The Greenhouse Salad $13

 Atlantic Codfish $25 Inspired by the Spanish Paella

 Vegetarian Pizza

Half-Roasted Organic Chicken $21

Burgundy Braised Short Ribs $12 with palm puree

Hearts of Palm Sea Cake $16 with vegan (cashew) tartar sauce

Greenhouse at night

 DJ stand

Samovar Tea Lounge carries a more Middle Eastern decor vibe than the main dining room

Samovar, claimed both by Russians and Persians as their own invention

Samovar Tea Lounge menu

 Couches in the Samovar Tea Lounge

 Fresh veggies and herbs that accompany the Samovar Tea Service

Ricotta Reignets $8 with strawberry-rhubarb dipping sauce

 If you're not in the tea kind of mood, and have not had enough energizing food in the main dining room, you can order a perfect cup of cappuccino

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Puente De Oro - Salvadorian and Mexican food, Fairfax, VA

10312 Willard Way
Fairfax, VA 22030
Tel: (703) 691-3232

Puente De Oro recently moved down the street from a different Fairfax location, presenting itself as more of a family restaurant, rather than the sports bar it used to be. We've never been to the previous location of Puente De Oro, but were encouraged to visit this new location by the Yelp reviews... ok, there were only seven of them, but they were all five-stars, and it's been a while since we ventured out for Central American cuisine, so we headed out here.

As everything is relative, some of the Yelp reviews pointed to the fact that the previous restaurant in this same location was pretty bad. We've never visited the previous restaurant in this location, but can definitely see how there are at least a few aspects of the New Puente De Oro that are quite appealing.

The Pros: There is ample parking in this Safeway/CVS plaza. The restaurant is large... with two equal-size rooms separated by a clear glass wall. Television sets line the walls to keep diners updated on everything from news to sports. All-wood dining booths and long bar tables are all roomy and comfortable. Happy hour specials abound and the prices are very reasonable. Portions are large, more than enough to share or for doggie bags.

The biggest Pro is the greeting and wait Staff, which is clearly the best asset of Puente De Oro - they are all friendly with bright shining smiles, making you feel like the most wanted guest in the restaurant.

All those things are great and almost sufficient reason to dine here, if you're in the area.

The Cons: Food is "not bad," but to those of us who prefer more bolder stronger flavors, this is definitely not the place to go. Salsa that accompanies chips is EXTREMELY BLAND... Without a sizeable dose of hot sauce that is on the table, it is a warm, tasteless tomatoey mush.

Admittedly, good ceviche is difficult to find, so we had to try it here, especially since one of the Yelp reviewers recommended it. In conclusion, we'd have to say, keep moving.... nothing to see here on the ceviche front. We asked for the ceviche to be served without shrimp, and told by our waitress that this was no problem, sure enough the ceviche came out with shrimp, but it was hidden on the bottom....

Chicken tacos were the blandest thing that probably ever existed in the universe of Latin American food.....

We came here with a group of friends, so while we have photographs of various dishes, we did not taste all of them. Most of the feedback on the food was that it was good or ok, not sure if it was out of politeness or because the meat seasoning on the Mixed Grill entrees was better than on anything that we ordered....

The worst thing on our table was the Fried Yucca dessert with molasses syrup. You'd think that anything fried and served with syrup could never disappoint... yes it could! There was not a single person in our group who liked it and we ended up leaving most of it on the table....

Since Puente De Oro has no website and no menu online, we can't even tell you the names of all the dishes, but at least we can show you what the look like. 

Also, Yelp lists this restaurant as serving Salvadoran and Spanish food, but their menu clearly says they serve Salvadorian and Mexican food....

It is a shame that the restaurant does not take its online absence or its consistency in marketing seriously.

Our server Ileana was very sweet, efficient and helpful in recommending various dishes. She was really the highlight of the visit here.

Even though our experience was - not bad - it is unlikely that we'd ever return.

 Ample seating in bar area

Ample seating in dining area

Ceviche ($10.95) with a Happy Hour Dos Equis Beer ($1.50)

 Chips and Salsa

 Front Cover of Menu

 Wide selection of food either a la carte or as larger entrees

 Mixed Grill

 Salvadorian Fish Dish recommended by the server

 Charcoal Mixed Grill


 Corn Tamale with Crema ($2.50)

Chicken Tacos ($8.95)

Fried Yucca Dessert

Monday, June 20, 2016

Side Street & Sushi Bar by iThai - Thai Street Food and Sushi Bar in Vienna, VA

8603 Westwood Center Dr., Ste #100

Vienna, VA 22182
Tel : 703-992-7923

If you want to know the way to our hearts - it is through Thai food. But what is Thai food to us?

It is no surprise to many Thai food lovers that the Thai food we all know and love may not be "real" Thai food. That is, it is "real" to us Americans - Pad Thai with your choice of chicken or shrimp or the famous Drunken Noodles - How can noodles be drunken? A delicious aromatic mouthwatering Tom Yum soup to begin our meal. These have undoubtedly been our Thai comfort foods over the years.

For our American palates, Thai chefs, inspired by the resourcefulness of Chinese chefs, have created an extensive assortment of dishes to appeal to our unique gastronomic adventurousness. Favorites like Chicken Satay or Siamese Beef that call out our names as we drive past our favorite local Thai restaurants excite our taste buds. However, these staple dishes would make most Thai people scratch their heads in bewilderment.

Fortunately, now we don't have to be extras in an Anthony Bourdain CNN entourage to take a trip down to Thailand to taste what Thai people love and eat every day. We don't even have to be members of the 2-years young World Street Food Congress (yes, there is such a thing!)!  Recently a host of restaurants have popped up across the U.S. serving up actual authentic Thai Street Food to give us a chance to taste Thailand without the hassle of airline travel or TSA lines.

In fact, one of our favorite Northern Virginia Thai spots in Tysons Corner has continued to surprise us with their approach to great Thai food.  If you follow our blog, you'll remember that we reviewed iThai in Vienna, VA on numerous occasions, and have dined there more than a dozen times. Only four years after launching iThai in Tysons, the three seasoned female restauranteurs have successfully reinvented their restaurant.

iThai is now known as “Side Street & Sushi Bar by iThai.” The restaurant moved only a few doors over in the same corporate park strip mall. But the physical move two months ago was much more than a relocation: iThai has rebranded its menu, its atmosphere, and dare we say: it rebranded its spirit.   The new feel and energy of Side Street & Sushi Bar by iThai is a departure from its previous location, whose lobby it shared with Ringling Bros corporate office. 

The philosophy of Side Street & Sushi Bar by iThai is to bring the streets of any metropolitan city in Thailand to the folks of Northern Virginia.  They’ve also added a sushi menu.  The General Manager, whose name Yo is easy to remember! passionately and patiently explained to us the intricacies of Thai cuisine in general and Thai street food in particular.  A fascinating aspect of Thai food is the influences of cuisines from its neighboring countries, like Malaysia, Burma, Laos, China, Vietnam, Cambodia and Singapore. These influences can even make a difference in the ingredients of a simple Papaya Salad (Som Tum) that is served in Northern Thailand versus Southern Thailand. 

We started with a glass of very refreshing Roselle Juice (Hibiscus) over ice. We wondered out loud how great it would go with a shot of vodka and were told its already on the bar menu.  Will be back soon for happy hour to try one (or five) of those.  

Two Thai specialties hit the table first.  Sweet corn fritters and chicken satay.  Let us just say that the Corn fritters were amazing and the Chicken Satay, a familiar favorite, was equally great.  After the two Thai staples came a course of sushi .  The sushi was fresh and offered a nice twist on what we expected to be a thai menu.  The entrees came next. We had Khao Nua Obb, a traditional beef and broccoli dish that was a bit light on flavor and overtaken by the majority of broccoli.  

A chicken dish, of Burmese origins, according to Yo, called Khao Soi: crispy noodles and shredded red onions surrounded a chicken leg in a spicy orange coconut-based broth. Identified by 2 red peppers on the menu, it was on the hot and spicy side.  Next came the Khao Sam Moo: a barbeque-like pork dish served with rice, Chinese style.  

What came next was something neither of us will ever forget: The appropriately nicknamed "Stinky Beans" dish. Wow. This dish of Malaysian origins is officially called Sator Pad Goong and can be served with any meat of your choice. The unusual aroma we were warned about in advance did not disappoint. 

A delicious tapioca dessert was the perfect ending and wrapped everything up nicely.  Tapioca with Cantaloupe in sweet coconut milk was refreshing and a nice way to relax the taste buds after a flavorful meal. We’ll be back, probably during happy hour to try the “adult version” of the amazing Roselle Juice, but also to try more of the dishes on their broad menu.

Hibiscus juice (next time we'll try it with vodka!) during happy hour every day 4:00-7:00pm

Happy Hour menu

Sushi bar

Clockwise from top left: Corn Fritters and Chicken Satay appetizers, followed by a wonderful assortment of sushi and sashimi, with extensive vegan options

On the left is the Khao Soi with Chicken, which is a House Specialty Broth; on the right is the Khao Nua Obb (also known on the menu as Khao Nua Tak Rai), beef brocooli

Famous Chicken with "Stinky Beans" Sator Pad Goong

BBQ Pork entree: Khao Sam Moo

Mild and delectable Tapioca Cantaloupe dessert that gets its green color from the Pandan Leaf