Welcome to the Northern Virginia Restaurant Blog.

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

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

When you're in Hampton Roads, VA, ya gotta eat at these two Thai restaurants - Bangkok Garden (Virginia Beach) and Rama Garden Thai (Norfolk)

Bangkok Garden
2029 S Lynnhaven Pkwy
Virginia Beach, VA
Tel: (757) 282-6189

Last week, we ventured into the deep south of Virginia to enjoy a few days on the beach.

Wherever we go, we always seek out Thai restaurants, well one of us does anyway, and the other one accommodates.  Seriously, folks, isn't that what marriage is all about?  So, when we were on a short beach vacation, we Yelped Thai restaurants in Virginia Beach and came up with Bangkok Garden.  It is located in a nondescript strip mall along a major traffic artery in Virginia Beach, which, as we recently found out, is the largest city in Virginia. 

It is a large restaurant with two traditionally decorated, though a bit darker than we prefer, dining halls and tattered seats... and the food is delicious! For under $9, each lunch entree comes with a veggie spring roll and a salad, so the value is way great. Service is attentive and friendly. Considering the plethora of lunch options in the area, there were quite a few patrons here, which is definitely a good sign for us. 

In short, we had a great experience here and would come here again next time we are in the area.

Salad with delicious peanut ginger dressing and veggie spring roll

Garlic Vegetable Stir Fry $8.50

Pad Ka-Na Chicken Stirfried with Broccoli $8.50

Rama Garden Thai Cuisine
441 Granby St

Norfolk, VA
Tel: (757) 616-0533

Just a short drive north of Virginia Beach in Norfolk, when we (well, one of we) was again craving Thai (admittedly, a natural state of existence for some of us), there was another pleasant surprise (Yelp to the rescue!) - in the quaint walkable, downtown area - lunch at the Rama Garden Thai Restaurant. This downtown area has quite a few cute restaurants and shops, it is clean with lots of little mini parks with benches and is dog friendly. And though during lunch time this area seemed a bit deserted, especially compared with the crowded walking areas inside the Beltway that we are accustomed to, Rama Garden was quite busy with lunchers. There was only one waiter, who did a great job serving all the tables.

The decor here was a blend of traditional and nouveau fun, service was wonderful, and the food delicious! We ordered the Papaya Salad as an appetizer, and altough it was served along with the entrees, which is not what we expected, it went along perfectly with our entrees as a side dish. The Papaya Salad was not spicy, like you'd get, say at Bangkok Golden at Seven Corners, but fresh and delicious. Both entrees we ordered - Siamese Beef and Spicy Mango with Veggies - were served kinda soupy, which was a bit different, but absolutely great. And great value, too!

One of us prefers their food dry and not spicy, the other one loves spicy and saucy (yes, we are opposites, that's why we're married) - and we were both very happy with what we got here.  The Spicy Mango dish was seasoned so perfectly that no additional sauces were needed and the medley of vegetables was fabulous.

Will definitely return here, maybe will even seek it out next time we're in Norfolk!

Papaya Salad (bottom left) ($5.95), Beef Siam (top) ($7.50) and Spicy Mango with Veggies (bottom right) ($7.50)

  • Business website

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Flavors Soul Food Restaurant - Falls Church, VA

3420 Carlyn Hill Drive
Falls Church, VA 22041
Bailey's Crossroads
(703) 379-4411

I SO WANTED TO LIKE THIS PLACE. When I lived in New York City's Hell's Kitchen (today known as Clinton) in the mid-90s, there was a fantastic Soul Food carry-out on 9th Avenue between 45th and 46th Streets.  It was my absolute favorite default dinner joint until they closed in the late 90s. When I heard that there is a soul food restaurant at Bailey's Crossroads,  I was thrilled and kept it in the back of my mind as a place I'd love to try.  Being from New York, I consider Virginia to be almost the deep south, so the soul food should surely be even more fantastic here, right? I so miss the sweet yams, the tangy collards, the creamy mashed potatoes, the crunchy fried chicken with those wonderful spices and textures and that southern hospitality from that awesome NYC dive.

Recently, I was running errands and found myself driving along Columbia Pike about to turn off on Rte. 7 when I noticed it just to the side on Carlyn Hill Drive - there it was - Flavors Soul Food! Since I was in the middle of errands, I didn't have time for a proper sit-down lunch, but I definitely couldn't pass up an opportunity to stop in for at least something small to see whether this is a place I could return to when I had more time.

The standalone small restaurant (right behind Meaza) is a run down shack. Potentially, this could be good, I thought. Looking around, it's pretty obvious that overhead spending at this restaurant was not just minimal, it was nonexistent. Torn up chairs behind the cash register with their guts hanging out. The wood paneling and the rest of the decor looked like it was not only original to the restaurant, but perhaps even pre-dated it.  The grimy door leading to some kind of other room next to the kitchen behind the counter was quite ominous. The good news was that on a Sunday afternoon in-between standard meal times, there were at least some patrons dining here, so it had to be somewhat good.  

I approached the counter and began studying the menu hanging above. Despite the dilapidated feel of the place, the prices were quite average, or even above-average.  Since I could only carry out something small, I inquired with the serious-looking big guy behind the counter about the chicken sandwich. Specifically, I asked him what does it come with? "Bread," answered the big guy, who perhaps doubled up as the cook.  No lettuce, tomato, pickle or any special sauce? "NO." Okaaaaaay - no fresh vegetables, which would make the overhead even smaller than I thought! How about mayo or ketchup? "Only packets of mayo over here," he replied, "No ketchup." I asked what was the spiciest thing they had on the menu? I'll take that. "Nothing spicy, unless you add some of this hot sauce."  Wow, what a disappointment already, and on top of that not much hospitality, either.

I ended up ordering a veggie platter comprised of 3 sides for $10.95 - Collard Greens, Mashed Potatoes and Cole Slaw. It came with buns. To tell you the truth, I was particularly looking forward to some warm home-baked real soul food southern buns! Guess what - the buns turned out to be regular generic store-bought Giant (or elsewhere) buns you'd get shipped from a warehouse. The Collard Greens and the Mashed Potatoes were probably made at the restaurant, but they'd have to really convince me that the Cole Slaw was made at the restaurant - it looked and tasted store-bought, just like the buns. In short, the Collards were overly sour, the Mashed Potatoes were pretty bland, and the Cole Slaw was... well, it was not bad for store-bought.

Ok, ok, I didn't have the one thing that may have probably been THE ONE thing to have - their Fried Chicken and Waffles. If I ever came back, this is definitely what I would get.  But honestly, I am not sure it is worth returning here, even for that.  I think I asked the big guy how long the restaurant had been there and he told me it was 30 years or something to that effect, even though their Twitter page says they were established in 1997, which would make them about 18 years old. Either way, that's a pretty long time, so, it obviously has its dedicated clientelle. Unfortunately, I just won't be one of them.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

German Gourmet - Purveyor of Fine German Foods in Falls Church, VA

5838 Columbia Pike
Falls Church, VA 22041
Bailey's Crossroads
Tel: (703) 379-8080

There is treasure trove of German, Swiss, Austrian, and Norwegian food right here in Northern Virginia and it is called German Gourmet.  

The German Gourmet was founded in 1962 in Washington, D.C. Shortly afterwards, it relocated to  Northern Virginia. Since its establishment, it has changed several owners, both German and Swiss. Its current Swiss owners opened the Bailey's Crossroads location in 2007 and began offering a breakfast and lunch dine-in menu served in a small sectioned-off area near the counter with several tables.

Here you can get the Frikadellen sandwich, which they call "European Hamburger," made with ground beef, pork, parsley, onions served on a Brioche bun. Or a Weisswurst sandwich with a side of tyrolean cabbage, beet or spaetzle salad.

For the most part, German Gourmet is a grocery / carry-out. Much of its business is from its online mail-order service and its grocery carry out with an extensive selection of regional delicacies. 

But it is nothing short of a treat to visit its brick-and-mortar location!

You can sample a delicious variety of its groceries, including bratwurst, sausages, coldcuts, cheeses, breads, homemade salads, chocolates, cakes and pastries, beer and wine, and party platters. While their grocery prices may seem a bit on the higher end, its unique and rare offerings are an exceptional find! The eat-in prices for breakfast and lunch sandwiches are a bargain ranging between $4.95 and $7.95. The choices are quite extensive and different from what you would get anywhere else.

Because the dine-in area is small and often hosts visitors, we suggest calling ahead to see whether any events are planned when you are setting out to come here to eat in.  Don't forget to pick up a souvenir on your way out, almost as if you actually traveled to Germany or Switzerland.

We will definitely be coming back here for their wine tastings and their amazing decadent Sacher Torte!


 Small dining area

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Seasons 52 - A New American Restaurant - Tysons Corner Center, McLean, VA

Tysons Corner Center
7863L Tysons Corner (Lower Level)
McLean, VA 22102
Tel: (703) 288-3852

Don't ask for a basket of bread with your meal here at Seasons 52! That would defeat the purpose of having a meal under 750 calories, explained our amicable waiter.

Wonder whether this restaurant has any relation to the new 5-2 diet that everyone is talking about? This is a diet where you eat normally for 5 days a week and fast on 2 days. Would be curious if there is a connection. 

Seasons 52 has been expanding rapidly in the United States with 40+ locations today, trail blazing the healthy eating trend that has swept across some parts of the country. Its parent company Darden Restaurants Inc., which also owns Olive Garden, The Capital Grille, and Yard House, was ranked by Fortune magazine in 2011 as one of the “100 Best Companies to Work For.” This may be a good thing and a bad thing in how it affects the quality of the restaurant's service.  The two servers we had were pleasant and knowledgeable about the menu. That's the good thing.  The bad thing is that servers were few and far between, obviously shorthanded, having to keep up with the busy and popular restaurant, running the large distances of the dining hall, so it took quite a while to get our food here on a Sunday evening.

Along with your meal, you'll be treated to a piano bar, which may or may not be your thing. If you arrive sans reservations, you may be stuck at the front of the restaurant in the first-come-first-serve tall bar tables along the crowded mall side with the added bonus of shopper watching.  Unless you have a booming Barry White voice, a conversation is challenging in this location, as you're battling both the noise of the mall and the piano bar music, but at least you have sufficient light from the mall to see your food. On the other hand, if you score a table anywhere in the large dining room, pack a flashlight, because the place is nearly pitch black. These are your seating options. Now for the food.

Sitting at the tall bar stools under the light of the mall, we began our meal with the Roasted Shrimp & Stuffed Mushroom appetizer that arrived in a classic escargot-serving dish. It was a nice tasty starter, despite being on the lean side (not rich at all). The best part about this appetizer was the delicious garlicky sauce that trickled to the bottom of each hole simply begging to be sopped up by a piece of a fluffy baguette. ALAS.... the words of our waiter rang in our minds.... no bread.

Our entrees were Steak Salad and Roasted Salmon. We requested the dressing on the side with our Steak Salad entree. The dressing came in such a miniscule portion that even for those people who are not dressing fiends, it would be laughable. Our waiter cheerfully complied with our request for additional dressing, while shooting us a look of caution lest we fully grasp the looming danger of possibly exceeding the allotted calorie maximum, as the Steak Salad was already a whopping 500 calories.  Further pushing the limits of our caloric luck, we ordered a side of Scallops (370 Calories) to go with the Steak Salad, thereby creating a Surf n' Turf. This was a good value for only $9.95. The restaurant also offers a Shrimp Scampi ($9.95) or Maine Lobster Tail ($10.95) as Sides, which are great deals, too, and would go great with any entree on the menu, but keep in mind, that they are 330 and 150 Calories, respectfully, so expect the portions to correspond to those numbers.

The Roasted Salmon was served on a wooden plank, as is the current trend in many restaurants. Despite being on the dry side, it was well-seasoned and the glaze added a nice sweetness to it. The side of steamed veggies was colorful and good. The pleasing presentation of all the dishes is definitely appreciated. 

"Any room for dessert?" Oh, yes..... lots of room.

There is something to be said for leaving a restaurant with the feeling that is somewhere past "starving," but quite a ways from "full." This would be fine had we not just dropped over $60 for our dinner, when usually for this price we would be bringing home leftovers. When we watched a sweet Millennial couple on a date sitting at the next table joyfully snacking on a basket of wilted asparagus, we understood that perhaps we are just a different kind of diners and require a different kind of restaurant. 

Luckily, just up the escalator (the less-gluttonous would undoubtedly have opted for stairs) on the Upper Level of the Tysons Corner Shopping Center, Le Madeleine was still open and still serving their rich, mouthwatering, whipped-cream-topped (and a strawberry, too) cheesecake with only 900 Calories!  Usually, after a fulfilling meal we do not crave, nor have any room, for dessert, making us wonder about the advantages of a low-Calorie meal that sends you running for cheesecake.  Dropping the Calorie-consumption level certainly is a worthwhile endeavor, depending on one's starting point. Many people may require a gradual approach to accomplish this objective. We believe in the old-school approach of eating a little bit of everything and not overdoing it on anything.  

We'll definitely return to Le Madeleine, but not so sure about Seasons 52.

 Lump Crab, Roasted Shrimp & Spinach Stuffed Mushrooms under Parmesanpanko crust (220 cal) $9.95

 Grilled Flat Iron Steak Bibb lettuce, summer corn, roasted tomatoes, crumbled blue cheese (500 cal) $15.95

 Cedar-Plank Roasted Salmon roasted vegetables & crushed potatoes, dill-mustard sauce, grilled lemon (440 cal) $20.50

"Entree Accompaniment" Caramelized Sea Scallops (370 cal) $9.95

Decadent Cheesecake from La Madeleine

Friday, June 26, 2015

Tupelo Honey Cafe - A Taste of North Carolina in Arlington, VA

1616 N. Troy Street
Arlington, VA 22201
Tel: (703) 253-8140

Tucked away on a small newly-constructed block connecting Wilson and Clarendon Blvds in Arlington (Clarendon), Tupelo Honey Cafe is a distinctively unique and cheerful addition to Arlington's vigorously expanding dining scene. Tupelo Honey Cafe began in Ashville, NC about 15 years ago offering a modern twist on traditional Southern cuisine.

According to the restaurant, the name comes from the honey that is used and sold in the restaurants. Tupelo Honey is the best tasting and purest honey known to exist. It doesn’t crystalize like other types of honey and it’s produced only in Southern Georgia and Northwest Florida (where the original owner, Sharon Schott, grew up). Tupelo trees have a very short blossoming season from early April to early May, which makes the supply of pure Tupelo Honey very unique and rare. The mission at Tupelo Honey Cafe is to give customers the same unique, flavorful dining experience by using pure, all natural and fresh ingredients in the food they serve.

Ever since Steve Frabitore took over the Tupelo Honey Cafe in 2008, he expanded its locations around the South, then moved northward and, in the process, proved that Southern cooking with the right added touches can indeed have a universal appeal. Its localness is an added bonus - it has been placed in the Top Ten Farm-To-Table Restaurants in America. We welcome small business owners like Steve, who has already been awarded for leadership, civic responsiveness and for bettering the communities where he works with healthy eating and healthy living.

Tupelo Honey Cafe's outside patio dining area is large, modern and comfortable. At 6pm on a weekday the patio was packed with professional local 20-30-somethings enjoying a popular happy hour. The Cafe opened its doors only on June 1st and the crowd already seemed "regular" - now that's fast!

The Cafe is as welcomingly-outfitted inside as it is outside, in a rustic modern style. Art from local artists adorns every wall of the large dining room as far as the eye can see, from paintings to glass fixtures. We love bright open kitchens where we can see our food being prepared and watch the masterful technique and pleasure the chefs display while preparing our food.  This definitely adds to the fun of the dining experience here.

The food here is exactly what it claims to be - Southern with a twist.  We tasted about a dozen items from the menu section entitled Small Southern Plates. This was really a perfect representation of the restaurant's range of flavors, so we feel comfortable in calling the menu here pleasingly innovative without any pretense or pomp.

We tried about a dozen Southern Small Plates on the Summer Dinner menu. These range from $7 to $14 per plate.  You can see a photo and a description below each photo in this blog of the items we tried. The description reflects the menu as well as our comment, in most cases. A variety of about 5-6 Small Plates can make a great dinner for people like us, who like to eat a lot and walk out full and happy. So, it is a little pricey, but you get value for your bucks.

As Northerners, we often unfairly dismiss Southern cuisine as "everything fried."  Yes, there are some predictably fried items here, such as the classic Fried Green Tomatoes, several versions of Fried Chicken, and Fried Okra. But here they are not the stereotypical boring fatty stuff we Northerners tend to think it is. All the dishes have a flavorful twist that unquestionably set this menu way apart from anything predictable.  One fried surprise in a particular was a first for us - THE FRIED AVOCADO! Go figure, BUT THE FRIED AVOCADO IS DEFINITELY A HIT! It is a perfectly green ripe delicious avocado slice wrapped in a crunchy fried batter served with a house-made tomato sauce and whipped sour cream, and it is delicious.

The Southern Taco Trio platter is available either with beef meatloaf or Cajun fried chicken. Of these two, we definitely preferred the chicken, not only for the curry flavor and the tomato-cuke salsa, but also for quality of the meat. There is nothing wrong with the meatloaf at all, it is quite tasty, though a bit milder than the chicken, but we prefer our meatloaf to be very very lean, which is not easy to get in any restaurant environment. In fact, we are not big beef eaters, just so you have our recommendations within the right context.

We plan to return to Tupelo Honey Cafe to try their Brunch on Saturday or Sunday 9am-3pm. They also serve a Moonrise Brunch on Friday and Saturday night that includes a combination of brunch and happy hour items. The actual HAPPY HOUR is Monday-Thursday 4-7pm, when their signature cocktail "Ode to Eleanor Roosevelt" is only $5 (regularly, $8), all draft pints are $3, all wine bottles are half off and 6 of their small plates are $6.  We definitely recommend Tupelo Honey Cafe and will return here very soon.

View from N. Troy Street

Patio at Happy Hour

An extensive Drink Menu that offers 23 craft beers. The Cocktail menu is interesting, too!
NOTE that the first Cocktail listed "Ode to Eleanor Roosevelt" Sparkling Sangria ($8) is a signature specialty drink of the Arlington Tupelo Honey Cafe, it is on draft, and looks like this:

All Tupelo Honey Cafe's cocktails feature local and regional spirits.

 Meatloaf Tacos with Brussels Slaw and Smoked JalapeƱo Sauce

 Fried Avocado with Fresh Tomato Salsa and Whipped Sour Cream
Definitely a hit!

 Baked Macaroni and Cheese with Cajun Blackened Shrimp

 Salted Beets with Roasted Pistachio Pesto and Goat Cheese
A great appetizer, side dish or tapas plate that will complement practically any item on the menu.

 Curried Fried Chicken Tacos with Apple Salsa and Cherry Pepper Aioli (Garlic Mayo)
The tomato-cuke-onion salsa with cilantro, fresh jalapenos and a squeeze of lime went great with the hint of curry in the chicken.

 Pecan Crusted Goat Cheese with Baked Apples, Sweet Figs and Crostini Slices
Although the Crostini can get a bit soggy from the juices, this is a great appetizer

 Fried Green Tomatoes with Goat Cheese Grits and Red Pepper Coulis

A feast!

 Lamb Meatballs in a House-made Tomato Curry Sauce with Feta Cheese

 Country Ham Wontons with a Brussels Sprouts Salad

 Fresh Blueberry & Lemon Quinoa w/ Arugula & Feta
Includes thin crunchy Almond Slices, not listed on the menu. Turns out that Blueberries and Feta go great with Quinoa!

 Seared Yellowtail Tuna with a Honey Mustard dressing and a Salad of Edamame, Pine Nuts, Carrots and Golden Raisins

 Southern creamy light warm buscuits with blackberry jam

 Kitchen is bright and open (not shown on photo) so you can watch your food being prepared

Art from local artists is displayed throughout the large dining space wherever the eye can see

Wonderfully-accommodating and convivial Sous Chef Andre (originally from Asheville, NC) and Waiter Nick (from Massachussetts)

 As an after-dinner treat, PICK UP A JAR OF TUPELO HONEY, as well as one of their made-from-scratch dressings, to take home with you!

Romantic patio setting at dusk after a heavy rain