Welcome to the Northern Virginia Restaurant Blog.

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

Monday, May 25, 2015

Saba Yemeni Restaurant - Fairfax, VA

3900 Pickett Road
Fairfax, VA 22031
Tel:(703) 425-1130

If you are looking for a taste of Yemen without getting on the plane, we are lucky to have a new restaurant called Saba right here in Northern Virginia! 

Saba Restaurant opened about a year ago, offering Yemeni comfort food specialties consisting primarily of large portions of meat and rice, cooked with delicious spices. If you are not a meat eater, your options will be limited, but it's definitely worth the visit anyway. After all, this newcomer made it on the coveted list of Washingtonian's 25 Best Inexpensive Restaurants in the DC area!

Saba is a medium-size restaurant, about 20 tables, with a large sectioned-off area in the back, where you can dine in a true Yemeni fashion, shoes off sitting on pillows on the floor.  We opted for a table when we came with a group of about 10 friends. It is great to come with a group of adventurous friends, so that we had a chance to sample a variety of Saba's dishes. Unknowingly, we picked a popular night - Saturday - when Saba gets quite crowded, so the wait staff, though friendly and knowledgeable, were clearly stretched to their limit.

The crowded dining hall, coupled with the poor exhaust system of the building's older construction, where Saba is located, made for a somewhat stuffy and hot atmosphere. We visited the previous tenant of this space - Sheba Ethiopian Restaurant, which we reviewed back in 2013, and this unfortunate feature of poor ventilation has remained.  In fact, the decor, the furnishings, and even the plates were exactly the same in Saba as they were in Sheba! So, by the looks of it, not much was spent on overhead in the transtition from an Ethiopian to a Yemeni restaurant.

One important thing did change, however, and not for the better: There is no alcohol served in Saba restaurant. None served and none allowed on the premises, so no BYOB. This was quite disappointing.

The menu options in Saba are monotone:  (1) Beef or lamb can be either roasted or slow-roasted; served on a bone, shredded or in a stew; (2) The spices seem to be rather identical from dish to dish; (3) The same side of the Yemeni salsa-type condiment called "sahawiq" comes with most entrees; (4) The generous portions of extra long grain saffron basmati rice or warm pita accompany all the food; (5) All platters are served family-style, ready to share, and all are sprinkled with wormy-looking onion bits; And finally, (6) all stews are topped with the same whipped-fenugreek dressing.  The Saltah stew, offered with either beef or only vegetables, comes out in a hot pot. The other entrees are served on large family-style platters.  All entrees come with generous portions of green salad with a light olive oil dressing, which the waiters brought out in large family-style platters, also.  Though there is not much variety to the menu, all the food we ordered was very good, flavorful and enough to share with friends.

One note, that of the two portions of Lamb Mandi that we ordered, one was quite fatty.  The staff, to their credit, offered to take it back and bring out another cut of lamb, so keep in mind if yours comes out this way.

We were disappointed when the appetizers we ordered never arrived AND when the restaurant actually ran out of silverware and gave several people in our group plasticware to use. Quite challenging to use plasticware with hot dishes, especially when it came to cutting meat!  We understand that the restaurant was filled to capacity with large parties, but.... come on.  Fortunately, the lamb and beef were soft enough to cut with a plastic knife.

Yet, a third disappointment came when we were ready to order dessert.  The menu featured a list of about 6 or 7 desserts that all sounded delicious.  Curiously, 5 of them ranged between $20 and $40 each!  We were told that they were unavailable for single portion ordering, they could be served only for larger parties. So why list them on a menu?  Individual portions were available only for two featured desserts: Rowani and Basboussa. BUT but they were out or Rowani! So, through process of elimination by the restaurant, we were stuck with Basboussa. We shared two orders among six of us, which was more than enough.  The Basboussa was a bit grainy because of the semolina base, only slightly sweet, and overall a light and good ending to our meal.

In all, we had a nice dinner out with our our adventurous friends.  Although we left happy and with full bellies, the experience was rather on the disappointing side and we are unlikely to return.  Do we recommend that you go to try it once? Yes. But that's about it.

 Entrance to Saba Restaurant is on the left side of the small shopping strip

 Main dining room with bar area under the TV

 Wall decor

 Sahawiq - Yemeni "Salsa" served with all dishes as a garnish

 Salad with delicate olive oil dressing and spices, brought out to share that comes with all entrees

 Lamb Mandi - roasted lamb with a generous portion of basmati rice and sahawiq (on side)

Haneeth - slow-roasted lamb with the same generous portion of basmati rice and sahawiq (on side)

 Saltah - traditional Yemeni stew served with warm pita bread

Basboussa - semolina dessert with honey, the only dessert that was available out of 7 on the menu


Saturday, May 16, 2015

Rabieng Thai Restaurant - Falls Church, VA

5892 Leesburg Pike
Falls Church, A 22041
(703) 671-4222

Since telling you recently about how much we enjoy dining at Rabieng, we've returned several times bringing different friends. Each visit has been consistent in the top-notch friendly service and absolute deliciousness.

So, we wanted to post a few more pictures of our recent meal for you. If you have not yet delected in the flavors and hospitality of Rabieng, we're certain these pictures of our mouthwatering entrees will do the trick. 

Don't miss Rabieng's wonderful selection of appetizers, especially the Calamari, Fried Plantains, Roasted Cashews, and Veggie Rolls. These are just a few of the appetizers that we love, but you will surely not leave the table disappointed with any choice you make.

Go ahead and make diinner reservations for next weekend! You will be pleased you did. You're welcome!

 Bah Mee (Crispy Noodle Nest) With Chicken

 Drunken Noodles with Chicken (Pad Kee Mao)

 Pad Thai "Supreme"

 Garlic Chicken with Broccoli

 Pad Thai with Veggies

 Pad See-Ew (Noodles in Sweet Soy Sauce)

CHECK IT OUT: Come to Rabieng for dinner on a Wednesday, when for a $35 dinner for two, you can get a bottle of red (Merlot) or white (Chardonnay) wine from the La Terre Winery for just $1!

Awards wall - could not fit all their awards in one photo. Nuff said.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Two Awesome Lunch Buffets - Falls Church and Falls Church City, VA

Bangkok Golden - Thai and Laotian
6395 Seven Corners Center
Falls Church, VA
(703) 533-9480

Saffron - Indian
1077 West Broad Street
Falls Church City, VA 22046
(703) 992-0077

First, Bangkok Golden, which serves both Thai and Laotian cuisine.  Situated in the Shoppers Food Warehouse plaza, this is a tiny place. As you walk in, you will barely notice a wall display of multiple well-deserved awards, such as Washingtonian's best restaurants.  We came here for the lunch buffet we heard so much about from our friends. And now we can definitely say that the lunch buffet is perfection both in the variety and the flavors.  The value is also perfection: on weekdays for a mere $10, Bangkok Golden offers a delicious selection of veggie and chicken dishes, ideal especially for those who don't eat other meats.  The papaya salad alone is worth the schlep through the Seven Corners traffic.  On weekends, Bangkok Golden adds several fish dishes that are out of this world delicious, for just a few dollars more.  Most dishes are on the spicy side, especially the Laotian ones.  If you are the type who usually puts extra spices on your food, you will definitely not need to do that here. Every buffet item is flavorful and spiced to perfection.

What makes Bangkok Golden more interesting is the Laotian side.  The chef owner Seng Luangrath is leading the much welcomed Lao Food Movement in the Washington, D.C. area.  Recently, her 21-year-old son, young chef Bobby Pradachith, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, also joined his parents at Bangkok Golden, while also working at D.C.'s well-known Minibar.  We look forward to returning here and ordering off the menu, but for now we are delighted with tasting the variety of offerings from the buffet.

Bangkok Golden

Second, Saffron. We wrote up Saffron in this blog several months ago, and since then have returned here at least a half a dozen times, bringing friends and relatives, who all enjoyed their meals here.  Saffron serves South Indian cuisine, which generally tends to be spicier than North Indian.  Their Goan specialties are great.  Usually, we order off the menu. Their Chicken Vindaloo is addictive, especially when prepared personally by the chef-owner with 20+ years of experience.  Their Chicken Tikka is also one of our favorites, complemented with an order of garlic naan.

Saffron's lunch buffet does not disappoint. Make sure you arrive for the buffet early, as the crowd likes to arrive at the opening of the restaurant and stay around for a while to enjoy the plentiful delicious buffet selections.  As we have described this restaurant in our blog only recently, we will not linger, other than to emphasize that the value for the lunch buffet is not only worth it, it is a steal! And definitely leave room for dessert, which is a plain and simple vermicelli-based Kheer (a white pudding), only offered at their buffet. At other times, their rice-based Kheer is offered as a menu item. Both are absolutely delicious.  Like all Indian food, it is quite complicated to make and requires ingredients most non-Indians typically don't keep around at home.  Incidentally, here is a demonstration of how to make



Saffron - Vermicelli-based Kheer

Monday, April 27, 2015

Hokkaido Seafood Buffet - Falls Church, VA

5900 Leesburg Pike
Falls Church, VA 22041
Tel: (703) 845-0888

There is definitely something for eveyone at Hokkaido, located between Seven Corners and Bailey's Crossroads in a shopping strip situated along Leesburg Pike's fantastic ethnic food corridor.  This is the perfect place for gathering a group of friends who can't agree on where to eat.  You can bring your family, grandparents, picky teenagers, every age, every demographic, and every level of palate adventurousness.  Hokkaido Seafood Buffet restaurant is a definite guarantee that they will all find something and more!

The impressive display of variety is somewhat overwhelming, so the key is to pace oneself!  In the eternal words of the ever-wise Martin Crane in the long-running 90s sitcom, Frasier, giving advice to his son Niles when approaching the all-you-can-eat cruise ship buffet, "Now the buffets come at a pretty good pace, so you gotta pace yourself. And watch out for your fillers - your breads, your rolls, your chips, your dips. You've only got so much room - don't be a hero."  Well-said, Martin!

While the selection is enormous, a pick-and-try approach to finding favorites can quickly get you too full to eat anymore.  And in the tasting process, a variety in quality may also play into what to pick next.  The sashimi cuts were not the high-grade of fish one finds in a favorite sushi joint.  There is no question that when there is ample quantity, there is an occasional sacrifice in quality.  Perhaps it is well-advised to have higher expectations for the prepared foods rather than the raw bars.  But no problem, just move on to the next station and you will not be disappointed!

There is every imaginable kind of food here.  Photos below repesent the Hokkaido selection only partially.  There is definitely way more here.  In fact, there is food everywhere the eye can see.  Trays and trays, stations and stations, steam, smoke, aromas.  Trying to convey the extensive array of choices is akin to describing the indescribable.

As suggested by its name, this is a restaurant with an Asian flavor, so every Asian cuisine from Korean kimchi to Japanese sushi to Chinese stirfry seems to be represented here.  But not only!  While there isn't much in terms of service or ambience here, it is barely missed. For under $20 (discounts available for seniors and kids), there is barely time to look around at anything other than the dozens of trays of salads, soups, seafood, stirfry, various stations with unique Asian delicacies and a variety that can be described only as mouthwatering. The dessert station alone offers about a dozen choices.

We will defitely be back here time and time again, so that we can try everything on the menu, and then be back for our favorite picks.

Our plates were filled to the rim, and we hadn't even tried one fifth of what Hokkaido has to offer:

Monday, April 13, 2015

China Star Chinese Restaurant - Fairfax, VA

9600 Main Street
Fairfax, VA 22031
(703) 323-8822

There is a great benefit to dining out with a group of people who enjoy tasting a variety of dishes and have opinions on each dish.  Undoubtely, China Star is a prime candidate to visit with as many people as can fit around your table, considering the extensive menu it offers with a wide selection of choices, nearly making you wish you could squeeze all 3 daily meals into one.  You can pick either of its two websites (yes, two?) to review the menu ahead of your visit, though narrowing your selection down is not easy because it all sounds so good.  Perhaps this is a restaurant where one can be advised to visit often to try everything in order to ultimately settle on the favorites.  

Unfortunately, of the five appetizers and about six or seven entrees, nearly all were disappointments. It is possible that our selections were simply wrong, but we cast quite a wide net, as you can see by the photos below, to get as many diverse flavors as possible. 

To begin with, those items marked as "spicy" or even "numbing" were anything but.  The fact that the Wontons, for example, were drowining in chili oil (see photo below) did not make them any less bland. Several appetizers sounded quite unique, which is why we ordered them, such as Cucumber with Mashed Garlic and Wood Ear.  The former consisted of bland and mushy cucmbers with very little garlic flavor. It was particularly mushy and slimy when combined with any of the other food on one plate. The latter turned out to be a pile of delicate thin black mushrooms, also quite bland until you reached the small stash of pickled hot peppers at the bottom of the bowl.  The Changdu Spicy Cold Noodle appetizer was also bland, and the noodles were annoyingly endless, rendering them nearly impossible to get off the serving plate without friends' help.

Now for the entrees, IF you are still hanging in there and thinking there is still a small chance you'll try Chine Star despite all you have read thus far. 

The entrees...  Well, someone on Yelp who loves spicy dishes as much as we all do, raved about the mild Fish with Pine Nuts, which, though not spicy was still all the rage. We figured with all the spicy dishes we were ordering, this would offer a nice balance.  NOT.  The fish was so mild both in flavor and texture, that, well... it was almost like eating something that was not there (if that makes sense), supplemented by more mushy cucumbers with the fish, boy, was this the wrong choice!  The Szechuan chicken - a combination of brittle fried popcorn chicken with small slices of potatoes (yes, potatoes in a Chinese restaurant!) and intermittent cilantro stems - was, in a word, DRY. The sprinkled red pepper added some heat, but definitely not any flavor.

Going into details about the remaining dishes, is not worth it because, frankly, you get the idea!

Oh, the smoked duck, was dry, and should probably have been smoked rather than eaten, although, jokes aside, it was probably the least disappointing of the entrees, though the bar, as you can see, is not high.

In a word, while Northern Virginia is not necessarily known for its great Chinese food, and this restaurant supports this perception, there are other Chinese restaurants that are much more worthwhile of a return visit, such as Peking Gourmet Inn or Mark's Duck House, than China Star.  

The good news is that the mediocre food was no barrier to a fun evening with a great group of people! 

 Dan Dan Noodle with ground pork

 Cucumber with mashed garlic

 Wontons with pork

 Changdu Spicy Cold Noodles (not spicy)

 Wood Ear (mushrooms) with Chili Oil Sauce

 Smoked duck

 Very top is Cashew Chicken

 Fish with Pine Nuts

 Shrimp with Asparagus and Kung Pao Chicken

Left is Szechuan Chicken and bottom is Beef with Snow Peas


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

We enjoy RusUz so much, we wanted to show you more pictures of their delicious food!

RusUz Restaurant - Uzbek, Central Asian and Russian Cuisine - Arlington (Ballston), VA

1000 N Randolph St
Arlington, VA 22201
(202) 468-8472

We've written about RusUz on this blog in the past, so we will not repeat ourselves. But we love it so much that we keep going back for more plov, more manty and more borscht. Russian and Central Asian food isn't for everyone, and we are the first to admit this. But for those who are not familiar with this kind of food, this is a great place to be introduced to it.

Food at RusUz has been great every time we have gone (about a dozen times since they opened a few years ago), and the service has gotten better with time.  We are not alone in thinking this. The restaurant is quite busy and often gets booked for private events, so we reservations are highly recommended, particularly on a Friday or Saturday evening, when the wait can be quite long without a reservation. The only drawback is the increasingly rocky chairs at some of the tables, but that's what an ethnic dive is all about! If you mention this to the staff, they will change out your chair....  The staff is very friendly, pleasant, knowledgeable and accommodating.

For those who drive everywhere, note that street parking is at a premium on weekend evenings in this busy area of Ballston, especially if there is a game in one of the surrounding bars, such as the awesome A-Town Bar & Grill. So, unless you're metroing, parking at the nearby Ballston Commons Mall parking lot is always an option, if you don't mind walking 3 short blocks.

By the way, here is a guide to Central Asian dishes http://www.buzzfeed.com/dianabruk/delicious-uzbek-dishes-you-need-to-try-immediately#.yrN4gzvEr and here is a partial list of Russian food that you will find at RusUz also http://www.buzzfeed.com/tashweenali/delicious-russian-foods-for-your-sochi-olympics-party#.rmpvoNJQP.  We've also offered a description of Central Asian food and geography in our previous posts about RusUz, as well as another excellent Central Asian restaurant in Gaithersburg, MD (yes, we crossed the border!) called Choyhona.  While the chef of Chayhona is from Samarkand, the chef at RusUz is from Tashkent.  Try both and see if you can tell the difference in their plov!  Each region and each town has their own recipe for this delicious dish.

Here are some more pictures of wonderful food at RusUz:

Appetizers starting from the far left: 

Bliny (a.k.a. Blinchiki) (Two orders of these here) - Russian traditional thin pancakes (crepes) filled with ground beef, topped with sour cream

Pirozhki - Russian traditional flaky crust pies stuffed with mashed potatoes and mushrooms 

Crab stick salad - Rice, hard-boiled eggs, sweet corn, and diced crab mixed with house mayonnaise

Manty (main course) - A staple in Uzbek cuisine. Large steamed dumplings with marinated dices of lamb and onions

Centered on the tray is a bowl of the beet and cabbage beef-based borscht with a dollop of sour cream, as traditionally served in Russia

Main course dishes starting with the top left:

Two orders of delicious Uzbek plov - Rice-based dish with either beef or lamb, as well as carrots, chickpeas, raisins and regional spices

Goluptsi - a Russian baked dish of seasoned ground beef and rice filling stuffed inside cabbage leaves, traditionally served with sour cream

Siberian pelmeni - Probably the best-known Russian dish of boiled delicate dumplings stuffed with ground beef served traditionally with sour cream (yes, again, sour cream) and dill

Chicken Shashlyk (kabob) served with a medley of green vegetables and topped with onions

 Delicious juicy Lamb Shank

Dolma - Stuffed Grape Leaves

Assortment of rich dessert cakes that are all calorie-free (wink wink)

Priatnovo Appetita! Bon Appetit!


Saturday, March 28, 2015

Alborz Persian Restaurant - Vienna, VA

8417 Old Courthouse Rd.
Vienna, VA 22162
(703) 288-4500

In the ever-changing scene on the corner of Chain Bridge Road (Rte 123) and Old Courthouse Road in Vienna, near the famed "toilet bowl building," is a welcome addition to the NoVa restaurant scene - Alborz Persian Restaurant. Alborz is situated in the space of the previous Koi Asian Bistro, which we reivewed here back in 2012. Over the last 3 years, Alborz has created quite a following of clientelle.  We were invited here by a devoted fan of the restaurant to join a group of diners and enjoy a deliciously prepared array of dishes.

Alborz did not disappoint both in the selection and the flavors. The added bonus was warm hospitality, excellent service, friendly and attentive staff, willing to acommodate every request with utmost professionalism.

The savory dishes are described in detail in captions below each photograph. 

This was a wonderful dining experience and we recommend to anyone who enjoyes Middle Eastern food in general, and Persian food in particular, to come to Alborz.  We certainly will be back.

There are two notes that you should be aware of.  On the plus side, there is plenty of parking behind the restaurant. On the minus side, there is no alcohol served in this restaurant.  We didn't inquire regarding BYOB. Although this is certainly not a showstopper for the restaurant, but good to know in advance to temper expectations.  

 Wonderfully delicate Persian Ice Cream made with saffron, rose water, cardamom and almonds between two thin wafers - splurge on this dessert, it's worth it!

 Crispy rice from the bottom of the rice pot, not for everyone, but a delicacy for those who enjoy it.

Delicious kabobs served with roasted tomatoes:
Jujeh Kabob - delicious marinated charbroiled Cornish hen
Koobieh kabob - juicy charbroiled seasoned ground beef

Kabobs were accompanied by the Alborz house salad - a mix of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, feta cheese and Greek calamata olives  

Gheymeh bademjan (beef stew) - sauteed beef and split peas cooked together in tomato sauce 
and topped with eggplant

 A heaping plate of Basmati rice topped with saffron

 In addition to the Alborz house salad, kabobs were served with the Salad-e-shirazi - freshly chopped cucumbers, tomatoes and onions marinated in lime juice

A "must" go-with for any kabobs is the Must-o-khiar - compbination of yogurt, 
chopped cucumbers and mint

Happy Norooz! Persian New Year, a celebration of the arrival of Spring.