Welcome to the Northern Virginia Restaurant Blog.

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

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Sheba Ethiopian Restaurant, Fairfax, VA *** CLOSED ***

3900 Pickett Rd
Fairfax, VA 22031
(703) 425-1130

If we hadn't bought a Specialicous coupon, we would have never gone here, but we are glad we did.  In a nutshell, the food was great, but the dining experience as a whole was not something we would return for.  The first thing that hit us when we entered Sheba Ethiopian Restaurant was the poor ventilation.  After a few minutes we got used to it, but sure enough when we walked out, the smell of an exhaust-lacking kitchen followed us all the way home.  We would say that this was the worst part of the dining experience.

Though the waitress served the entire dining room alone, she did a relatively good job and was very pleasant.  However, she was clearly overwhelmed with having to serve about 6 or 7 tables by herself. 

The other thing that we noticed right away was that most of the diners in the restaurant were American.  It’s great that Sheba caters to the American clientele, but all the excellent Ethiopian restaurants we’ve ever been to in this area all have a relatively large contingent of Ethiopians (typically all men) eating there, but at Sheba we noticed one table of Ethiopians.  Accordingly, when we sat down we were given a cutlery set – a fork and knife wrapped in a napkin!  That was extremely unusual, because Ethiopian food is typically eaten with hands (and injera--the spongy buckwheat-like pancake used to scoop up the food).  We looked around and the Americans eating at a table next to us were using forks.  This confirmed that this restaurant caters to a non-Ethiopian crowd.

We ordered our usual Ethiopian restaurant entrees – a vegetarian sampler and an order of beef Tibs with awaze sauce on the side. Bill had a Sambusa appetizer, which was a large deep-fried pastry filled with lentils.  Usually $3.95 gets you two small Sambusas, based on our experience at other Ethiopian restaurants, while here it was a single large pastry, which was OK.  The food was tasty, but lacking in the flavorful spice that is characteristic to Ethiopian food.  We usually expect a full flavored Ethiopian meal when we go to an Ethiopian restaurant, but this was not full flavored.  They may have toned it down for “gringos,” or maybe, as we wrote earlier, they do not cater to a crowd that appreciates the full experience.

If we are ever in the Fairfax area again and feel like having Ethiopian food from Sheba, we will most definitely go there, but rather than dining in the restaurant, we would take it to go.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

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

RusUz was named one of Washington area's 100 Very Best Restaurants by the Washingtonian Magazine in January 2014!  Congrats, well-deserved!!  Below is our review from February 2013.  And by the way---  If you are wondering what to order when you go there, here are some certain gastronomic hits http://www.buzzfeed.com/dianabruk/delicious-uzbek-dishes-you-need-to-try-immediately.

1000 N Randolph St
Arlington, VA 22201

(202) 468-8472

We were amazed how crowded RusUz was after being open for only a month and no advertising that we know of, only word of mouth.  We definitely recommend trying this tiny new restaurant in Ballston. 

Be forewarned – they still haven’t received their liquor license, and they will be the first ones to suggest that the 7/11, about a minute-walk from them, will gladly sell you a few bottles of wine, with no corking fee charged. 

In a nutshell, the food is terrific, but the service… well…  they’re still getting the hang of it, so I am certain that it will improve with time. The waiters, all very nice and friendly, were clearly rushing around, so it’s possible that the kitchen could not keep up with the crowd.  Every table was taken and some people had to wait to be seated, so business was definitely booming. And this was on an early Sunday evening!  In other words, be prepared for a longer dinner time!

RusUz is owned and operated by a family from Uzbekistan, who has lived in Alexandria for several years.  They catered food to the local community for about 3 years and after being convinced by their regular clientele to start a business, have decided to open RusUz.  We have used them as caterers before and were thrilled to find out that they have opened a restaurant.

The menu selection in RusUz is a combination of two cuisines – Russian (rather Slavic), such as the all-familiar Borscht, Blinchiki, Pirozhki, Chicken Kiev, and Pelmeni (hope you like dill, as it is used ubiquitously in almost every Russian dish), and Uzbek (rather Central Asian), such as Plov, Manti, Dolma, and Lagman. We came to RusUz with a fun group of 7 friends.  Between all of us, we tried virtually everything on the menu, including the shashlyk, and all was delicious.  Our friends who had never had this food before and those who were somewhat familiar with it, all liked it, and even said they would come back.  As for me, I know this cuisine very well and can certainly attest that the food is good!

One of my all-time favorite foods is plov, a typical Central Asian staple meal to be shared with friends for dinner, which is always topped off with tea to help digest the heavy meal.  Plov is a rice-based dish, traditionally made with lamb, usually cooked slowly in a cast iron cauldron, with carrots and raisins and flavorful (not hot) spices.  For those of you familiar with Indian food, it is close to a biryiani, close, but not the same.  Plov is usually served with a tomato-onion side salad, which brings out the richness of the rice.  To try plov is to fall in love with it!  I have traveled to Central Asia many times and can attest that plov in RusUz is as authentic as it can get (although the tomato salad includes cucumbers, which is a local addition).  In the U.S. lamb is not nearly as popular as in Central Asia, so if you call a few days in advance, you can pre-order plov with either beef or chicken, but be prepared to order at least 5 portions, otherwise the busy kitchen will be unable to accommodate your request.

Our hope is that RusUz can find the right formula to stay in business.  Several Russian restaurants have come and gone in the Washington DC metro area over the years, some stayed longer, some shorter, but all disappeared with the exception of the landmark Russia House, which is not our cup of chai (pardon the pun).  A relatively new CafĂ© Assorti that also serves a mix of Russian and Central Asian food, has not risen to popularity in this area (we have never even been there, but maybe one day we will try it).  RusUz is definitely worth a go, and who knows, next stop for you may be somewhere along the Silk Road, like Samarkand or Bukhara!