Welcome to the Northern Virginia Restaurant Blog.

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

Monday, April 27, 2015

Hokkaido Seafood Buffet - Falls Church, VA

5900 Leesburg Pike
Falls Church, VA 22041
Tel: (703) 845-0888

There is definitely something for eveyone at Hokkaido, located between Seven Corners and Bailey's Crossroads in a shopping strip situated along Leesburg Pike's fantastic ethnic food corridor.  This is the perfect place for gathering a group of friends who can't agree on where to eat.  You can bring your family, grandparents, picky teenagers, every age, every demographic, and every level of palate adventurousness.  Hokkaido Seafood Buffet restaurant is a definite guarantee that they will all find something and more!

The impressive display of variety is somewhat overwhelming, so the key is to pace oneself!  In the eternal words of the ever-wise Martin Crane in the long-running 90s sitcom, Frasier, giving advice to his son Niles when approaching the all-you-can-eat cruise ship buffet, "Now the buffets come at a pretty good pace, so you gotta pace yourself. And watch out for your fillers - your breads, your rolls, your chips, your dips. You've only got so much room - don't be a hero."  Well-said, Martin!

While the selection is enormous, a pick-and-try approach to finding favorites can quickly get you too full to eat anymore.  And in the tasting process, a variety in quality may also play into what to pick next.  The sashimi cuts were not the high-grade of fish one finds in a favorite sushi joint.  There is no question that when there is ample quantity, there is an occasional sacrifice in quality.  Perhaps it is well-advised to have higher expectations for the prepared foods rather than the raw bars.  But no problem, just move on to the next station and you will not be disappointed!

There is every imaginable kind of food here.  Photos below repesent the Hokkaido selection only partially.  There is definitely way more here.  In fact, there is food everywhere the eye can see.  Trays and trays, stations and stations, steam, smoke, aromas.  Trying to convey the extensive array of choices is akin to describing the indescribable.

As suggested by its name, this is a restaurant with an Asian flavor, so every Asian cuisine from Korean kimchi to Japanese sushi to Chinese stirfry seems to be represented here.  But not only!  While there isn't much in terms of service or ambience here, it is barely missed. For under $20 (discounts available for seniors and kids), there is barely time to look around at anything other than the dozens of trays of salads, soups, seafood, stirfry, various stations with unique Asian delicacies and a variety that can be described only as mouthwatering. The dessert station alone offers about a dozen choices.

We will defitely be back here time and time again, so that we can try everything on the menu, and then be back for our favorite picks.

Our plates were filled to the rim, and we hadn't even tried one fifth of what Hokkaido has to offer:

Monday, April 13, 2015

China Star Chinese Restaurant - Fairfax, VA

9600 Main Street
Fairfax, VA 22031
(703) 323-8822

There is a great benefit to dining out with a group of people who enjoy tasting a variety of dishes and have opinions on each dish.  Undoubtely, China Star is a prime candidate to visit with as many people as can fit around your table, considering the extensive menu it offers with a wide selection of choices, nearly making you wish you could squeeze all 3 daily meals into one.  You can pick either of its two websites (yes, two?) to review the menu ahead of your visit, though narrowing your selection down is not easy because it all sounds so good.  Perhaps this is a restaurant where one can be advised to visit often to try everything in order to ultimately settle on the favorites.  

Unfortunately, of the five appetizers and about six or seven entrees, nearly all were disappointments. It is possible that our selections were simply wrong, but we cast quite a wide net, as you can see by the photos below, to get as many diverse flavors as possible. 

To begin with, those items marked as "spicy" or even "numbing" were anything but.  The fact that the Wontons, for example, were drowining in chili oil (see photo below) did not make them any less bland. Several appetizers sounded quite unique, which is why we ordered them, such as Cucumber with Mashed Garlic and Wood Ear.  The former consisted of bland and mushy cucmbers with very little garlic flavor. It was particularly mushy and slimy when combined with any of the other food on one plate. The latter turned out to be a pile of delicate thin black mushrooms, also quite bland until you reached the small stash of pickled hot peppers at the bottom of the bowl.  The Changdu Spicy Cold Noodle appetizer was also bland, and the noodles were annoyingly endless, rendering them nearly impossible to get off the serving plate without friends' help.

Now for the entrees, IF you are still hanging in there and thinking there is still a small chance you'll try Chine Star despite all you have read thus far. 

The entrees...  Well, someone on Yelp who loves spicy dishes as much as we all do, raved about the mild Fish with Pine Nuts, which, though not spicy was still all the rage. We figured with all the spicy dishes we were ordering, this would offer a nice balance.  NOT.  The fish was so mild both in flavor and texture, that, well... it was almost like eating something that was not there (if that makes sense), supplemented by more mushy cucumbers with the fish, boy, was this the wrong choice!  The Szechuan chicken - a combination of brittle fried popcorn chicken with small slices of potatoes (yes, potatoes in a Chinese restaurant!) and intermittent cilantro stems - was, in a word, DRY. The sprinkled red pepper added some heat, but definitely not any flavor.

Going into details about the remaining dishes, is not worth it because, frankly, you get the idea!

Oh, the smoked duck, was dry, and should probably have been smoked rather than eaten, although, jokes aside, it was probably the least disappointing of the entrees, though the bar, as you can see, is not high.

In a word, while Northern Virginia is not necessarily known for its great Chinese food, and this restaurant supports this perception, there are other Chinese restaurants that are much more worthwhile of a return visit, such as Peking Gourmet Inn or Mark's Duck House, than China Star.  

The good news is that the mediocre food was no barrier to a fun evening with a great group of people! 

 Dan Dan Noodle with ground pork

 Cucumber with mashed garlic

 Wontons with pork

 Changdu Spicy Cold Noodles (not spicy)

 Wood Ear (mushrooms) with Chili Oil Sauce

 Smoked duck

 Very top is Cashew Chicken

 Fish with Pine Nuts

 Shrimp with Asparagus and Kung Pao Chicken

Left is Szechuan Chicken and bottom is Beef with Snow Peas


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

We enjoy RusUz so much, we wanted to show you more pictures of their delicious food!

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

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

We've written about RusUz on this blog in the past, so we will not repeat ourselves. But we love it so much that we keep going back for more plov, more manty and more borscht. Russian and Central Asian food isn't for everyone, and we are the first to admit this. But for those who are not familiar with this kind of food, this is a great place to be introduced to it.

Food at RusUz has been great every time we have gone (about a dozen times since they opened a few years ago), and the service has gotten better with time.  We are not alone in thinking this. The restaurant is quite busy and often gets booked for private events, so we reservations are highly recommended, particularly on a Friday or Saturday evening, when the wait can be quite long without a reservation. The only drawback is the increasingly rocky chairs at some of the tables, but that's what an ethnic dive is all about! If you mention this to the staff, they will change out your chair....  The staff is very friendly, pleasant, knowledgeable and accommodating.

For those who drive everywhere, note that street parking is at a premium on weekend evenings in this busy area of Ballston, especially if there is a game in one of the surrounding bars, such as the awesome A-Town Bar & Grill. So, unless you're metroing, parking at the nearby Ballston Commons Mall parking lot is always an option, if you don't mind walking 3 short blocks.

By the way, here is a guide to Central Asian dishes http://www.buzzfeed.com/dianabruk/delicious-uzbek-dishes-you-need-to-try-immediately#.yrN4gzvEr and here is a partial list of Russian food that you will find at RusUz also http://www.buzzfeed.com/tashweenali/delicious-russian-foods-for-your-sochi-olympics-party#.rmpvoNJQP.  We've also offered a description of Central Asian food and geography in our previous posts about RusUz, as well as another excellent Central Asian restaurant in Gaithersburg, MD (yes, we crossed the border!) called Choyhona.  While the chef of Chayhona is from Samarkand, the chef at RusUz is from Tashkent.  Try both and see if you can tell the difference in their plov!  Each region and each town has their own recipe for this delicious dish.

Here are some more pictures of wonderful food at RusUz:

Appetizers starting from the far left: 

Bliny (a.k.a. Blinchiki) (Two orders of these here) - Russian traditional thin pancakes (crepes) filled with ground beef, topped with sour cream

Pirozhki - Russian traditional flaky crust pies stuffed with mashed potatoes and mushrooms 

Crab stick salad - Rice, hard-boiled eggs, sweet corn, and diced crab mixed with house mayonnaise

Manty (main course) - A staple in Uzbek cuisine. Large steamed dumplings with marinated dices of lamb and onions

Centered on the tray is a bowl of the beet and cabbage beef-based borscht with a dollop of sour cream, as traditionally served in Russia

Main course dishes starting with the top left:

Two orders of delicious Uzbek plov - Rice-based dish with either beef or lamb, as well as carrots, chickpeas, raisins and regional spices

Goluptsi - a Russian baked dish of seasoned ground beef and rice filling stuffed inside cabbage leaves, traditionally served with sour cream

Siberian pelmeni - Probably the best-known Russian dish of boiled delicate dumplings stuffed with ground beef served traditionally with sour cream (yes, again, sour cream) and dill

Chicken Shashlyk (kabob) served with a medley of green vegetables and topped with onions

 Delicious juicy Lamb Shank

Dolma - Stuffed Grape Leaves

Assortment of rich dessert cakes that are all calorie-free (wink wink)

Priatnovo Appetita! Bon Appetit!