Welcome to the Northern Virginia Restaurant Blog.

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

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Haandi, Falls Church, VA

1222 West Broad Street
Falls Church, VA 22046
(703) 533-3501

Haandi is one of the best Indian restaurants in this area.  We have gone there many times for dinner by ourselves and with friends and have had impeccable service and wonderful food.  As you can see in the photo, this strip mall eatery distinguishes itself by outfitting its tables with white cloth linens, always spotless, always pleasant.  On the day before Christmas, we tried their all-you-can-eat buffet lunch.  The buffet assortment was decent.  The selection included a garden salad, two chicken dishes, including one dry (tandoori) and one in sauce, one lamb dish in sauce, a spinach dish, a vegetable medley in a mild curry sauce, and basmati rice.  Apologies for not recalling the names of dishes, but you can find the menu on the restaurant’s website.   There was also a rice pudding dessert at the buffet table and a plain naan placed on the table in a wicker basket.  Sauces, including raita, mango chutney, the green cilantro sauce and others were laid out at the buffet.

Each dish, including the sauces, tasted substantially milder in the buffet assortment than if ordered as separate entrees, based on our experience.  Seasonings were undoubtedly toned down for the buffet dishes to please those clients least tolerant of spicy food, so any Indian food novices will probably find the lunch buffet a good introduction to this cuisine.  The regular lunch menu was available, however most everyone we saw went for the buffer, which was a good value at $10.95/person on weekdays and $12.95/person on weekends. 

The restaurant is not overpriced and the menu is diverse.  We have had many dishes on the menu and all have been exceptionally good.  The decorations are subtle with soft sitar music in the background and paintings of Indian scenes recessed in eastern-style architectural frames.  There are always lots of patrons at this restaurant, including lots of regulars.  Waiters multitask, and provide consistently  efficient, attentive and friendly  service, making for a pleasant ambiance. 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

La Caraqueña, Falls Church, VA

300 W. Broad Street,  
Falls Church, VA 22046 
(703) 533-0076 

What an unexpected lovely surprise at this tiny restaurant adjacent to a Falls Church motel.  La Caraqueña, which means “a woman from Caracas” in Spanish, has about 10 tables inside (when the patio is closed due to cold weather).  Reservations are definitely recommended because the wait on a Saturday night, at least when we were there, was almost out the door.  The waitress explained to us that ever since this restaurant was featured on the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives program on the Food Channel back in November, they have been trying to keep up with the surge in clientele. 
When we entered the restaurant, we were greeted by the very cheerful chef himself, who is also the owner, and was, at least at the moment, the host.  We were a few minutes early, so we had to wait until our table freed up, which happened right on time for our reservation.  From the moment we walked in, we felt welcomed the entire evening.   The atmosphere was jovial - every table was filled with diners of all ages, some of whom clearly were regulars, since they knew the chef by name and he came out to chat with some of them.  The lively, non-intrusive Latin music was interrupted once and a “happy birthday” broke out as the staff walked over singing with a candle in cake to one of the larger parties.  Everyone applauded as the birthday person and a friend jumped up and danced for about a minute.   This was really an animated, warm, family-like, cozy ambiance. 
Service was not only very friendly and attentive, but also efficient.  Three waitresses and a bus boy hustled to make sure everyone was well-taken care of.  Our waitress knew all the items on the menu and cheerfully made recommendations based on our questions. The menu is a combination of Bolivian, Venezuelan and Chilean dishes, most of which were unfamiliar to us, so we were grateful for her help.  The menu itself seemed rather limited in choices, but a note on the menu said that this is not a fast food place and patience will be required as each dish is made to order.  Although the wait for the food was hardly noticeable, it was clear that each dish was thought-out and prepared with individualized attention.  We were disappointed when we learned that they ran out of the only appetizer we wanted – the Empanadas Saltenas.  Apparently, this is their most popular appetizer and they still had not been able to plan out their dishes since the Food Channel episode premiered, skyrocketing their customer level. We hope to return and try this appetizer in the future.
The Sopa di Mani, a peanut-beef-rice soup, was a puree of its listed ingredients, with no one component dominating the others, making it a wonderful warm blend on a cold December evening.  The ham and cheese arepa (an arepa, we were told, is a typical Venezuelan sandwich) served inside fried corn bread, was also delicious.  But the Pabellon Completo con Baranda, the restaurant’s special, was absolutely amazing (see photo).  Pulled beef in a superbly flavorful sauce served in a bowl-like plate with rice, black beans, fried plantains, a fried sunny-side up egg, with shaved white cheese and avocados.  The fresh homemade jalapeno salsa that was served separately made this meal perfection.
This was a great restaurant that we highly recommend.  It has been there for 3 years, replacing the Rose Restaurant, which served Iranian cuisine, and was also very good.  Despite its location adjacent to a motel, this “dive” is a neighborhood gem.  Hope the success doesn’t go to its head and the delightful spirit and flavors of La Caraquena continue to thrive.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Wolfie Cohen’s Rascal House, Miami, FL (A Retro-Blog Entry)

Have not been there in years, but recently found out that the Rascal House is no more.  This Miami Beach staple—around for generations—sadly lost its place on 172nd St in North Miami to progress and housing.  The Rascal House was one of those places that I made a point of visiting each time I made it to the Miami area.  It really was something special.  From the lines that began inside (splitting into three separate lines depending on the size of the group) to very lengthy lines going around the outside parking lot, this was one popular place.  The mostly Jewish deli menu was predictable with a wide variety of breakfast, lunch and dinner fare accompanied by the bread assortment, the tubs of pickles at each table that added to its allure.  But it was the people, especially Rose (pictured with me in 2002) who was a long-time hostess and the face of the Rascal House that I will always remember.  

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Café Taj, McLean VA

1379 Beverly Rd. (off Old Dominion Dr. in the Marketplace)
McLean, VA 22101
(703) 827-0444

Café Taj is a low-key (though not divey) restaurant with a pleasant atmosphere and tasty Indian dishes.   We were seated across from the entry door, which was a little drafty on a cold night, but it ended up being fine.   There was a party of about 14 people next to us, and all the other tables were also filled.  Although the wait staff seemed like they were new and the service was very slow, they couldn’t have been more pleasant and nice.   The meal was very good.  We tried looking up the restaurant’s menu to remember the exact names of the dishes we had, but the website was down on the night we wrote this blog.   

All in all, we enjoyed our meal.  We had several appetizers - a fried (or smoked?) cheese, skewers of meats and fried potato patties.  All were served with flavorful sauces, although the chutney was a bit too sweet and the yogurt sauce had some strange seed (caraway?).  Bill had a big salad (also with cheese) as an entrée and Elena had a chicken curry dish.  Both were very good.  This is probably not the best Indian food in the area (compared, for example, to Haandi), but it was definitely very good.    

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tachibana, McLean, VA

6715 Lowell Ave.,  
McLean, VA 22101
(703) 847-1771

Tachibana is the real deal.  Nestled in a back lot off the beaten path, Tachibana is hard to find.  But walking up the flight of stairs to the second floor establishment, entering through the doors plastered with Washingtonian, Zagat, and other top rating placards, you enter a true gem.  There is no conveyor belt, no tepanyaki or hibachi tables, no over-the-top Japanese decorations, no gimmicks-just real Japanese food.

All dinner entrees come with a 5-course selection of appetizers, soup, salads, a main course, and dessert.  We had our server select a middle of the road saki to accompany our meal which consisted of seaweed and greens salad, miso soup, a nice tempting piece of mackerel, spicy tuna roll, some ginger and vanilla ice cream and our entrees which included a sampling of sushi (see the picture above) and a seafood and vegetable tempura with rice.  All way too much to eat in one sitting.  Dining neighbors were enjoying shabu-shabu and other Japanese delicacies which we are sure to try in a subsequent visit.  Service was prompt, accommodating, and polite.

It is said that the real Tachibana experience is at the sushi bars (yes, there are two).  But, you have to get there early to find a seat with the four or five sushi chefs.  We sat at a dining table within eye-shot of the sushi bar which seemed feverously busy building an assortment of fresh sushi.  Bar or table, if you're looking for pure Japanese food, Tachibana is the place to go.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Wildfire, Tysons Galleria, Vienna, VA

1714U International Drive (Tysons Galleria)
McLean, VA 22102
(703) 442-9110

Every time we go to Tyson’s Galleria, we see this place bustling with customers.  So, we thought we would take a break from our usual favorite (P.F. Chang) and try it.  We did not make a reservation in advance, and the hosts suggested that we eat at the bar area’s high tables, which are first-come-first-serve.  There were several waiters covering that area, but in one word the service can probably be described as….. wacky.  Waiters brought us our order twice and a few times even brought us items we did not order, which of course we turned away (maybe we should have kept them?).  Aside from the annoying service, the food was bland.  Other than the delicious cornbread served on a board, seemingly right out of the oven, nothing else that we ordered had any flavor.  The calamari appetizer was average and the barbecue platter was dry and boring.  Other people seem have been enjoying wine tastings and feasting on the menu’s specials, but we were under-impressed.  Not much else to say about this place other than, unfortunately, we doubt we will be back. 

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Pulcinella Ristorante, McLean, VA

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

Judging on food alone, this place is exceptional.  Too bad dining experiences are not based on this one element.  Simply put, our night out at Pulcinella Ristorante, a local McLean Italian eatery, was nothing short of a disaster.  Interestingly, www.tripadvisor.com ranks Pulcinella’s #1 of 62 rated McLean eateries.  We must have just arrived on the wrong night, but we’ll explain further why this rating is a complete misnomer.

We both agree with a tripadvisor.com review that this is New York Italian food.  Problem is, you can’t serve NY Italian food with NY Italian restaurant attitude this far south of Delancey Street.   We found the food great but the service awful with a rude and aloof attitude.  The place was crowded and busy, which was a good sign, we thought and since they do not take reservations for two, we waited in line for about 10 minutes. Once seated, it took several tries to get someone's attention to stabilize our shaky table, give us cutlery, bread, drinks, and napkins.  A word of caution and advice--When you get your check, look it over carefully.  We noticed a wrong price (higher of course) for the seafood gumbo. When pointed out to the waiter, he argued with that the higher price was correct despite what the menu indicated. A little alcohol would have helped to get past all this, but be prepared - they serve about 3 kinds of wine and that's it - nothing else! Needless to say, we do not think we will ever return.

P.S.  We found it to be quite rare to have such a negative experience and called the owner the following week to let him know about this.  We actually thought he would be appreciative of customers' honest feedback and would assure us that if we ever return this would not happen again.  (Obviously we wanted to like this place, we really did.)  Nothing of the sort.  He was contentious and uncourteous.  Now we see from where the rest of the staff at Pulcinella get their attitudes.  

Monday, December 6, 2010

J. Gilbert’s, McLean, Virginia

6930 Old Dominion Dr, McLean, VA 22101-3816
(703) 893-1034

We write this entry with some hesitation for two reasons.  One, we ate here twice (ordinary dinner and Thanksgiving early dinner) and had diametrically opposing experiences (at least one of us did) each time.  Two, the second dining experience (Thanksgiving) was so good that we’re afraid to tout it too much for fear of it becoming too popular and we will be unable to get reservations next year.   Yea, right, like anyone listens to us or reads this blog.  :o)  When we had dinner here earlier in the year, Bill had a Ribeye steak and Elena had the Lobster Cobb Salad.  Bill liked his steak, but the Lobster Cobb Salad was extremely disappointing.  We also had the Shrimp Cocktail appetizer with huge shrimp, but very few of them.  Elena was not going to return, but we decided to give it another shot at Thanksgiving, and boy, were we glad we did!  The buffet was out of this world!  Selection was so diverse that both Bill and Elena with our different taste buds, kept going up for more.  In addition to the turkey and a ton of trimmings, there was a carving station with succulent prime rib, 3 or 4 types of fish, a chocolate fountain, and all filled to the rim with constant attention by the wait staff.   Each dish was seasoned just right and flavorful.  Our waiter was friendly and attentive.  We considered this sumptuous meal to have been a bargain for the price, and a wonderful surprise to boot that we have already spread the word about.  We liked it so much, we have decided to make it a tradition.  If you read this, please keep it to yourself – we don’t want the place to be overrun! 

Panache, McLean, Virginia

1753 Pinnacle Drive, McLean, VA 22102
(202) 293-7760

Hidden away in an office complex, Panache’s chef obviously considers each dish to be as much about presentation as about taste.  Each course came out looking and tasting very good.  Wait staff was courteous and attentive.  The dining room got crowded at dinner time.  Elena's entree was the Chilean Sea Bass and Bill had the Lobster Ravioli.  Both were good.  You can see the appetizing presentation in the photo of us at the table.  Our chosen appetizers were the house Panache salad and calamari, which were also very attractive and tasty.  We had no room for dessert, although the dessert menu looked pretty good.  They have a good cocktail and wine selection.  In Elena's opinion, this place is rather pricey with a "cool" personality, but it was great to try once.  Bill really liked the modern décor with high ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows.  Bill particularly likes that Panache has an open style kitchen.  Overall, the experience was very pleasant.

Cheof Geoff’s, Vienna, Virginia

8045 Leesburg Pike, Vienna, VA 22182 (703) 555-1212
Located behind Tiffany’s across from Tyson’s corner mall with pretty-much mandatory, but complimentary valet parking, this place was crowded and festive when we had dinner on the night before Halloween.  The wait staff was dressed in costumes, which added to the fun of the evening.  The menu was certainly diverse enough to provide a selection for most tastes.  Bill had the New York Strip and Elena had the Lemongrass muscles (that are on the picture).  Both were very good.  We also had appetizers, Clam Chowder and the Crispy Calamari, which were also very good (particularly the sauces that came with the calamari).  What Bill enjoyed the most (Elena did not partake) was the doughnut dessert, which had the Cinnamon and Sugar Dusted Donuts with raspberry sauce and chocolate pudding on the side.  Bill realy (and we mean REALLY) liked them.  The service was mostly fine, even though the place was crowded and the wait staff were running around trying to keep all the tables (some with families and kids) happy.  Elena would probably not return here, but was very glad to finally try this place after wanting to come here for years.  Bill would dine here again.

The Portofino Restaurant - Crystal City (Arlington) VA

526 23RD St S, Arlington, VA 22202-2518
(703) 979-8200

(Please check our updated review from April 2014 here.)

At The Portofino, I felt like I could be anywhere in Italy.  The menu, the ambiance, the ingredients, the service, the wine list, the preparation and most of all the taste took me right back to Parma.  There is a reason the Portofino has been in Crystal City for over 40 years—it is about as authentic as you can get without a passport.  Some of the wait staff have been there for 20+ years.

We went to the Portofino for Elena’s “Date Night” selection.  She obviously was playing into my likes and the restaurant did not disappoint.   Elena requested Angelhair Arrabiata, but if you search their menu on their website you’ll see that it is not even listed.  This is one of the many charms of the Portofino.  They are very accommodating.  Served with a glass of Prosecco and a soup appetizer, the meal was enjoyable.  Bill had the Caprese salad (nothing special) followed by the Cotoletta alla Parmigiana.  The veal was tender, tasty and fresh.  Served with a side of spaghetti, the meal was satisfying and delicious.  The accompanying bread was freshly baked on site with the skill of Italian bakers.  Crusty on the outside and soft and fresh on the inside and served with a plate of extra virgin olive oil was a perfect accompaniment.  The one slight disappointment to the meal was the tiramisu.  It just seemed ordinary and tasted store-bought.  

Crystal City has some gems and the Portofino is certainly one of them.  If you feel like spending a meal in Italy, but don’t feel like dealing with TSA pat-downs, the Portofino is a good substitute.

Harar Mesob, Crystal City, Virginia

S. 23rd Street  
Arlington (
Crystal City), VA 22202
(703) 553-5500

Great food, personable service, reasonable prices – this place is terrific.   We have been to Harar Mesob twice for dinner over the last year and each time it was crowded, but we never saw a long wait, as the service is very efficient.  We both agree that whether you’re a novice to Ethiopian (like Bill), or an old-hand (like Elena), this is definitely a gem.  There is parking in the back of the restaurant, though climbing over a step-down, sometimes littered, is not a treat, especially if you’re wearing heels.  They have a nice beer and wine selection, and can make any other alcoholic drink, if you tell them what goes into it.  They are accommodating of any requests, substitutions and doggie bags.  It’s not an expensive evening out.  This is ) definitely a place to which we will be returning (Bill agrees).-

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Welcome to our blog! Here's why we're blogging.

In our blog, we hope to contribute to the richness the Northern Virginia area's dining scene by providing our most up-to-date feedback on the restaruants we visit.  PLEASE NOTE that our blog contains only our own dining experiences and our opinions and may not reflect the given establishment’s overall quality.

As you can see by our photos, we enjoy eating, and particularly eating out.   What makes our accounts interesting, in our opinions, is that our tastes are very different from each other’s:  Bill likes his food dry.  His favorites cuisine is Mediterranean, with Spanish, Greek and Italian topping the list.  In contrast, Elena likes spicy, saucy, divy ethnic food.  Her favorites are Ethiopian, Indian and Mexican, with any other flavorful Asian and African food a close second. Neither of us is a huge meat eater, however, if any meat is consumed, Bill prefers beef and Elena likes chicken.  The difference in our taste buds makes it difficult to narrow down a selection that we will both enjoy.   Difficult, but not impossible. 

When making our selection, we usually browse the reviews in standard restaurant guides, like Zagat's and Washington area magazines and newspapers with a restaurant section.  We also consider any personal recommendations by way of online postings and reviews.  However, we often found that reviews can be outdated and sometimes don’t exist at all.  Recent photos of the restaurant are also hard to find. 

It's great to know what to expect when you're about to shell out for a dinner out and invest in a special evening.  This is why we established Bill and Elena's Northern Virginia Restaurant Blog. 

Whether we try a new restaurant or return to an old-time favorite, we wanted to provide most up-to-date feedback on our dining experiences to our friends and neighbors in the Northern Virginia and Washington DC Metro area to help make their dining selections easier. 

We have enjoyed every single dinner out, regardless of any mishaps, big or small, that we describe in our accounts.  After all, the key to any wonderful meal is most definitely the company.  
TO REITERATE, PLEASE NOTE that our blog contains only our own dining experiences and our opinions and may not reflect the given establishment’s overall quality.