Welcome to the Northern Virginia Restaurant Blog.

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

Monday, September 28, 2015

Busara Thai Cuisine - McLean, VA

8143 Watson Street
McLean, VA 22102
Tel: (703) 356-0056

We've been driving past Busara for about a dozen years now, planning to eat there at some point. We've heard positive feedback from everyone we know who has eaten there. So, finally, this summer, we convened a group of about 10 friends and ventured to Busara!

Those of us, who love Thai food, have a saying that "there is no such thing as bad Thai food." And that is true of Busara, as well.  We most certainly had a great meal overall. The service was cheerful and efficient; the menu is standard with a half a dozen Daily Specials listed on an announcement board at the entrance; everyone enjoyed the food. But, as it is with anything in life, the most important thing about a dinner is the company! To this end, we had great conversation and lots of laughs over wine and food we enjoy. We could have easily had the same nice experience in any of the dozens of wonderful Thai restaurants in this area, which is to say that there wasn't anything that really stood out about Busara.

Below, we've listed most of the food we enjoyed at Busara along with photographs.

Most of the restaurants we review are either your basic ethnic dives or small Mom-and-Pop spots, so they rarely have the luxury of time to engage in social media or any interenet presence at all.  Their default approach to longevity is food excellence and a reliance on word-of-mouth and media, including food bloggers, like us. Of utmost importance is real estate - location, location, location.

Busara seems to be half-hearted in its online presence: It has a website, which is difficult to find - it doesn't come up on a google search!, and a Facebook page that has been inactive since September 2014, over a year. A simple google search produced nothing on the first page that actually led directly to this restaurant, but rather the typical popular review sites, like yelp, trip adviser, opentable, and a menu hosted on a third party site. Surprisingly, the menu that the restaurant itself provides at its host stand, and we picked up after dinner there in July, provides a website address that is actually wrong!

On occasion, such as this, when there is little information readily available online about a restaurant we are reviewing, we reach out directly to the manager / owner, let them know that we are reviewing their restaurant and ask them to kindly provide us with additional details to include in the review for our audience / the restaurant's customers.  This is exactly what we did with Busara, with some surprising results.

We easily got a hold of the manager, but whereas usually the restaurant is happy to speak with us, even briefly, in Busara's case, the manager, who did not identify himself, was quite curt and unfriendly, seemingly not interested in publicity. It is quite rare for us to experience what seemed to be almost an attempt by a restaurant manager to drive away interest.

The manager told us that there indeed is a website - www.busara.co (not busara.com, as listed on the restaurant's literature).  We informed him that - fyi - for some reason it doesn't come up on a Google search, he responded, that's because we don't use google. Huh? The website itself is actually quite snazzy, so it's a shame that it is so challenging to find. On the website itself, all social media icons are disabled!

In any case, we will not spend more time writing about a restaurant that doesn't seem to be interested in being written about.  We will say that it has a great location (perhaps the key to its success) just steps away from Tysons Mall, next to the famous landmark event destination J.R.'s Stockyards Inn, likely with a dedicated clientele among the numerous businesses in the area. It has a large parking lot, convenient for meeting for lunch or dinner.  Busara has been in this location for 20 years, which is a great achievement, and has another location at Reston Town Center open for 15 years, which we have not visited.  It has nice modern decor and a pleasant atmosphere with light background music.

Would we seek out Busara next time we want to have Thai food? Doubt it. We would rather go to Rabieng, Tara Thai, Bangkok Golden or any of the endless Thai options available in this area. However, in the Tysons area, for people who opt for the more "upscale ethnic dives," Busara is quite a good choice.

 Distinctive entrance from the restaurant's parking lot

 Specials are listed as you enter the restaurant, with a view toward two smaller dining rooms with large windows

 Two bright side rooms allow for the feel of a smaller restaurant and are light-filled

 Modern and spacious main dining room, great for business meetings, dates, family meals, or large groups.

Duck Rolls Appetizer - Roasted duck, green onion, cucumber wrapped in a thin spring roll skin and deep fried with a sweet sauce $7.50

 Crispy Springrolls Appetizer - Cellophane noodles, cabbage, carrots, celery and Hu-Nu mushrooms served in chef's special sauce $5.95

 Papaya Salad Appetizer - julienned green papaya, roasted peanuts, string beans and tomato mixed in a spicy lime dressing $6.95

 Soft Spring Rolls - Steamed rice flour rolls stuffed with crabmeat, port, egg and vegetables served in chef's special sauce $5.95

 Gai Sapp Kapow - Minced chicken sauteed with basil leaves, chili and garlic over jasmine rice $10.95 - for a nice twist, ASK FOR A COUPLE FRIED EGGS with this (or any!) dish

Shrimp Bikini Appetizer - Black tiger shrimp wrapped in a thin spring roll skin and deep fried, served with delicious sauce $6.95 

 A chicken curry dish, can't recall exactly which one at the time of writing this blog, but it was great, like all the other food at Busara

 Pattaya Seafood - Shrimp, squid and scallops sauteed in a roasted chili sauce with scallions, onion, mushroom and sweet basil leaves $15.95

 Spicy Garden Vegetarian Entree - Sauteed mixed fresh veggies in a spicy bean sauce $10.95

 Pad Woon Sen - Cellophane noodles stir-fried with shrimp, pork, mushrooms, egg and veggies, served with rice $12.95

Busara Drunken Noodle with Chicken - Sauteed with Basil leaves, chili and garlic, served with rice noodles $12.95

Spicy Seafood Fried Rice - Festival of seafood stir-fried with rice, basil and chili $13.95

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Carluccio's Caffe, Restaurant & Italian Market - Old Town, Alexandria, VA

100 King Street
Alexandria, VA
Tel: (703) 566-5293

The first Carluccio's restaurant has finally arrived in the U.S. and it's right here in the popular Northern Virginia destination of Old Town, Alexandria!

Antonio Carluccio is a well-known restauranteur with franchises around Europe (mostly UK) and the Middle East. His brand new U.S. restaurant Carluccio's Caffe, Restaurant and Italian Market debuted here nearly four months ago, in June 2015, offering the type of simple wholesome Italian food that Carluccio himself refers to as mof mof - Minimum of Fuss, Maximum of Flavor.  Originally from the Italian Amalfi Coast, Antonio Carluccio, has traveled extensively throughout Italy, visiting hundreds of wineries and individual food artisans. As explained to us by the wonderfully congenial Director of Operations of U.S., who himself hails from Calabria, all the delicacies, such as jams, pastas, cookies, cheeses, cured meats, olives and olive oils used in food preparation and available on the market shelves were hand-selected by Carluccio himself and imported directly from the artisans who make them.  In other words, there is no large distribution center from where Carluccio procures his products - each item comes directly from its birth place... in limited quantities. Once this batch is gone, it's gone.

Antonio Carluccio is quite a personality! From their website: Who is Antonio Carluccio? Acclaimed European cook. Award-winning writer. TV personality. Our founder, Antonio Carluccio, has been celebrated by his nation receiving a Commendatore OMRI (the equivalent of a British knighthood) by the President of Italy for services to Italian gastronomy and was also awarded an honorary OBE from Queen Elizabeth II.

The restaurant is elegant, beautiful, and spacious. Its contemporary architecture and decor style is very easy on the eye, simple and inviting.  There is ample lighting both in the upstairs more formal dining room, as well as on the first floor for more casual dining.

Chef Alfio Celia clearly is a master of presentation. Amazing attention to detail for each dish and the food composition on each table, where plates complement one another to create a visual symphony.  Bellissimo! It is no wonder he was one of 16 Top Chefs Chosen to Compete in The Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament in 2015.

Oh, and by the way, everything goes great with a delicious Mimosa!

As its name suggest (no, Caffe is not a misspelling of Cafe!), Carluccio places a heavy emphasis on the importance of good quality coffee and the coffee culture, as it is done in Italy. Delivered on a small coffee tray with a glass of water, like in Italy.

We came to Carluccio's to try out its newly-launched breakfast and brunch menu, particularly appropriate in September - National Breakfast Month!

We were treated to a bread basket with several kinds of bread, our favorite being the walnut cranberry bread, and two jams - one fig and one clementine. The Fig Jam was delicious, but the Clementine Jam was out-out-of-this-world! We will definitely be coming back to pick up some of the Clementine Jam in Carluccio's market to bring home. It's worth a trip to the restaurant just for the Clementine Jam! Delizioso!

The fruit bowl came with a side of plain white yogurt. All the pieces were plump and fresh, great start to a morning meal!

One of our favorite features of Carluccio's is the open kitchen upstairs, where Chef Alfio's staff churns out their mouthwatering dishes.

Over our brunch, we were lucky to have a great conversation with Sebastiano Legato, Director of U.S. Operations at Carluccio's. No one is more perfect for this job than Sebastiano, who is just as passionate about Carluccio's approach to simple Italian food as he is about Italian food in general. Anything you want to know about how Italians eat and drink, he will relay personal experiences with many interesting details. He will tell you everything about Italian Coffee Etiquette, too, in a most friendly and knowledgeable way.

The Eggs Benedict in Carluccio's includes two poached eggs with a thick cut of roasted Italian ham, topped with hollandaise sauce on a toasted Italian bread. $9.00

Eggs Florentine is two poached eggs and steamed spinach topped with hollandaise sauce on a toasted Italian bread. $10.00

Ketchup available upon request, even though, let's face it, that's not a typical Italian way to eat eggs.

The Colazione consists of scrambled eggs, grilled smoky pancetta (ham), sauteed mushrooms, tomato and a slice of toasted Italian bread. $10.00

Finally, for delicious dessert, a sampling of sweets imported from Italy.

Despite being new to the area (and to the U.S.), Carluccio's is quite busy on a typical Saturday morning, so reservations are DEFINITELY recommended.

Our brunch was more than wonderful, it was mof mof! Indeed simple and indeed flavorful. We will definitely be back for lunch and dinner to try the food that looked so great in the plates carried by this waiter!

The delicious baked goods in Carluccio's are not baked on premises, but they come from local bakeries, including Lyon in DC and LeoNora in Arlington, which makes the phenomenal croissants.

DO YOURSELF A FAVOR: Pick up a Banana Nuts Bread to take home with you on your way out. Thank us later. We know you will. Yumm. We would have taken a picture of it to show you.... but it's all gone.... 

We loved the atmosphere and the food at Carluccio's. We will definitely be back! In fact, sign up for the restaurant's mailing list and you will receive special offers, such as, for example, a free bottle of red wine with two adult entrees, which is good through the end of September 2015!  What's not to love about that!  And here is our favorite song to enjoy and get into the mood for a true Italian feast!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Teriyaki Madness - Fresh Asian Grill - Fairfax City, VA

10692 Fairfax Blvd,
Fairfax, VA 22030
Tel: (703) 273-3600

Who ever heard of fast food Teriyaki? Healthy, at that? Teriyaki Madness, a newcomer to the Washington, D.C. Metro Area offers just that with its first location in the City of Fairfax, VA.  

Following the trend sprearheded by Chipotle - 1. Choose a Protein; 2. Choose a Starch; and 3. Choose Veggies - Teriyaki Madness adds Japanese Yakisoba noodles and Stir-Fried Vegetables to the menu with a small, but sufficient, assortment of Pan-Asian appetizers, such as Chicken Eggrolls and Shrimp Tempura. 

Of the seven meat selections, five are - you guessed it! - TERIYAKI flavored.  

This is a meal for the health-conscious eater and, seriously, WHO DOESN'T LOVE TERIYAKI?

The restaurant is new, small and clean, seating only 32 people at booths and tall table tops. We ordered the Crab Rangoon starter, a Chicken Teriyaki Bowl with Noodles and a Yakisoba Veggie entree.  Food was fresh and veggies were plentiful.  PLENTY OF TERIYAKI AND SRIRACHA SAUCES on the tables to add that extra kick to your meal!  

The cheerful and friendly owners, husband and wife team Akhilesh and Tejal Patel, are recent California transplants to Northern Virginia.  They describe their first experience eating at a Teriyaki Madness restaurant in the Mid-West.  They were looking to open a restaurant, and fell in love with the flavors of Teriyaki Madness, the freshness of its food's ingredients and the simple approach of putting together a meal with proteins, starches and veggies.  You can often find Akhilesh and Tejal on hand at the restaurant greeting the customers and making sure everyone is happy.

We are glad we stopped by! Will return next time we are in the area!

 Opened this summer!

 Simple and practical approach to a fast healthy meal

Healthy fresh ingredients

 Low-key decor

 Chicken Teriyaki Noodle Bowl ($6.99) (Top Left) and Yakisoba Veggies ($7.49) (Front Center)
NOTE: When cooked "extra spicy"you will be charged $0.50.

 Seems like a great catering option for the next office party

Proud and delightful owners - Tejal (on the left) and Akhilesh (on the right) Patel

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Yayla Bistro - Turkish / Greek / Eastern Mediterranean Cuisine in Arlington, VA

2201 N Westmoreland Street
Arlington, VA 22213
Tel: (703) 533-5600

We were thrilled when our friends asked us to join them for dinner at Yayla Bistro because not only are we fans of Eastern Mediterranean cuisine, but we also really like the convenient, quiet, uncrowded neighborhood of East Falls Church, recently showcased in the Washington Post.

The East Falls Church area is quite special. It is smack dead on the border of Arlington and Fairfax Counties with a wonderful walking / biking trail. It is both a quiet place to live and a historic area with old large beautiful homes and smaller homes built for soldiers returning from WWII. As an added bonus, it offers a short walk to much of the City of Falls Church, recently rated by Forbes Magazine as the wealthiest "county" in the United States. One of the main attractions here is the famed State Theater. Most recently, however, like much of Northern Virginia, East Falls Church has been the construction target for swanky new mid-rise hyper-modern condominiums and a few new restaurants that cater to the residents in the new condos.

One of these new restaurants is Yayla Bistro.

Yayla Bistro calls itself an Eastern Mediterranean bistro that serves Turkish and Greek food with a Lebanese flare.  It has a snazzy modern website and offers an atmosphere quite apart from other dining establishments available within walking distance in this neighborhood, which are mostly older and divier, not the kind of places that offer small plates (Mezzes) or Flat Breads (Pideler) offered at Yayla.

We came here for dinner on a Sunday night with a small group of friends. The restaurant was empty for the most part and the waiter, who did not manage to crack a smile throughout out our entire dinner, coming off confused and less than friendly, tried persistently to convince us to order off the Restaurant Week's menu, as it was the last evening it was available.  A few of us did; most did not.

The complimentary bread basket arrived first with a dense braided round bread accompanied by a ramekin of black olive tapenade. We ordered the Halloumi cheeese appetizer, which in some restaurants comes out of the kitchen aflame for dramatic presentation. Here, fortunately, that was not the case. However, the only thing with any remote flavor on this platter was the orange marmalade, which we bet was not made on premises. We had to keep asking for more bread because almost everything we ordered needed bread, so we were going through it very quickly.

One of our entrees was the Grilled Kofte, which was a combination of ground beef and lamb served as a doner kebob, even though the menu specifically called it "patties." The menu also said that it is comes with Cacik, a yogurt prevalent in most Turkish dishes, alas, it was missing. The Rice Pilav that accompanied the Kofte was a plain white rice; nothing that resembled a Pilav, which is usually rice with seasoning, typically containing other items, such as carrots, raisins, pine nuts, or any additional flavors. The Kofte was served with a grilled tomato, some shredded fresh carrots and pickled shredded red cabbage. EVERY SINGLE THING ON THIS PLATE WAS BLANDER THAN BLAND. Even for one of us who doesn't like spicy, it was way too bland.

The other entree we selected was a trio of spreads. This seemed to be a good way to taste several things. On its own, each spread was priced at $7, so a trio priced at $12, seemed like a good value. There was no pita or any additional bread served with the spreads, only the same dense braided bread round. Out of the spreads, the Baba Ghanouj was quite garlicky and good, while the others were BLANDER THAN BLAND.

By the way, if you order the Turkish wine, stay away from the Doluca Klasic Turkish wine unless you like very tart and heavy wines.  Even for someone who is a fan of Shiraz, like one of us, this was seriously heavy.  It is the least expensive wine on the menu, but since it is Turkish, we ordered it wanting to taste a Turkish wine. Seriously, the tartest most sour wine.

Tyler Cowen, whose opinion we usually respect, said he would recommend this restaurant, but we were disappointed.  If we had friendly, welcoming service, our experience may have been more pleasant. But that was lacking, also.

Despite this, we had a fun evening out with friends and that's all that really counts!

In short. we would not return here, it's just not our sort of thing. However, on a nice day, the patio would be a fun place to meet friends for happy hour if you live in that area and want modern, new setting.

Yayla Bistro has been around for 15 months, will be interesting to see how long it sticks around.

 Patio seating at the entrance

 Nope, did not know....!

 Additional outside seating if you don't mind pebbles on your shoes

 Modern romantic setting

 Simple pleasant decor

Braided round bread accompanied by a ramekin of black olive tapenade

We kept asking for more bread, as everything we ordered seemed to need bread

 Pan-seared Halloumi cheese served with orange mamalade garnished with tomatoes and parsley can be either an Appetizer or Hot Mezze ($10.00)

KOFTE Grilled ground beef and lamb patties with garlic, onions, cumin and spices. Served with Cacik, but actually it isn't served with cacik, but it does come with pickled shredded cabbage ($14.00)

Trio of Spreads from left to right Baba Ghanouj (Pureed roast eggplant with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic), Htipity (Roasted red peppers with feta cheese, olive oil, garlic, and mint) and Ezme (Fine chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, mild peppers, parsley with olive oil) ($12.00)