Welcome to the Northern Virginia Restaurant Blog.

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

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Skyline Cafe - Ethiopian Cuisine in Falls Church (Bailey's Crossroads), VA

3821 S George Mason Drive
Falls Church, VA 22041
(703) 820-0240

This tiny restaurant is a place for the local Ethiopian community to enjoy their native food in a cozy, friendly and unpretentious atmoophere. The first thing you notice is a lively bar, usually full of discussion and laughter and several TV screens showing a soccer game going on somewhere in the world.  

Skyline Cafe has been operating for over 20 years at the same location in the Skyline Plaza strip that is an African enclave of eating, shopping and grooming establishments, flagged by a 7 Eleven. The speedbump-laden parking lot can hardly accommodate the busy traffic of customers in this strip, but wait for a few minutes and you will be lucky to park.

We have come to Skyline a handful of times and have seen clintele ranging from couples to families. The upbeat cheerfulness and hospitality of the new owner Samuel certainly translates to the staff and the clintele. 

We first discovered Skyline Cafe thanks to Groupon. We are huge fans of Meaza (Bailey's Crossroads) and Merkamo in Springfield.

The food in Skyline Cafe is great. We have ordered various items on the menu, trying something different each visit.  A great appetizer to begin your meal can be the Sambusa, which is a portion of two fried salty pastries filled with dark lentils and a tinge of heat. Another one that we really like is the Vegetarian Fit Fit made with pieces of injera bread soaked in awaze sauce mixed with jalapenos. The awaze sauce itself is spicy, so anything you order with it will translate into being spicy.

One of our favorite go-to combinations is the Vegetarian Sampler and one of the Tibs (grilled beef or lamb cubes) entrees offered on the menu, typically there are several to choose from.  The Vegetarian Sampler is always mild, and different Ethiopian restaurants may offer different veggies, but the staple is a variety of lentils and/or chick peas.  In Skyline Cafe the Veggie Sampler includes several types of lentils, cooked cabbage with carrots, a tomato salad (a la pico de gallo), spinach or collard greens, and other veggies.  As we are not lamb eaters, we typically order beef Tibs. Skyline's Tibs are usually of very good quality, they are lean and well-seasoned, and the kitchen is quite flexible on the level of spiciness you'd like for your Tibs, usually by varying the amount of jalapenos with which Tibs are grilled.

Samuel told us about the all-you-can-eat vegetarian buffet that Skyline Cafe offers Monday - Friday for $10.99 during lunch time (call to check, as they offer it only during Ethiopian holidays several times a year).  Even during buffet hours, Samuel assured us that ordering off the menu will always be an option.

Skyline Cafe is a hands-down gem. We will definitely be back and will be bringing our friends. 

(Updated in June 2015) 

 We try to avoid posting photos of diners, so the pictures show empty tables because we photographed in-between customers. Staff do a great job cleaning off tables quickly.

 Artwork by local Ethiopian kids

 Sambusas and Vegetarian Fit Fit

 Vegetarian Sampler FOR ONE and Beef Tibs with Tomato Salad

Vegetarian Sampler FOR TWO with Skyline Beef Tibs

All meals are better with a nice cold Ethopian beer

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Passion Fin - Asian Fusion Cuisine in the Mosaic District of Merrifield, VA

2750A Gallows Rd
Merrifield, VA 22190

Passion Fin Dining Room
Passion Fin is more about where it is than what it is. I’ll do my best to focus on the restaurant than on the neighborhood, but one thing that stands out here is while Passion Fin is fair at best, what makes it good is its location in the up-and-coming Mosaic District of Merrifield, VA.

We’ve done the “asian fusion” thing before, and Passion Fin falls into the trap we wrote about in our Kenji Fusion entry back in January. Again, “if you can do one thing well, stick with it. The more you add, the more washed out it becomes.” Passion Fin is no different.

On to the food and service. Jake was a very pleasant and competent server. His attentive service and repeated (but not overdone) check-ins made sure we were satisfied with each course. Elena went mostly Thai, Bill went mostly Chinese. Most courses were very mediocre (see above and the Frasier quote from the Kenji Fusion entry). We started with the Crab Wonton and two soups: Miso and Tom Yum. Average, expected, but not very exciting. Our entrees were Sesame Chicken ($14) and Drunken Noodles ($10). Each were average and needed some “heat”, but requests for hot sauces were unfulfilled, other than some sriracha and a flavorless hot oil. The $8 hot sake was a hit, though!

Sesame Chicken
Is Passion Fin good enough to return? Perhaps. Seems they have some really good specials, and they may be enough to get us back. It will be a long wait though since there are many other Mosaic district restaurants we want to try.

Daily Specials
I did my best to keep the Mosaic District discussion to a minimum; however, I can’t keep it out of the discussion. Mosaic is building and building fast. Situated just off the Dunn Loring Orange Metro line, anchored by a wide swath of condos, stores, and apartments. Just look for the construction cranes, as there is plenty of development happening there. The district is well engineered, and hopefully in time the distinct neighborhoods separated by Lee Highway will be bridged so that the southern area will connect to the newer northern end. Anchored by a series of small-medium sized boutiques, grocers, Movie Theater, and a big box Target store, restaurants are plenty. Ted’s Bulletin, BlackFinn, Ocean Pearl, Four Sisters, Cava, SweetGreen, and Gypsy Soul (getting excellent reviews and on many Top Restaurant lists including Northern Virginia Magazine) serve most of the world’s cuisines. With all these notable new additions, we hope Passion Fin can survive.

Drunken Noodles
Passion Fin is comfortable, open, and well-decorated. Sparse Asian d├ęcor separates the Sushi bar, regular bar, and a few separate dining rooms. The lighting is perfect – not overbearing, but can still see your menu and food. Music was a strange mix of 80’s and 90’s pop, certainly not expected, but better than the constant stream of ting-y Asian music. The clientele was diverse, ranging from families to millennial daters.  

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

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

1000 N Randolph St
Arlington, VA 22201
(202) 468-8472

We were delighted to see that RusUz has expanded to almost double its original space, has substantially expedited its already very friendly and courteous service, while maintaining a high quality of delicious food, continuing to be a SUPERB addition to the Northern Virginia dining scene!

We've eaten there several times since we last reviewed it in this blog and each time our experience was better and better.

In January 2014, RusUz was named named one of Washington area's 100 Very Best Restaurants by the Washingtonian Magazine and it certainly deserves the same title in 2015!

 Chicken kebab