Welcome to the Northern Virginia Restaurant Blog.

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

Monday, December 22, 2014

Saffron Indian Cuisine - Falls Church, VA

1077 West Broad Street
Falls Church, VA 22046
(703) 992-0077

WE WELCOME a terrific addition to Falls Church City's Indian food scene - SAFFRON took over the now-closed Curry Mantra 2 in the West End Plaza Shopping Center.  We were not fans of Curry Mantra 2, despite its seemingly popular appeal to those who prefer a more modern version of Indian food, both in flavor and presentation. So, we were happy to see Curry Mantra 2 close its doors in NoVa to re-open in DC in Spring 2015. Good luck, Curry Mantra 2!

Goes without saying, that, in our humble opinion, Saffron is heads above its predecessor. Since we began our blog in 2010, our long-standing neighborhood favorite for traditional Indian food has been Haandi in the Giant Plaza (Falls Plaza Shopping Center) in Falls Church City. Saffron may well offer some competition to Haandi, located right across the street.

The service at Saffron was great.  Azad, a knowledgeable and very pleasant maitre d', took our order and, throughout our meal, was attentive. He supervised several cheerful and very polite wait staff, who assisted in serving dishes, clearing plates, and ensuring our water glasses were always full.

There were happy diners of all ages and demographics, families, couples, and singles, eating here early on a Saturday evening. On a cold evening, the atmosphere in Saffron was warm and amiable.

The food, both in taste and presentation, was also great  While we waited for our food to arrive, we snacked on the traditional Papadum served with the standard Indian dipping sauces / chutneys.  Our appetizer order of Samosas came out quickly, it was hot and delicious. The Chicken Tikka entree served on a rectangular white plate was perfectly moist and seasoned just right. It comes with an order of plain Naan, but we also ordered a Cheese Naan, which as delicious, though a bit greasy. The saucy, stewey Chicken Vindaloo, served in a bowl, was also terrific, with just the right seasoning and a very slight tinge of sweetness.  Hint for those who want an even spicier version of the Vindaloo: Order it as a "10." It was absolutely excellent in its flavor, poured over rice.  It is typically prepared at a "5" spice level, so if you can handle the double hotness, you will love it. Overall, the food was wonderful, and priced quite reasonably.  Our total bill came to about $41.00, not counting the tip.

For the most part, the restaurant has not been remodeled since Saffron took over this space. The main positive feature of the restaurant's layout is its open kitchen with a very strong exhaust system. The relatively small dining hall seats about 50 at its tables along walls and one middle row. We hope that the new owners address the somewhat sea-sickening askew placement of dining tables in the middle row, which is a relic of the previous restaurant's layout.

Most of the wait staff remained from the predecessor restaurant, though definitely were much better trained, more responsive and seemed much happier and more knowledgeable about their jobs than when they worked for Curry Mantra.  The chef, who apparently, worked for a short time in Curry Mantra 2, then left, has returned to cook at Saffron.

Overall, we can't say enough good things about Saffron.  Our experience there was very pleasant. We will definitely be back!

 Askew placement of tables can lead to sea-sickness, but try not to think about it...

 Incomplete renovation...

 Vegetable Samosas

 Paneer Kulcha (Cheese Naan) and Chicken Tikka

 Chicken Vindaloo

Hooray for round plates!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Ted’s Bulletin, Reston, VA

11948 Market Street
Reston, VA 20190
703-956-9510 (Ted's takes call-ahead reservations) 

Take your basic diner, add Mom’s unique and special ingredients, add nostalgia, add charm and comfort, and you get Ted’s Bulletin.  Movies from the 30’s, a menu spread on newsprint, daily specials (Thursdays—TV Dinners!), homemade pop tarts, and charming décor are just the tip of the iceberg here.

Ted’s has grown from a quaint storefront restaurant in DC’s Barracks Row neighborhood to an area chain with two DC locations (Capitol Hill and U St) and two in Northern Virginia (Reston and Merrifield).  We’ve only been to two, but the atmosphere, menu (and unfortunately service) is similar in each.  The first time it was breakfast.  The Big Mark was more than sufficient with 3 eggs, 4 meats, and a homemade pop tart—yes, you read right—a homemade pop tart.  Fresh out of the oven, and what sets the downtown DC location apart from our most recent lunch visit in Reston was the welcoming site of a fully staffed bakery in the front of the dining room.  Other than the bakery, this “Reston-raunt” is no different from the others: same décor, same old fashioned movies playing on the big screen (we saw the 1933 version of King Kong and what looked to be shorts from the Our Gang/Little Rascals series), same menu, same (could be better) service.  It is tucked into the stores, restaurants, movie theaters and corporate offices in Reston Town Center. 

We started with the baked pretzels with cheese/beer sauce.  Hot, fresh, delicious, but small (four finger-length pretzels).  The server’s suggestion to hold on to the rest of the cheese sauce to dip with the lunch sandwich was key as I ordered the Reuben with fries and the sauce did go very nicely with the fries.  The Reuben was very large conglomeration of lean corned beef, crunchy and tangy sauerkraut with 1,000 Island dressing.  We also had the Chicken Parmesan—a heaping monstrosity of battered chicken with tomato sauce and cheese over a bed of spaghetti served with two triangles of grilled texas toast and the Smoked Alabama Chicken—a full half chicken 1/2 chicken, white BBQ sauce that came with a sides choice.  In this case we had the creamed corn (delish) and the homemade mac and cheese.  Everything was plentiful and tasty.  If only it came out within a reasonable amount of time.

It was not that the place was crowded (it usually is, but they do have a call-ahead reservation service).  We ate around 2pm and the house was about ¼ full.  Perhaps the staff was reeling from a larger lunchtime crowd that affected the service, but we can’t give them the benefit of the doubt on that.  A salad that accompanied the Chicken Parm came out after the Chicken Parm.  Not good.

Will we go back to Ted’s?  Sure.  It’s comfortable and the food is top-notch which kind of takes the edge off the bad service.  This is akin to waiting in a line for an hour just to ride the roller coaster at a theme park.  You shrug off the wait because you know what’s on the other end of the line.  And you don’t have to be “this tall” to ride this one.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Joe's Pizza and Pasta (revisited) - Vienna, VA

435 Maple Avenue,
Vienna, VA

Time has stood still at Joe's Pizza and Pasta in Vienna, VA since we last reviewed it on this blog, and probably for much longer than that.  This review really doesn't need to be written, other than to point you to our last review and say that nothing has changed. And frankly, this very fact may be exactly what Joe's has going for it.  It is a neighborhood establishment and if anything changed it just wouldn't be the same Joe's.  Judging by the many trophies displayed near the salad bar, Joe's is probably a sponsor of local school team sports. Though we have not seen more than a few diners for lunch or dinner at Joe's the few times we've eaten there, it seems like a great place to take groups of kids after sporting events.   Most diners indeed are the family-types: parents / grandparents with kids enjoying the basic salad bar, the popular pizzas, and other standard menu options.

And the menu options are definitely standard. No surprises, no variations, just the predictable mild flavors that appeal to the under-15 and over-60 diners.  No adventurous palates here.

The menu items are very cut and dry.  Literally.  This describes both the service and the food.  No frills or extras.  If you order the Chicken Parmigiana Sub, that's ALL YOU GET.  It comes with nothing else, other than a plate.  Any side, or even a dish of sauce to moisten the dry sandwich, will come with a charge. We would have welcomed at least a suggestion of a side, but this is not that kind of a place. Still $2 for a bowl of Marinara sauce, that hasn't changed in years.  We would have welcomed at least an offer of sauce to complement our Cheesy Bread.  The Calzone, which surprisingly did come with a bowl of complementary sauce, was predictable, standard and good.  Really, the food at Joe's is good.  It isn't fantastic and it isn't bad.  It is what it is. And by the look of the happy faces of its clientele, we hope Joe's stays around for a long time... exactly as it is.   

Large dining hall

 Cheesy Bread (5 pieces in an order)

Chicken Parmesan 12" sandwich and Calzone that comes with marinara sauce