Welcome to the Northern Virginia Restaurant Blog.

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

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Italian Store - Italian Market with Sandwiches and Pizza - Arlington, VA

Lyon Village Location
3123 Lee Hwy
Arlington, Virginia 22201
Tel: (703) 528-6266

Westover Location
5837 Washington Blvd,
Arlington, Virginia 22205
Tel: (571) 341-1080

If you love New York pizza as much as we do, then this is the place for you. Hands down, The Italian Store's pizza is the closest you will get to real New York pizza in this area by far.  We have tried a few other places, which we also liked, but this is by far our #1 choice.

Side note: As our loyal readers already know, we are from New Jersey (Northern Noo Joisey). Well, one of us was born and raised, the other lived extensively both in New Jersey and New York City. Northern Jersey is considered by many, maybe all, insiders and outsiders alike, to be a New York suburb. Not only do so many people from New Jersey commute daily to their jobs in New York City and so many New Yorkers come to shop in New Jersey (where there is no tax on clothes), but more importantly, the attitudes and outlooks are typically pretty similar across the state border in this particular area. In New York City, folks from New Jersey are known as the Bridge-&-Tunnel Crowd. Like most NY - NJ ex-pats, we are constantly (some may even say annoyingly) comparing the taste and quality of pizza, bagels, and food in general between where we grew up and the rest of the country. The point of this paragraph is to convey to our readers that when we say "New York pizza," it's actually an abbreviation of NY - NJ pizza. Now getting back to the restaurant we are reviewing.....

We first tried this pizza at the Lyon Village location in Arlington about a decade ago, and knew immediately that the owners had to be from NY. You can read their story on their website. Our staple - the Extra Large Cheese Pizza.  We've also gotten it at their second location in the Westover neighborhood in Arlington, but found it to be not as much to our liking as the one at the Lyon Village. The seasoning and crust are consistently different, and we prefer the way they do it at the Lyon Village.

Each slice is yuuuge. Just tap a napkin on the cheese to absorb a few drops of the extra oil, fold the slice in half, and bada bam! You're walking down the street in Noo Yawk!

Incidentally, this is the only pizza that we can both order without requesting any changes on different halves and both enjoy it equally. One of us (Bill) loves extra cheese, but not extra sauce; the other (Elena) loves extra sauce, but not extra cheese. Here, we get no extra anything - you got it, we change nothing - and we are both happy. 

We have gotten a couple subs from them over the years and they have been just as good, but it's the pizza that we crave on average once a month.

P.S. Still no good bagels in Northern Virginia, though.....

 Westover location

 Busy Sunday afternoon

 Display menu (partial)

 Display menu (partial)

 Pick Up Window

 Tons of delicious frozen food to take home (missing the prices in this entire section!)

 Delicious freshly baked cookies to take home (no prices on these, either!)

 Wonderful pastas (missing prices again!)

 There is an amazing slice (actually a whole pie) of HEAVEN in this box!

Love love love love!!!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Huong Viet - Vietnamese food at the Eden Center, Falls Church, VA

Huong Viet Restaurant
The Eden Center
6785 Wilson Blvd
Falls Church , VA 22044
Tel: (703) 538-7110

This is as authentic as it gets. No question Huong Viet is the flagship restaurant of the famous Northern Virginia hub of Vietnamese food - THE FAMOUS EDEN CENTER at the busy Seven Corners intersection in Falls Church.  

This is arguably the best and certainly the oldest restaurant in the Eden Center - Huong Viet has been serving its delicous food for 23 years.

Huong Viet has received the Washingtonian Magazine's Best Bargain or some other kind of award every year at least for the last 10 years, and when you come here you'll soon know why. The family-style dishes here are all mouthwatering. 

Ethnic dives aficionados, like us, know to expect spotty service, and Huong Viet is no exception to that. Not all staff speak English and proactiveness is rewarded when asking for a water refill. Nonetheless, our waitress was knowledgeable and helpful, describing dishes and suggesting options. Wait staff are quick to take orders and food is quick to come out; tables are quick to turn over.  This restaurant seems to do a lot of takeout service, as diners were stopping by in a steady stream and leaving with lots of bags of delicious goodness.

Our 3 appetizers and 3 entrees were all terrific. Flavors are delectable. We ordered fish, chicken and veggies that all complemented each other wonderfully. Dishes are family-style, meaning if you order chicken, you get a plate of chicken with a few lettuce leaves and carrot slices. Any additional veggies must be ordered separately. A large bowl of white steamed rice accompanies each meal for no extra charge. Please see our photos below with the food description in captions. All were absolutely delicious!

Decor is humble, showcasing the multiple awards along all the walls. Tables and chairs are clean, but, as ethnic dives go, a shabbily charming.

MOST IMPORTANTLY - THIS IS AN ALL CASH OPERATIONS. We did not see an ATM on premises, so come prepared.

Each item on the menu deserves to be ordered and savored, so we will have to visit many more times to make our way through the extensive list of choices.

To top off your meal with some sweets and a change of scenery, stroll a few doors toward your left as you exit Huong Viet for a refreshing and naturally sweet Sugar Cane drink.  PLUS, DO PICK UP some fabulous Lotus Cookies from the Kim Phong Bakery to take home! Each time you eat a cookie, you'll remember the great food of Eden Center.
 As you enter the U-shaped Eden Center, the restaurant is on the LEFT

 Cheerful entrance showcasing awards and press

 Wonderful Shrimp Pancakes Appetizer

 Delicious Spring Rolls - veggies with pork - Appetizer

 Fresh Spring Rolls with Veggies - Appetizer

 Fantastic Fish in a Clay Pot

 Perfectly grilled and seasoned Lemongrass Chicken

 Chinese Broccoli and Shitake Mushrooms in a spectacular garlic sauce

What a great meal!

Refreshing, naturally sweet Sugar Cane drink freshly squeezed from raw sugar cane in a special juicer in front of you

Great semi-sweet Lotus Cookies from Kim Phung Bakery

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Sakura Japanese Steak & Seafood House and Sushi Bar - Vienna, VA

Pike 7 Plaza
8369 Leesburg Pike #10
Vienna, VA 22182
Tel: (703) 356-6444

If you're looking for a fun meal that is full of entertainment, able to please everyone, Sakura is the place.  This is a great place for festive family dinners and special occasions. During our dinner on a Saturday night there were at least 5 "Happy Birthday" songs around the restaurant, and not only for kids! 

Sakura is a traditional steak and seafood house and sushi bar.  22 Sakura locations are concentrated mostly on the East Coast - 6 in Virginia (primarily Northern Virginia), 13 in Maryland, 2 in New Jersey, and 1 in California. The restaurant in Vienna, VA opened in 2007 in its location at the strip mall with DSW, TJ Maxx, Orvis, and other familiar flagship shopping destinations. It is significantly more spacious and lively than may appear from storefront outside. The restaurant seats well over 200 people with 18 Teppanyaki (Hibachi) tables (up to 10 guests per table), about 60 at the Sushi bar and about 15 at the bar area, and yes, the bar is fully and beautifully stocked.

What most people refer to as "Hibachi" is actually Teppanyaki, and what Sakura offers is Teppanyaki, but if you ask for a Hibachi table, the hostess will definitely take you to the right place.

We sat at a Teppanyaki table with about 9 of us total, a father with two kids, two couples seemingly on dates. Our chef - Rey Reyes alias Pikachu - could not have been more skillful, entertaining and fun! He had everyone chatting and laughing all along while preparing our food. 

The drawback to this sort of cooking is that food lands on your plate as it gets cooked. If you ask for steamed rice, it will be served in small bowls by your waitress and will sit on your plate cooling off while the rest of your food is cooking. If you choose fried rice, it will be grilled along with the veggies and meat, which takes time. The veggies - sprouts, zucchini, onions, peppers, mushrooms and broccoli - are first to be grilled. So, by the time the meat finally lands on the plate, the rice and veggies are either cold, or, if you're really hungry, almost gone.  

Teppanyaki tables are more about entertainment and a common denominator palate for those who cannot agree on where to go, rather than anything else. The flavors and sauces are good enough, but rather neutral, and the food is healthy and the experience is lots of fun, but this is not the place to delight the taste buds in a bath of flavors.

You can order Sushi at the Teppanyaki table, but if you want to see the Sushi chef artfully prepare you rolls, the sushi bar is a much better place for that.

If you are looking for some quiet adult conversation over a glass of wine, come here for happy hour, but keep in mind - it's unofficial. Sakura offers a limited happy hour menu for those who ask. It is offered Monday - Friday 4:30 - 6:30pm with half price on most beer and house wines and discounted select appetizers. 

 Sushi bar

 This is where all the fun happens.

Menu at a glance.

 Nigori Sake - only 15% vol alcohol

 Fun murals along the walls of the main dining hall

 Deliciously light Miso soup

 Greens salad with a slightly runny ginger-based dressing

 Your food lights up - you can ask for him to do it again!

 The onion volcano was DEFINITELY the CROWNING NUMBER!

 All but the meat...

 Pikachu's masterful food handling offers entertainment to get your mind off being hungry.

 While Pikachu performs, waitresses in traditional Kimonos deliver the extras.

 Chicken grilled with mushrooms topped off with a sizeable dollop of garlic butter

The DARUMA DOLL greets you at the bar. Daruma is considered to have been the Father of Zen Buddhism and the doll has lots of fascinating traditions and rituals associated with it.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Ristorante Bonaroti - Fine Italian Cuisine in Vienna, VA

Wolftrappe Shopping Center
428 Maple Ave E,
Vienna, VA 22180
Tel: (703) 281-7550

When you enter Bonaroti you are immediately transported into a private romantic oasis, shutting out the world's worries, submerging yourself into a peaceful, welcoming, relaxing, delicious jacuzzi of gastronomic pleasure. Dim lighting and flickering candles reflecting off the white tablecloths set the mood to "slow down." Get ready to be pampered. A dinner here is a luxurious getaway.

For nearly a quarter century (since 1993), Ristorante Bonaroti has been a landmark in Northern Virginia's restaurant scene. Romantic date? Check. Family visiting from out of town? Check. Business partner meeting? Check.  Just stop in for a drink and a bite for happy hour in the new bar area? Check.

The old-style decor translates into traditional service and old-world Italian flavors. The owner Sergio Domestici visits each table personally to inquire how your dining experience here could possibly be more enjoyable. Staff seem to read your mind from afar, should you desire a drink refill or a little more marinara sauce. My server Jose provided me with impeccably flawless service.

Restaurants like Bonaroti should be preserved for posterity as a showcase of how life should be.

I dined alone, so I could taste only one appetizer and one entree. But eavesdropping on tables around me, I heard comments ranging from "I love this place" to "My pasta is wonderful," with groups and couples, laughing, eating, drinking, enjoying.

My Portobello Mushroom appetizer was fantastic. Who knew mushrooms can have this much flavor? It was a portion that could easily be shared by two, but I made the effort, well, if someone has to do it, it may as well be me, to finish the whole thing. A tall glass of Malbec complemented it perfectly. The warm sage bread basket served with an olive tapenade and a roasted red pepper tapenade could have made it a full satisfying meal.

The kitchen is beyond accommodating, serving me a Capellini covered in all the fantastic seasonal veggies imaginable and a good helping of sauce.  

Make sure you save room for dessert and a digestif, it is well worth it. 

Bonaroti is unquestionably an ideal destination to celebrate a special occasion, but life is too short to wait for those. This is how life should be.

Wonderful patio seating by the parking lot at the entrance to the restaurant

What is an Italian restaurant without a David statue?

Bonaroti welcomes you with a wall of well-deserved awards

New bar area for happy hour and quick dining

Ambiance that transports you into an immediate oasis of tranquility

Sage bread with two ramekins of Tapenade: Olive and Roasted Red Pepper

Portobello Mushroom appetizer. Who knew mushrooms can taste this good? ($12.95)

That's a happy diner!

Capellini made on request with a variety of seasonal veggies. ($22.95)

Make sure you save room for dessert!!!

Biscotti and an Amaretto to finish off a great meal.