Welcome to the Northern Virginia Restaurant Blog.

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

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.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Sibarita's Restaurant - Bolivian food in Arlington, VA

2716 Washington Blvd
Arlington, VA 22201
(703) 276-1050

We are very fortunate to live in Northern Virginia, where there is such a rich variety of wonderful restaurants that offer a sampling of ethnic flavors without the hassle of getting on a plane.  Sibarita's is one of those restaurants that reminds us how lucky we are!

We probably would never have tried Sibarita's if it wasn't for a Groupon. We are happy we did!

Sibarita's is a small unassuming standalone one-story house with a small outdoor patio for warm-weather dining.  It definitely fits into the category of "ethnic dives" with its shabby furniture, cultural decorations and unique menu offerings.

The most fitting description of the food is "Bolivian comfort food" because of its prevalent featuring of grilled meats, fried eggs, rice, large (and we mean LARGE) french fried potatoes and giant (and we mean GIANT) corn kernels.

When you first walk in, you may feel somewhat claustrophobic in the small bar area with a low wood bench covered with animal skins (where people like to pose for photographs).  We were greeted by a cheerful host dressed in simple drab a la Che, who led us upstairs to the cozy dining room with orange walls and vent pipes along the ceiling. The TV screen beamed a football game, but was largely ignored by the full room of diners enjoying their large samplings of beef.

The main draw for Sibarita's clientele is undobtedly meat, meat and more meat!  Looking around at what others were eating, we quickly concluded that if you have friends who love meat as much as you do, your best bet is to get together a group of 4 and come here for the "Pique Macho para 4."  This carnivore's delight is brought out as a heaping plate of grilled meat (looked like flank steak) and chorizo with huge french fries, some fried eggs sunny side up, tomatoes, onions and jalapenos.  You can get one ample portion for yourself for $14.95, or an ampler portion for 4 for $39, which is a great deal.  The other popular options for groups of 4+ seemed to be the Parrillada Familiar ($54), which is grilled beef, chicken and chorizo, also with rice and large french fries.  Anyway you cut it, this is a meat lover's paradise, or rather a meat-and-potato lover's paradise.

We did not take that route, as there we were only two of us and besides, we are not big beef or chorizo eaters.  Instead, we began our meal with an appetizer with the unusual name "K'Ally" Con Pan.  This consists of two large pieces of grilled bread, chimichurri sauce, garlic and olive oil, a tomato and cheese salad and giant corn kernels, which are prevalent on the menu.  One word - bland, but nonetheless it was interesting to try!

As our entrees, we chose the Silpancho and Pollo Saltado.  The Silpancho, very popular here, was a sight to behold.  For one thing, the portion is large enough that it could be shared by two people.  It can best be described as a "sheet of grilled beef" topped with a couple eggs sunny-side-up.  The beef blankets over a bed of rice and several huge french fries, which are present in most other menu selections.  The Silpancho was accompanied by a side plate of Salsa Cruda, which is the Bolivian Pico de Gallo. The Pollo Saltado consisted of small pieces of grilled chicken with onions and jalapeno slices with a side of rice The flavors of both dishes can best described with the same word as the appetizer - bland. Fearing this, we asked for the Pollo Saltado to be prepared "extra spicy," which they did, and only because of this request was it less bland than it would have been otherwise. But again, was fun to try.

If you are not the carnivorous type, you will find two wonderful things about Sibarita's:  One is its wonderfully cheerful and attentive staff.  They are friendly, highly accommodating, are very familiar with the food and most importantly, they look like they really enjoy the interaction with the diners and the food they serve.  Second, and this is really THE BEST THING ABOUT SIBARITA'S - THE LLAJUA (a.k.a. Llajwa) PREPARED PERSONALLY BY BRENDA.  Llajua is a Bolivian salsa (yes, we learned a new word!). It is absolutely, positively, mouthwateringly delicious!

Would we return to Sibarita's? Honestly....probably not, but not because they are not wonderful.  It is just not for us.  Would we recommend that you go?  Yes!!! Go at least once! Don't return, if you don't like it, but do go to check it out!!!  Go either for the large helpings of meat, or for Brenda's llajua, or just to see what Bolivian comfort food is all about.  We are sure you will walk away satisfied.

 Cozy dining room with TV screens

Bottomless peanuts

 K'Ally Con Pan appetizer $6.75

Brenda's fantastic llajua (Bolivian salsa)

Silpancho beef dish $11.99

 Pollo Saltado chicken dish (prepared extra spicy upon request) $10.95

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Pulcinella Italian Restaurant (revisited, even though we said we would never return) - McLean, VA

6852 Old Dominion Dr.
McLean, VA 22101
(703) 893-7777

Based on Trip Advisor reviews back in December 2010, we tried Pulcinella Ristorante in McLean. It was, after all, rated #1 out of the then 62 McLean eateries. Since 2010, restaurants in McLean have nearly doubled to 112 and Pulcinella finds itself now at #22 (according to TripAdvisor.com). We wanted to try the #1 restaurant for ourselves and were disappointed, to say the least. But when we found ourselves in the geographic area near Pulcinella, we threw caution to the wind and decided to give "The Italian Host" (subtitle, per its website) another twirl, hoping that 5 years was enough to address the myriad shortcomings many people pointed out over the years.

Bottom line: Aside from the consistency in the kitchen, there has been not much improvement in the areas they needed to improve.

As we wrote in 2010, “Judging on food alone, this place is exceptional. Too bad dining experiences are not based on this one element.” Back then, we wrote it was nothing short of a disaster; however, while not a disaster during this experience, certainly there is plenty of room for improvement.

The pluses:  Our table, though not the same we sat at 5 years ago, was wobbly, but not wobbly enough enough to knock our glasses off the table as it was previously. Cutlery and napkins were on the table upon arrival and the bread and drinks came out pretty quickly.

The minuses:  After we had read through the menu and ordered our meal, the waiter noticed that we did not receive the night’s dinner specials supplement. Would’ve been nice to know about the specials before studying the menu and selecting our entrees....  While the bread and butter were brought out with the drinks, the olive oil was brought to the table quite a bit later AFTER we already ate our bread...  And there is more.

A salad came out with dressing “on the side,” not how everyone else's salads came out, even though we did not order it that way. We chalked it up to the noisy dining room and the server mistakenly hearing “on the side” instead of something else. We did not return it, as it takes little effort to pour dressing on a salad (about as much as it would have taken the waiter to confirm he heard the order correctly... or not).  

Food delivery and server check-ins were regular this time, and the bill was accurate, in contrast to our last experience.

On to the food. This is Pulcinella's strong point and they do not disappoint.  The Ravioli alla Panna (Spinach Ravioli), usually prepared in a very heavy cream sauce, came in a nice light cream sauce, which was quite good. The Vitello alla Parmiglana (Veal Parmesan), was delicious, moist, tasty, served with perfectly al dente pasta. The Chicken Fettuccine seemed to be the only “miss” of the night. While the pasta and cream sauce were nice, the chicken lacked taste and, while grilled well, needed something—salt? Pepper? Lemon? Not the best effort there. 

Our review from 2010 said, “Needless to say, we do not think we will ever return.” We did. And while there was some improvement five years later, it was not enough to want to come back. But who knows, maybe if we find ourselves in the area again and want to check it out five years from now...  we'll let you know.

Veal Parmigiana

Chicken Fettuccine

Spinach Ravioli

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Argia's Italian Restaurant - Falls Church City, VA (revisited several times)

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

We were happy that Northern Virginia Magazine selected Argia's for its feature restaurant in the Taste of NoVa last week! Argia's is a local restaurant in Falls Church City that we enjoy visiting, so we invited our friends and braved the cold to have lunch here.

After about a half a dozen meals here since its re-opening under new ownership in 2013, we know to expect a good meal and great service. We wrote about it last summer.  Staff is usually friendly, attentive and efficient. Food is better than decent. One of our barometers for a good restaurant is the consistency of our dining experiences to this establishment and Argia's definitely passes that test, so you know what to expect when you come here.

On this particular Saturday afternoon Argia's was hosting two large parties in its large dining room, with over 50 people total. Good thing we made a reservation! We got the only table out in the bar area, which is a bright, sunny area, and was quite nice.  However, the wait staff was frazzled trying to service the large parties, so our service fell somewhat short of the typical excellent this time, which we are writing off as a hickup.

There is one important factor that truly value in Argia's, which is the flexibility of the chef and the billing structures. Not only can they accommodate individual orders within larger parties, but whenever we have requested something that was either not on the menu, or a substitution of any kind, the kitchen has accommodated our requests happily, flawlessly and deliciously. Seems like the management instills in its employees the importance of treating each individual customer like family and the chef is the perfect manifestation of this spirit.

Ask any regular customers and they will rave about the baskets of warm bread that are generously dispensed from the kitchen. The bread, notably baked on premises, has somewhat of a gritty texture, and is delicious and fluffy, with just the right hint of herbs. It is served up with some delicious olive oil.  The Mista Salata and Caesar's Salad were fresh and only lightly dressed. The cup of Minestrone soup was quite good. The Pappardelle and Trout entrees were also good and fresh.

We were most pleased when the owner Salina came over and chatted with us, proudly telling us that Argia's was chosen as one of the winners of the Taste of Falls Church last year.  Well deserved!!!

Prix Fixe Menu January 12 - 18, 2015

Minestrone Soup and Mista Salata

Caesar's Salad

Pan Roasted Trout entree

Papperdelle with Roasted Pulled Chicken entree

Awards wall

Front dining room (the smaller dining area) and bar