Welcome to the Northern Virginia Restaurant Blog.

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

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Imm Thai Cuisine - Annandale, VA

7203 Columbia Pike, Annandale, VA 22003
Tel: (703) 750-0880

In the heart of a dining treasure trove of wonderful Korean dives in Annandale known as "Little Korea,Imm Thai Cuisine offers a small unexpected, yet still Asian, detour. On a cold Sunday evening, we decided to give it a shot. We know how wonderful many of the Korean restaurants, cafes, bakeries and bars are in Annandale, so why not try something that is a little unusual.

Located in a small building neighboring only a boutique called Gloria Beauttie Fashion, which was doing business late into Sunday evening, Imm Thai Cuisine is a small place that is cozy, clean, simple and friendly.

When we arrived, there was only one other party of about 4 people eating in the restaurant. The waitress / hostess with a huge smile and a welcoming demeanor quickly seated us and took our wine order. They offer two kinds of red and two kinds of white wine, a humble, but sufficient selection for a small place like this.

Our food came out quickly. Our Imm’s Duck Rolls and Larb Gai chicken appetizers were very good. They tasted fresh and flavorful, though the Larb Gai wasn’t very spicy, even though it had two “spicy stars” on the menu. As our entrée choices, we both ordered noodles – Pad Thai and a Drunken Noodles, both with chicken. While they were both very good, the noodles were a little too soft for our taste, making for a texture that was a bit disappointing. In fact the next day when I heated up my Drunken Noodles leftovers, they literally disintegrated in my mouth. This is not something that is typical, not sure what kind of noodles they are using or how they are preparing them that is different from the many other Thai restaurants in the area.

The Drunken Noodles were marked with two “spicy stars” on the menu, indicating a higher level of heat, however they were not very spicy at all, just like the Larb Gai. We requested the spicy sauce tray, which helped to infuse some heat into the noodle dishes.

Overall, this place is OK, but not great, as far as Thai food goes. Tara Thai in Falls Church or i-Thai in Vienna make a much better choice. When in Annandale and craving Thai, this place will certainly do. Prices are quite reasonable and on par with other restaurants in the area. However, we suggest to stick to some of the better-known Korean dives that are plentiful and well-known in Annandale.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Kenji Fusion - Bailey’s Crossroads, VA

3539 South Jefferson St 
Bailey's Crossroads, VA 22041

Coconut Herring???

Before you head over to the Asian Fusion restaurant Kenji Fusion in the Skyline/Bailey’s Crossroads neighborhood of Falls Church, consider this exchange between Frasier and Niles in the old sitcom Frasier*:

Niles: Frasier, I hope you're free tonight. I just secured a table at the most exclusive new restaurant in Seattle.

Frasier: I'm sorry - just not in the mood.

Niles: At least hear me out - this place is the hottest new thing in fusion cuisine.

Frasier: What cuisines are being fused?

Niles: Polynesian and Scandanavian. It's called "Mahalo-Valhalla."

Frasier: Well, perhaps there's a reason why God put those two countries so far apart.

Niles: I had my doubts too. But my gourmet newsletter gave three-and-a-half whisks to their coconut herring.

I quote this show because its further proof I am not a big fan of fusion restaurants. The old adage, “if you can do one thing well, stick with it. The more you add, the more washed out it becomes.” I think Kenji Fusion is evidence of this adage. In and around the NoVA dining scene there are really good Chinese, good Japanese, good Korean, good Thai, etc. Search this blog, or Yelp, or other reviewers and you’ll find them. IMHO, when each of the continent’s menus are fused, it takes a lot of guts, skill, and knowledge to pull it off. Kenji Fusion comes close, the food is OK, but what drops its bar is in its service and décor—both are nice, but fall way short of what a restaurant should be. If Niles’ gourmet newsletter gave three-and-a-half whisks to their coconut herring, then we give 2 whisks to Kenji Fusion.

Let’s start with the food simply because it was the only part of the meal that was acceptable. Savvy readers may want to skip this section and proceed directly to the décor and service below. Our orders consisted of several Japanese rolls (Philadelphia Rolls, California Rolls, Tempura Shrimp Rolls, Sweet Potato Rolls—oh wait, the Tempura Shrimp and Sweet Potato Rolls never showed up—more on that later). These rolls were “ok”, but I think a Japanese sushi house could do them much better. Our entrées consisted of Singapore Noodles, Chicken Tempura (never showed up—more on that later), Ginger Tofu with Veggies, and Chicken Teriyaki. All of our entrées passed the taste test, but because they were served out of order and some entrées came out late, detracted from the experience. Again, more on that later.

So you probably are here because you skipped the paragraph on the food. That’s ok,

because this is where the review really begins. Finding a place to start is difficult, so we’ll start with the décor as that is always the first impression. Kenji Fusion’s décor tries. Tries real hard, but fails miserably and ends up being very cheesy. Booths are huge, poorly lit, and very uncomfortable as the tables are so narrow that in order to eat you must sit at the edge of the bench. Great ideas in an open floor plan but too much thought on conveying a contemporary atmosphere and not enough though on diner comfort. The lighting is a too-dark mixture constructed with a back-light behind crystal glass balls. Makes for an interesting scheme, however, the gradual color reflections from one color to the next makes reading a menu extremely difficult. TVs showing sporting events and CNN were way out of place and distracted from the entire experience. Maybe limit the TVs to just the bar area?

On to the service at Kenji Fusion. OMG, how bad can service be? Order a sushi roll you’re likely to see a coconut herring delivered. OK, our guy may have been new, but he was inattentive, lacked experience (and a command of English), and did not understand the basics of dining service. Nothing could warn us more since he was very attentive on the front-end as we previewed the menu. He came by at least twice before we were ready to order ensuring we knew and understood the drink menu. Our dining companions noticed his elaborate square drawn out on his notepad, but that’s where the organization stopped. We purposely went slow through our order and “hoped” he would get it right.

We ordered two soups and four sushi rolls as starters. The soups arrived soon enough, but only two sushi rolls ever showed up. The menu states that avocado, crab sticks, etc. can be added to any roll order (for an additional charge), imagine our frustration when we ordered a sweet potato roll with extra avocado and had to argue with the waiter to convince him that the menu actually does say this is possible. Since the roll never came, we will never know if the extra was conveyed to the sushi chef. Did our starters (rolls, salads, etc.) actually start the meal? Hardly. Yes, soups came out first (believe it or not, the ONLY thing on our order that came out as ordered and were quite good), but they were followed by a mish-mash of screwed up orders.

You’ll have to follow closely here, because this actually happened to one of our diners: Food ordered—tempura shrimp roll (for app) and tempura chicken meal with Miso soup. What came to the diner? The soup, yes. But an entrée of tempura shrimp (with no roll). Ugh.

Three entrées arrived for the four of us with one forgotten about. We waited about 10 minutes for our Chicken – err – Tofu with vegetables to arrive. Yes, ordered tofu, but chicken came out. Obviously another error that was about as messed up as the rest of the service. I could go on-and-on, but you should be getting the point by now.

As with most fusion-type places, there is an attraction to serving a hybrid of different cuisines. If Mom wants Korean, Dad wants Chinese, and the kids want sushi, perhaps a place like Kenji Fusion works. But works only if comfort and service are not high on your list of dining needs. I’ll pass on the coconut herring.

* FRASIER. “Sweet Dreams” written by Jay Kogen, directed by Sheldon Epps. Original Airdate on NBC: 19th May 1998.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

El Tio Tex-Mex Grill and Mexican Restaurant - McLean

1433 Center Street
McLean, VA 22101
(703) 790-1910

After reading a multitude of generally positive reviews on Yelp we headed to El Tio Tex-Mex Grill in the hopes of having a good meal, and we did. El Tio is difficult to find, tucked away in a tiny strip mall on a side street running parallel to Chain Bridge Rd (near the corner of Chain Bridge and Old Dominion). Unlike its Falls Church location on the main drag (Lee Highway), there is no way to drive past the McLean El Tio and notice it. It stays busy, no doubt, due to word of mouth. The food is great and the service attentive. We were definitely made to feel welcome.

El Tio is a small restaurant with about 15 tables in all, so, when crowded, the atmosphere is cramped, hectic and can be a loud. They do not take reservations on Friday and Saturday nights, but we were seated, even though the restaurant was busy. It would have been nicer to have had a larger table for our party of 5, with wait staff rushing all around us.

The bottomless chips and salsa really hit the spot while we waited for our food to arrive. The huge margaritas seemed popular with the patrons, so we ordered a few also. Despite the restaurant being busy, our server Eneida was very attentive. She also answered our questions knowledgeable and overall added to the great experience.

Everything we ordered from cheese quesadillas to taco samplers to seafood burritos to chicken chimichangas was delicious. Those who like their food a little spicy, note that there was not much heat to any of the entrees, so if you want some extra spice, you can ask and they will gladly oblige. Those who don’t like heat will enjoy the full flavor of the food. The staff seemed to be able to accommodate almost any request, even to split our large margarita into two glasses.

In an area with many great, but expensive, restaurants, El Tio offers both great food and affordable prices at about $12 per entree on average. Our margarita was the size of an entrée, that's for sure, and cost about $13.

As we were leaving, we ran into some friends who asked us “have you been here before?” Before we could even answer, they all enthusiastically pumped their thumbs in the air, saying “this place is great, we love it!” And we all agree.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014


WINTER RESTAURANT WEEK January 13-19, 2014

200+ area restaurants offering 3-course meals at a discount invite you to have a new dining experience, have fun and eat well.  Throw caution to the wind and check out as many restaurants as you can! 

Over 50 restaurants are participating in Northern Virginia!

Reserve ASAP.  As always, reasonable lunch and dinner times go very fast.


Restaurant Week will return to this area in August.

Wildfire - McLean

1714 International Drive (Tysons Galleria 3rd Floor)
McLean, VA
(703) 442-9110
The half a dozen times that we have dined at Wildfire over the last few years, we have wondered what about this place makes it so appealing to the customers who seem to flock here.  The relatively standard menu does not offer anything particularly interesting and the consistently terrible service makes this a very very long and frustrating dining experience every single time.  There is really not much else to say about this restaurant, other than perhaps the location is pretty good for a quick happy hour drink with business colleagues in the Tysons area.  However, with the wide variety of excellent restaurant choices available and constantly increasing in Tysons, we hope that Wildfire steps up its service and livens up its menu.

j. gilbert's - McLean

6930 Old Dominion Drive
McLean, VA 22101

j. gilbert's continues to be our favorite go-to brunch spot in the NoVa area. 

We know that restaurants have to weigh many factors when deciding whether and how to serve brunch to its hungry weekend clientele.  A recent article in the Washington Post's Going Out Guide outlines some aspects that can make brunch quite taxing on the staff and management of a busy restaurant.  This is why when you have a combination of a huge buffet with freshly made constantly replenishing dishes that are both delicious and varied, you just can't go wrong with j.gilbert's.

Their limitless buffet of seafood with a variety of smoked and fresh fish, their abundant comfort standards of vegetables, meats, poultry, breads and cheeses, all delicious and abundant and beautifully presented....  this is a feast and a great value.  The carving station doubles up as the omelet station and is fun, quick and efficient.  Nothing compares to their dessert station with a dozen or so choices, including a fantastic chocolate fountain with fresh fruit and marshmallows to enjoy, worth a trip to j. gilbert's just for that!  Forgot to mention waffles - prepared on request. They are fresh, crispy toasted on the outside and melt in your mouth, especially when topped with whipped butter and warm syrup, but you gotta ask for it! 

Our friends have commented about how much they love j. gilbert's mixed drinks, particularly the Manhattan.  When we have guests in town or when we want to be certain of an enjoyable experience, both in food, service and atmosphere, this is where we head first.  This can be a festive family occasion or an intimate meal shared between two friends or a couple.

We have eaten dinner here, too, but brunch is what we most highly recommend. 

The only drawback is the dim lighting in the dining room and the less than sturdy booth benches. They can stand to refurbish some of their aging furniture....  Although sitting next to the fireplace can be cozy, especially during the cold months, we always ask for the table near the window so that we can have a little more light. They only have a few tables near the window, so we recommend reservations if that's where you'd prefer to sit. 

Friday, January 3, 2014

Full Kee Restaurant - Authentic Chinese Cuisine - Falls Church, VA

5830 Columbia Pike
Falls Church, VA 22041
(703) 575-8232

If you don’t know it’s there, it’s easy to miss Full Kee Restaurant at the Bailey’s Crossroads Shopping Center, home to Best Buy, Trader Joe’s and Moe’s Southwestern Grill. But miss it you should not. That is if you really enjoy delicious authentic Chinese food with no fanfare, lousy service, second- (or third-) rate ambience, and a variety of dishes that can keep you coming back for years. Yes, Full Kee is a gem of an ethnic dive.

Our friends recommended that we eat at Full Kee on Christmas Day. Good thing we made reservations! Even though we had a relatively large group, the restaurant was packed with people waiting for a table even at an unusual meal time in-between lunch and dinner, we went at 2pm. Had it been only several of us in a party, considering the slow inefficient service, it would still have made sense to reserve ahead. Yelp says that they do not take reservations, so perhaps Christmas Day was an exception to this policy, we just are not sure how flexible they are, especially if there is a language barrier with whoever picks up the phone. (Note that they have a new feature on their website where you can reserve a table online.)

If you are looking for an immaculate setting, service with a smile (or even with good English), personalized explanations of the extensive menu with literally hundreds of choices consisting of items that are for the most part unfamiliar to the American Chinese diner (although a whole section that is familiar), then this is not the place for you.

If you enjoy trying a variety of flavors, you will not be disappointed if you eat here! We ordered just under 20 different dishes of appetizers and entrees to share among the 8 people in our party. There was not a single dish that was bland or unsatisfying, all were wonderful. From the dumplings to the lo mein to the variety of their popular meal-portioned soups to the beef, shrimp, pork and poultry dishes, all were delightfully savory with just the right amounts of sauces, flavors, and variations. With prices so affordable, if we had bottomless stomachs, we could have easily stayed in Full Kee until they close (at 2am!) to try as many of their choices as possible. 

To us the quality and flavors of food are worth coming back to Full Kee and recommending it to our friends, the same way we found out about it. Thanks, Joe!