Welcome to the Northern Virginia Restaurant Blog.

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

Friday, January 23, 2015

Will Thomas, FOX 5 reporter presents: "Will You Eat There?"

DC FOX 5's Will Thomas offers a weekly spot on the newscast entitled,  "Will You Eat There?"

This series is fun to watch and offers a unique competition and review of the selected establishment.  Check it out at:  http://www.myfoxdc.com/category/293968/will-you-eat-there

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Chuy's Tex-Mex chain restaurant new to NoVa - Fairfax, VA

11219 Lee Hwy
Fairfax, VA 22030

Something in the food at Chuy’s made a detour between Austin, TX and Fairfax, VA.  We say this because it seems that if you ask anyone they’ll tell you that Chuy’s is a staple in the Austin, TX area.  So, if you’re making Tex-Mex and you’re in Austin, it’s GOT to be GOOD.  Right?  Uh, no. While the décor was pleasant and the service was tolerable, the food was quite average and certainly not the best Tex-Mex we’ve ever had.  As a matter of fact, some of the best Tex-Mex meals that we've had outside of Texas were in the south of Spain at a place called Restaurante Casa Texas México, very “autentica comida mexicana.” But we digress.

It’s a shame, because NoVA is seriously lacking good Tex-Mex. Some places come close like El Tio in McLean, which we reviewed here, and even Anita’s in Vienna, which we've also reviewed here. Chuy’s sounded promising, but in the end we think it compares only with other national chain Tex-Mex brands, like On the Border and Chevy’s, which have had a long-time presence in Northern Virginia.

Following the schools of decorative fish that adorn the ceiling, the reception area centers a break - to the left is the restaurant's several large dining rooms and to the right the bar. On a Saturday evening, the restaurant was quite crowded with large families with children, groups, and couples, with a wait of about 20 minutes, so after evaluating whether or not we wanted to wait, we grabbed an available table at the bar. We loved the many dog portraits on the walls, but that was about all that we loved about this restaurant.  

An opened car trunk section holds the bottomless chips, salsa and queso available to anyone who wants to get up to refresh their obligatory chip and salsa portions when the wait staff is running behind, which seemed to be almost all the time.   

Chuy’s is obsessive with cleanliness.  They work it into conversation, the silverware is wrapped in a “Sanitized for your protection” paper envelope, and go out of their way to use a small plastic shovel to refill the chip bowl.  Ironically, one of our knives was spotted with dried food and needed replacement. 

Our server seemed rather disinterested in engaging with us when we tried to enlist her help in explaining the differences among several dishes. Instead of helping us, she kept eyeing some of the other diners, even as we were ordering, so we are assuming there was something more interesting happening a few tables away. The fact that our dirty dishes were piling up as wait staff zoomed past us without noticing, we think is because they were very busy, although it is certainly no excuse, and frankly, don't recall service this weak at Chevy's.

The chips and salsa were enough for appetizer. The salsa was relatively good, though a bit watery. It may be a pleasant alternative for those who don't care for the deep red tomato-y standard. It was light with tiny diced veggies. A watery salsa may not be for everyone. 

We ordered pretty standard Tex-Mex entrees - a beef fajita and the #1 Combination, which included an enchilada a taco, and a flauta. We asked that both the beef taco be substituted with chicken.  This did not happen on their first attempt, so they brought the chicken taco somewhat later when reminded that this is what we asked. Despite a long list of signature sauces on their menu, even those with 4 chillies were quite bland. There was really nothing wrong with the food, it was the same that could be expected from any of the old familiar chains in the area, like Chevy's, which is bound to be Chuy's main competitor here.  Even their logos look similar!

Will we go back?  Probably not. At least, not for a long time. For a better meal and better service in a restaurant of this kind, we will still go to Chevy's or On The Border.  However, we certainly believe that competition improves quality in everything, including of course restaurants, so we welcome Chuy's to Northern Virginia!

 Chips bar

 How can you not like a place that features our best friends?

 Happy Hour info


 Bottomless chips and salsa

 Signature Sauce selection

 Combination Deluxe $11.99

 Beef Fajita $14.99

Dirty plates piling up

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Tara Thai - Falls Church, VA (re-visited many times)

7501-E Leesburg Pike
Falls Church, VA 22043
tel : 703.506.9788
E-mail : tarathaifallschurch@gmail.com

Just a quick update that Tara Thai in Falls Church is still awesome. We have reviewed it previously, but just wanted to let you know about the consistency of the food, the service and the overall quality of the dining experience in this neighborhood strip mall restaurant.

For those who like ethnic dives, Tara Thai does not have the ethnic dive vibe.  Its large windows let in a lot of light, its aquarium decor is well-maintained and bright, and its staff all speak excellent English, are cheerful and knowledgeable.  Just needed to get that part out of the way, now on to the restaurant.

There is no dish here that is not absolutely delicious.  It's one thing to have a great selection on the menu, it's quite an added bonus to execute each dish the same way every time for a reliably undeviating experience when you've got the yearn to satisfy that specific craving. Tara Thai Falls Church is a hit every time.

Service is also consistently attentive, friendly and flawless.  Staff here are clearly knowledgeable and happy, while courteous and efficient.  

Last night we decided to stop by for happy hour. Their menu selection is typically listed on the wall. All drinks are half-price (wine, beer and cocktails) and there are about 8 appetizers that are also heavily discounted. Their wine selection during happy hour is limited to only "white or red," so if you'd like a wider selection from their well-stocked bar, be prepared to choose from the non-happy hour menu.  The happy hour appetizer selection is available only at the bar and a few tables nearest the front door. Theoretically, sitting so close to the entrance on a cold January night can feel drafty, but the vestibule is heated and insulated perfectly, so it's quite a comfortable location.  

We have mentioned in previous blogs that the Num Tok (beef salad) here is excellent.  This is an appetizer for those who enjoy intense flavors.  A particularly savory flavor is in the liquid that remains in the cradle of the plate once the beef, red onion, green onions and cilantro garnish are gone.  Their fried calamari appetizer is also excellent.  It comes glazed in a medium-intensity sweet and sour sauce, which is more on the savory side, with diced onions, green peppers and red peppers.  The Spring Rolls are delicate and perfect for finger-food type of snacking with a deliciously-mixed Cosmopolitan or a nice wine.  The Curry Puffs (two to an order) are delicate fried and potato-ey, accompanied by a clear sauce with small jalapeno pieces, which is more sweet than spicy.

The happy hour  section can get quite crowded, but luckily, Tara Thai accepts reservations for that section, which is quite unusual and definitely welcomed!

One thing that we did notice over the many years we have been regular customers at Tara Thai in Falls Church is that the entree portions seem to have gotten smaller.  The small mint that used to accompany the bill was discontinued several years ago.  There were some other changes, that appear to have been a result of needing to meet the bottom line.  Though these small changes are noticeable to folks like us, we still consider Tara Thai to be a wonderful place for a great dining experience and a terrific meal.

We could not sign off without noting that not all Tara Thai's are alike.  We have visited the Tara Thai in Ballston, VA (Arlington) several years ago. Our experience there was nowhere close to the one in Tara Thai Falls Church.  It is no wonder that Tara Thai in Ballston closed.  We have also visited Tara Thai in Vienna, VA and reviewed it here. Our experience there was also far inferior to what we describe here for Tara Thai Falls Church.  Be mindful of these differences and please do not judge them all by your experience in one.

 Cosmopolitan with what's left of the Num Tok appetizer (sorry was too excited to dig in before remembering to take a photo)

Spring Rolls appetizer

Friday, January 9, 2015

Rabieng Thai Restaurant - Falls Church, VA

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

After the first few bites of almost any dish at Rabieng, all the other Thai restaurants seem to kinda blend into a grey background.  The variety and quality of flavors at Rabieng's, combined with its unpretentious calming atmosphere, are tough to beat.  In this post, we are not going to go into extensive comparisons of Rabieng with its parent restaurant Duangrats, which incidentally we found to be inferior to Rabieng, or its well-deserved raves and ratings in the Washingtonian, Zagats, and USA Today, which you can find on its webiste.  To remind our readers, our blog is mainly about our particular dining experience(s) in the restaurant, and all dining experiences at Rabieng for us have been consistently great.

Rabieng is a small unassuming 2-story restaurant that is easy to miss around the corner of a strip mall in Bailey's Crossroads, an area rich with top-notch ethnic dives in Falls Church.  There are only about 7 or 8 booths and 2-3 tables downstairs, all decorated with a fresh orchid stem, where patrons are seated first before the hosts offer upstairs seating.

The Fried Calamari and Plantain Tempura appetizers were terrific. Fried Calamari is served in a bowl on top of lettuce.  When the calamari is gone, the lettuce turns into a salad with the remainder of the sauce as a dressing.  The sauce is somewhat on the sweeter side, but is sweet and sour and definitely has a kick! Plaintain Tempura is basically fried bananas (or plantains), a dish that by its nature is on the sweeter side with a crispy outer layer and a soft delicious middle.  Roasted cashews are a wonderful side to any of Rabieng's dishes, and are prepared in a subtle and simple way.  A bit of a disappointment was the Beef Nam Tok salad, where the meat was quite limp and flavorless, even when covered by herbs and sauces.  This is probably the only dish we wouldn't order again, and actually prefer the way it is prepared at Tara Thai in Tysons, where the meat is a bit firmer and more savory.

All entrees at Rabieng are delicious. We have tried many of them over the few times we have visited on our own and with friends. On this particular afternoon, we tried the Chef's Signature Specials. The Chicken Horapa comes sauteed in a gentle roasted chili sauce served on a bed of noodles.  If you prefer your noodles al dente, you might want to tell them in advance. The Bhram, which is chicken breast pieces sauteed in a peanut sauce, comes out stew-like on a bed of napa cabbage, rendering the cabbage slightly wilted, yet crispy enough to give the dish a pleasant texture.  Both entrees are very well-prepared and well-seasoned, although those with a penchant for more heat can add the delectable fish sauce that they serve upon request.

Our server Nit was efficient, pleasant, knowledgeable and attentive. So was the rest of the small team of servers. Can't ask for better.

We will definitely be back to Rabieng!

Btw, if you decide to be a little adventurous in your own kitchen and want to replicate some of the dishes you tasted at Rabieng, a small aian Asian Grocery Store next door, incidentally also owned by Duangrats, offers all the spices that can make this possible.

 First floor

 Modern and clean

 Second floor

 Stairs leading to second floor

 Fried calamari appetizer

 Beef Nam Tok salad and Plantain Tempura

 Roasted cashews appetizer

 Chef's Signature Specials: Chicken Horapa (top) and Bhram with chicken (bottom)

Monday, December 22, 2014

Saffron Indian Cuisine - Falls Church, VA

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

WE WELCOME a terrific addition to Falls Church City's Indian food scene - SAFFRON took over the now-closed Curry Mantra 2 in the West End Plaza Shopping Center.  We were not fans of Curry Mantra 2, despite its seemingly popular appeal to those who prefer a more modern version of Indian food, both in flavor and presentation. So, we were happy to see Curry Mantra 2 close its doors in NoVa to re-open in DC in Spring 2015. Good luck, Curry Mantra 2!

Goes without saying, that, in our humble opinion, Saffron is heads above its predecessor. Since we began our blog in 2010, our long-standing neighborhood favorite for traditional Indian food has been Haandi in the Giant Plaza (Falls Plaza Shopping Center) in Falls Church City. Saffron may well offer some competition to Haandi, located right across the street.

The service at Saffron was great.  Azad, a knowledgeable and very pleasant maitre d', took our order and, throughout our meal, was attentive. He supervised several cheerful and very polite wait staff, who assisted in serving dishes, clearing plates, and ensuring our water glasses were always full.

There were happy diners of all ages and demographics, families, couples, and singles, eating here early on a Saturday evening. On a cold evening, the atmosphere in Saffron was warm and amiable.

The food, both in taste and presentation, was also great  While we waited for our food to arrive, we snacked on the traditional Papadum served with the standard Indian dipping sauces / chutneys.  Our appetizer order of Samosas came out quickly, it was hot and delicious. The Chicken Tikka entree served on a rectangular white plate was perfectly moist and seasoned just right. It comes with an order of plain Naan, but we also ordered a Cheese Naan, which as delicious, though a bit greasy. The saucy, stewey Chicken Vindaloo, served in a bowl, was also terrific, with just the right seasoning and a very slight tinge of sweetness.  Hint for those who want an even spicier version of the Vindaloo: Order it as a "10." It was absolutely excellent in its flavor, poured over rice.  It is typically prepared at a "5" spice level, so if you can handle the double hotness, you will love it. Overall, the food was wonderful, and priced quite reasonably.  Our total bill came to about $41.00, not counting the tip.

For the most part, the restaurant has not been remodeled since Saffron took over this space. The main positive feature of the restaurant's layout is its open kitchen with a very strong exhaust system. The relatively small dining hall seats about 50 at its tables along walls and one middle row. We hope that the new owners address the somewhat sea-sickening askew placement of dining tables in the middle row, which is a relic of the previous restaurant's layout.

Most of the wait staff remained from the predecessor restaurant, though definitely were much better trained, more responsive and seemed much happier and more knowledgeable about their jobs than when they worked for Curry Mantra.  The chef, who apparently, worked for a short time in Curry Mantra 2, then left, has returned to cook at Saffron.

Overall, we can't say enough good things about Saffron.  Our experience there was very pleasant. We will definitely be back!

 Askew placement of tables can lead to sea-sickness, but try not to think about it...

 Incomplete renovation...

 Vegetable Samosas

 Paneer Kulcha (Cheese Naan) and Chicken Tikka

 Chicken Vindaloo

Hooray for round plates!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Ted’s Bulletin, Reston, VA

11948 Market Street
Reston, VA 20190
703-956-9510 (Ted's takes call-ahead reservations) 

Take your basic diner, add Mom’s unique and special ingredients, add nostalgia, add charm and comfort, and you get Ted’s Bulletin.  Movies from the 30’s, a menu spread on newsprint, daily specials (Thursdays—TV Dinners!), homemade pop tarts, and charming décor are just the tip of the iceberg here.

Ted’s has grown from a quaint storefront restaurant in DC’s Barracks Row neighborhood to an area chain with two DC locations (Capitol Hill and U St) and two in Northern Virginia (Reston and Merrifield).  We’ve only been to two, but the atmosphere, menu (and unfortunately service) is similar in each.  The first time it was breakfast.  The Big Mark was more than sufficient with 3 eggs, 4 meats, and a homemade pop tart—yes, you read right—a homemade pop tart.  Fresh out of the oven, and what sets the downtown DC location apart from our most recent lunch visit in Reston was the welcoming site of a fully staffed bakery in the front of the dining room.  Other than the bakery, this “Reston-raunt” is no different from the others: same décor, same old fashioned movies playing on the big screen (we saw the 1933 version of King Kong and what looked to be shorts from the Our Gang/Little Rascals series), same menu, same (could be better) service.  It is tucked into the stores, restaurants, movie theaters and corporate offices in Reston Town Center. 

We started with the baked pretzels with cheese/beer sauce.  Hot, fresh, delicious, but small (four finger-length pretzels).  The server’s suggestion to hold on to the rest of the cheese sauce to dip with the lunch sandwich was key as I ordered the Reuben with fries and the sauce did go very nicely with the fries.  The Reuben was very large conglomeration of lean corned beef, crunchy and tangy sauerkraut with 1,000 Island dressing.  We also had the Chicken Parmesan—a heaping monstrosity of battered chicken with tomato sauce and cheese over a bed of spaghetti served with two triangles of grilled texas toast and the Smoked Alabama Chicken—a full half chicken 1/2 chicken, white BBQ sauce that came with a sides choice.  In this case we had the creamed corn (delish) and the homemade mac and cheese.  Everything was plentiful and tasty.  If only it came out within a reasonable amount of time.

It was not that the place was crowded (it usually is, but they do have a call-ahead reservation service).  We ate around 2pm and the house was about ¼ full.  Perhaps the staff was reeling from a larger lunchtime crowd that affected the service, but we can’t give them the benefit of the doubt on that.  A salad that accompanied the Chicken Parm came out after the Chicken Parm.  Not good.

Will we go back to Ted’s?  Sure.  It’s comfortable and the food is top-notch which kind of takes the edge off the bad service.  This is akin to waiting in a line for an hour just to ride the roller coaster at a theme park.  You shrug off the wait because you know what’s on the other end of the line.  And you don’t have to be “this tall” to ride this one.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Joe's Pizza and Pasta (revisited) - Vienna, VA

435 Maple Avenue,
Vienna, VA

Time has stood still at Joe's Pizza and Pasta in Vienna, VA since we last reviewed it on this blog, and probably for much longer than that.  This review really doesn't need to be written, other than to point you to our last review and say that nothing has changed. And frankly, this very fact may be exactly what Joe's has going for it.  It is a neighborhood establishment and if anything changed it just wouldn't be the same Joe's.  Judging by the many trophies displayed near the salad bar, Joe's is probably a sponsor of local school team sports. Though we have not seen more than a few diners for lunch or dinner at Joe's the few times we've eaten there, it seems like a great place to take groups of kids after sporting events.   Most diners indeed are the family-types: parents / grandparents with kids enjoying the basic salad bar, the popular pizzas, and other standard menu options.

And the menu options are definitely standard. No surprises, no variations, just the predictable mild flavors that appeal to the under-15 and over-60 diners.  No adventurous palates here.

The menu items are very cut and dry.  Literally.  This describes both the service and the food.  No frills or extras.  If you order the Chicken Parmigiana Sub, that's ALL YOU GET.  It comes with nothing else, other than a plate.  Any side, or even a dish of sauce to moisten the dry sandwich, will come with a charge. We would have welcomed at least a suggestion of a side, but this is not that kind of a place. Still $2 for a bowl of Marinara sauce, that hasn't changed in years.  We would have welcomed at least an offer of sauce to complement our Cheesy Bread.  The Calzone, which surprisingly did come with a bowl of complementary sauce, was predictable, standard and good.  Really, the food at Joe's is good.  It isn't fantastic and it isn't bad.  It is what it is. And by the look of the happy faces of its clientele, we hope Joe's stays around for a long time... exactly as it is.   

Large dining hall

 Cheesy Bread (5 pieces in an order)

Chicken Parmesan 12" sandwich and Calzone that comes with marinara sauce

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Skyline Cafe - Ethiopian Cuisine in Falls Church (Bailey's Crossroads), VA

3821 S George Mason Drive
Falls Church, VA 22041
(703) 820-0240

The first thing you notice when you walk into the tiny Skyline Cafe is that it does not try to be an outpost of Ethiopian culture for non-Ethiopians. This is a welcomed feature. What we mean by that is that there are no portraits of Ethiopian emperors, landscapes, murals, paintings or other distinctly Ethiopian decorations. The few pieces of artwork that hang on walls are those gifted to the restaurant by local children of Ethiopian immigrants. This is a place for the local Ethiopian community to enjoy their native food in a cozy, friendly and unpretentious atmosphere, and enjoy it they do.  

On a cold Friday night, there was a steady stream of families, couples, and buddies that came in for a delicious hot meal and a nice time. Men sat at the small bar, watching CNN on the TV screen and checking their smartphones, while Ethiopian tunes quietly resonated through the restaurant. The upbeat spirit of the new owner Samuel and his staff certainly translated to the clientele, as everyone was either smiling, laughing, or cheerfully checking each other out, having a good time themselves.

Skyline Cafe has been operating for over 20 years at the same location in the Skyline Plaza strip that is clearly an Ethiopian enclave of eating, shopping and grooming establishments, flagged by a 7 Eleven. The parking lot can hardly accommodate the busy traffic of customers in this shopping strip, so when we saw a car pulling out on the other side of the lot, we quickly grabbed it, parking next to a cab.  

We came to Skyline Cafe because of a Groupon, wanting to discover an Ethiopian place we have not yet been to, like Meaza (also in Bailey's Crossroads) or Merkamo in Springfield, where we have been dozens of times and enjoy a lot. What separates Skyline Cafe is its tinyness and its localness.  

Now for the food - the food is fantastic. We ordered the combination of entrees we typically get when we get Ethiopian food: a Veggie Sampler for one (several types of lentils, carrots, spinach and wonderful beets) and an order of Beef Tibs (pieces of steak).  All was terrific. The tibs were of good quality (lean), perfectly seasoned and grilled.  They come with a side of tomato salad that is similar to the Mexican pico de gallo, which was a wonderful accompaniment to the meal.  We also ordered a side dish of Vegetarian Fit Fit, which is pieces of injera bread in awaze sauce with jalapenos, which was delicious. The appetizer of Sambusas were crispy filled with lentils with a tinge of heat, very good.

Samuel told us about the all-you-can-eat vegetarian buffet that Skyline Cafe offers Monday - Friday for $10.99 during lunch time (call to check, as they offer it only during Ethiopian holidays several times a year).  You can count on us returning to try it sometime very soon, although we can't see having a meal there without the delicious tibs and tomato salad.  Samuel assured us that they can cook anything on the menu, even during buffet hours.

We have been to Skyline Cafe several times and can say that their quality of food and service is consistently wonderful.

Skyline Cafe is a hands-down gem. We highly recommend it for people who enjoy Ethiopian food.  

 We try to avoid posting photos of diners, so the pictures show empty tables because we photographed in-between customers. Staff do a great job cleaning off tables quickly.

 Artwork by kids

 Sambusas and Vegetarian Fit Fit

 Vegetarian Sampler and Beef Tibs with Tomato Salad

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Passion Fin - Asian Fusion Cuisine in the Mosaic District of Merrifield, VA

2750A Gallows Rd
Merrifield, VA 22190

Passion Fin Dining Room
Passion Fin is more about where it is than what it is. I’ll do my best to focus on the restaurant than on the neighborhood, but one thing that stands out here is while Passion Fin is fair at best, what makes it good is its location in the up-and-coming Mosaic District of Merrifield, VA.

We’ve done the “asian fusion” thing before, and Passion Fin falls into the trap we wrote about in our Kenji Fusion entry back in January. Again, “if you can do one thing well, stick with it. The more you add, the more washed out it becomes.” Passion Fin is no different.

On to the food and service. Jake was a very pleasant and competent server. His attentive service and repeated (but not overdone) check-ins made sure we were satisfied with each course. Elena went mostly Thai, Bill went mostly Chinese. Most courses were very mediocre (see above and the Frasier quote from the Kenji Fusion entry). We started with the Crab Wonton and two soups: Miso and Tom Yum. Average, expected, but not very exciting. Our entrees were Sesame Chicken ($14) and Drunken Noodles ($10). Each were average and needed some “heat”, but requests for hot sauces were unfulfilled, other than some sriracha and a flavorless hot oil. The $8 hot sake was a hit, though!

Sesame Chicken
Is Passion Fin good enough to return? Perhaps. Seems they have some really good specials, and they may be enough to get us back. It will be a long wait though since there are many other Mosaic district restaurants we want to try.

Daily Specials
I did my best to keep the Mosaic District discussion to a minimum; however, I can’t keep it out of the discussion. Mosaic is building and building fast. Situated just off the Dunn Loring Orange Metro line, anchored by a wide swath of condos, stores, and apartments. Just look for the construction cranes, as there is plenty of development happening there. The district is well engineered, and hopefully in time the distinct neighborhoods separated by Lee Highway will be bridged so that the southern area will connect to the newer northern end. Anchored by a series of small-medium sized boutiques, grocers, Movie Theater, and a big box Target store, restaurants are plenty. Ted’s Bulletin, BlackFinn, Ocean Pearl, Four Sisters, Cava, SweetGreen, and Gypsy Soul (getting excellent reviews and on many Top Restaurant lists including Northern Virginia Magazine) serve most of the world’s cuisines. With all these notable new additions, we hope Passion Fin can survive.

Drunken Noodles
Passion Fin is comfortable, open, and well-decorated. Sparse Asian décor separates the Sushi bar, regular bar, and a few separate dining rooms. The lighting is perfect – not overbearing, but can still see your menu and food. Music was a strange mix of 80’s and 90’s pop, certainly not expected, but better than the constant stream of ting-y Asian music. The clientele was diverse, ranging from families to millennial daters.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

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

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

We were delighted to see that RusUz has expanded to almost double its original space, has substantially expedited its already very friendly and courteous service, while maintaining a high quality of delicious food, continuing to be a SUPERB addition to the Northern Virginia dining scene!

We've eaten there several times since we last reviewed it in this blog and each time our experience was better and better.

In January 2014, RusUz was named named one of Washington area's 100 Very Best Restaurants by the Washingtonian Magazine and it certainly deserves the same title in 2015!

 Chicken kebab




Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Kazan Restaurant - Fine Turkish and Mediterranean Cuisine - McLean, VA

6813 Redmond Drive
McLean, Virginia 22101
(703) 734-1960

If you have been to Kazan before, you are most likely to say, "I love that place!"  Kazan has not disappointed in the dozen or so times we have eaten there. 

Serving diners in the McLean and surrounding areas for 30+ years (since 1980), Kazan is a family-owned and family-run gem of a dining establishment. Most reviewers (yelp, urbanspoon, tripadvisor, and elsewhere) overwhelmingly rate it positively. Zagat has rated Kazan as one of DC area's top Turkish restaurants for many years (as evident in their foyer, where they simply do not have the space to display all their accolades).  Kazan is also the deserving recipient of numerous awards for its great food and service. There's no arguing that the Uzun family has made a wonderful contribution to the Northern Virginia dining scene by providing us with consistently delicious food and consistently excellent service.  

Whether you are a first-time visitor or one of the many returning customers, you will not only get a scrumptious meal at Kazan, but also be made to feel like you are the most important diner in the place. The restaurant is rather large with two dining halls, separated by a translucent partition that provides plenty of diffused natural light. The outer dining hall gets opened up during warm weather to allow for sidewalk dining and during the colder months has ample heating.

Waiters are always knowledgeable (though not necessarily Turkish themselves, which is even more impressive) in the menu choices, including the wine list.  Respectful and efficient, the staff is most welcoming and accommodating for diners of all ages, allergies, and preferences.  

Last week, we selected Kazan for a small birthday celebration.  We ordered a variety of appetizers such as Babaganush and Hummus, and entrees, including chicken and lamb entrees.  The ones pictured here are the Lamb Doner Kebob and the Chicken Shish.  All were delicious. Entrees come with a crisp greens salad with a savory house dressing. vA steady refill of the basket with freshly-baked pita made the meal even better.  

Turkish food is known for using a mild yogurt as a base for most dishes and not using particularly pungent flavors, so those with sensitive stomachs will be well-served here, as none of the dishes are spicy (hot).  

This restaurant is one of our favorites!  It is certainly a favorite of many Northern Virginia residents, as well, and is sure to remain a staple in Turkish dining for many years to come!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Argia's Italian Restaurant - Falls Church City, VA

124 North Washington Street
Falls Church, VA
(703) 534-1033

Had it not been for Groupon, we may not have tried Argia's and it would have been our loss.  

We stopped in at Argia's for a quick lunch and enjoyed our experience. The atmosphere was pleasantly dim (despite a large window at either side of the long dining hall), intimate and modern. Argia has somewhat of an urban feel, as urban as one can get in in Falls Church City, with an exposed ceiling look, solid chunky oak furniture, and simple artwork, including several textured murals and an old-world mural, which adds some warmth.  There is a small bar area, a large dining room, and in the rear of the restaurant there is a small outdoor seating area that is separated from the parking lot by a tall wooden half-fence. 

Our waiter Cal was knowledgeable and friendly without being intrusive.  We promptly received our water, our wine order and a basket of delicious hot bread.  Our menu choices were basic - Spaghetti with Meatballs and Cappellini Fresca.  They cheerfully accommodated our request for spicy marinara sauce, which was delicious. Both entrees come with a side of a green Mediterranean salad with a light dressing.  The food was great, service was great, overall a thumbs up and a definite prospect for a return to Argia's.    

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Portofino Restaurant - Italian Restaurant in Arlington, VA (Revisited)

526 23rd St S, Arlington, VA 22202
(703) 979-8200

Perfection! If you have not been to Portofino in Crystal City, don't walk, run there.  They are a family-owned restaurant (since 1970!) and this certainly comes through in the solid quality of food and service.  Everything about this restaurant is wonderful.  We have eaten here 4 or 5 times (first reviewed here in 2010) and each time can't wait to return. There is so much thoughtfulness, seamlessness and warmth that is conveyed to the customer through each dining experience, we cannot help but think that this is probably the way all restaurants should be.

To begin with, in an area where parking is at a premium, the parking lot behind the restaurant alleviates the time and frustration it takes to park on the busy 23rd Street.  When entering the restaurant from the parking lot through the back door, you are immediately greeted by the owner and manager welcoming you to the dining room through the office / bar area.  There are two dining rooms in Portofino - one with about 15 tables in an ornate (but not over the top, fortunately) atmosphere and one down the stairs toward that back that is huge and seemingly always busy on a weekend evening.  

The menu lists everything that you could ever want to eat at a fine Italian dining establishment, but wait... the manager personally comes to your table and describes the specials, which for us included two different asparagus appetizers and a half a dozen mouthwatering entrees so creatively designed and so deliciously described that it's hard not to order one of everything just to try.  While we were listening to the specials, ice water and freshly-baked bread were served at our table.  There is something about the olive oil set in a bottle on each individual table that somehow was different from most olive oils and was a particularly flavorful dip for the bread.

We had the calamari appetizer that came with a thick spicy dipping sauce with a hint of horseradish.  In addition to the plentiful selection of food between the menu and the specials, Portofino always accommodates any special requests.  Ours was a Puttanesca capellini, which was fantastic.  We also had the Veal Parmigiana that was smothered in a marinara sauce and cheese with a side of vegetables - all heavenly.

Prices were quite reasonable, too.  The calamari was $8.95, the Puttanesca was $14.95 and the Veal $20.95.  Most other similar restaurants of this caliber typically charge much more.

For dessert, we could not resist sharing the ricotta cheese cake that came in a mild and tangy lime sauce, topping off an excellent meal. Of course with a frothy capuccino.

While the wait staff were all very attentive and friendly, we could not write this review without mentioning one of the greatest assets of Portofino - Julio, a waiter who has worked there for 28 years.  He starts off by joking that this is his first day on the job, fooling you for about a second, and then it's clear he is highly versed in what he is doing.

Thank you for a lovely meal, Portofino! And again, we can't wait to return.