Welcome to the Northern Virginia Restaurant Blog.

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

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

1000 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria Fast Casual - Arlington, VA

3400 Columbia Pike
Arlington, VA 22204
Tel: (703) 920-9000

Everyone knows that when pizza originates in New Jersey, it's gonna be good. Nuff said. 

Straight out of Bridgewater, NJ, the brainchild of an Italian American, the first Northern Virginia storefront of 1000 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria opened in Arlington about a month ago.  It is only the third one in the State of Virginia. 

We went for a Sunday lunch.  Here is what we thought. 

If you are from the New York - New Jersey area, like we are, you undoubtedly appreciate good pizza and lament its lack outside the Empire and Garden States. Our favorite go-to in this area for just under a decade has been The Italian Store.  While 1000 Degrees Pizza is very different from The Italian Store pizza, it was definitely a pleasant surprise. 

To be clear, 1000 Degrees Pizzeria doesn't claim the New Jersey taste or make lofty promises of tri-state authenticity. But both in its concept and its execution it's definitely New York - New Jersey. How? Easy. First, it offers a ton of topping choices - all for a flat price, depending on one of two crust sizes. Have you ever taken the subway in NYC? If so, you know that for one flat price you can go anywhere you like in any of the boroughs. Same with this pizza. There is literally no limit to how many toppings you can put on your pizza. All the sauces, all the cheeses, all the meats, and all the veggies combined in any quantity any way you like. Split the pizza in half, or even in quarters, if you choose to do so. It's all up to you - no extra charge.

The second way this pizza demonstrates its tri-state origins is speed - it's ready in TWO MINUTES. Yes, you read that right. The pizza with ALL your toppings goes into the oven and comes out fresh and delicious in two minutes, thanks to the high heat of the brick oven.

Even though the restaurant is "Fast" Casual, there is a lot of preparation done by the friendly staff ahead of time to make every part of the dining experience pleasant and speedy. Staff mix and bake the dough on premises two days ahead of baking it. There are no trucks that drop off frozen crusts that have sat on dry ice for many miles. Ingredients are fresh and numerous. The crust is not thick, it is not thin - it is just right. You can customize every aspect of the pizza toppings - about 6 or 7 sauces, 6 or 7 cheeses, and even more meats and veggies. Note - the jalapenos are not for the wimpy at heart. They are goooood.

You can get a 10" or a 14" pie and either eat-in or carry-out. As you move down from the sauces to the cheeses to the meats to the veggies, the staff assembles your pizza exactly how you tell them.  If you choose from the menu of pre-selected combinations, like The Classic New Yorker, The Philly, or The Trenton Tomato Pie, you simply can't go wrong. But you can also tap into your own creativity and design any kind of pie you want. Then watch the whole thing come together right in front of your eyes from start to finish.

Getting there and parking is easy. The newly-opened restaurant is on the first floor of a brand-spankin'-new residential building. The spacious modern dining room is shiny and clean with large ceiling-to-floor windows. Parking in the building is free and relatively plentiful, or at least it was relatively plentiful on Sunday at lunch time, when we went. So, the logistics are great.  

And for the added bonus - they serve wine AND beer.  AND ice cream. Seriously, how can you go wrong here?

Below are pictures of the restaurant and the food we had, all of which was fresh and delicious. We will definitely be back.


 Sauce Choices

Cheese Choices
 Meat Choices

Veggie Choices

Dough gets mixed by hand on premises.... 

 .... and crusts wait for about 48 hours to be baked

Pizza assembly in progress

Sunny. our pizza artist!





 Brick-oven where it all comes together

 Our own creation half and half with marinara sauce, mozarella and veggies

 Half Athenian Half and Smokey Pollo (hold the bacon)

 Half The Meatza and Half The White Out

 Wine and Beer Menu

Save room for the Ice Cream Bar

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Halal Guys - Middle Eastern Fast-Casual food in Springfield, VA

6304 Springfield Blvd
Springfield, VA 22150
Tel: (571) 282-3444

A true American success story - The Halal Guys - a mid-town Manhattan hot dog cart launched by three Egyptian immigrants in 1990 is now a successful franchise with 30+ locations, many of which are brick and mortar around the country, as well as Canada and Asia. Three of these have kicked off in Northern Virginia (Springfield and Vienna are now open, Fairfax coming soon).  

Each opening of The Halal Guys' locations is celebrated by hundreds of eager eaters waiting in long lines around the corner to be the first to get in. The food is basic Middle Eastern fare in a fast-casual setting with an assembly line of smiling servers compiling your choice of protein, starch and veggies. 

The idea is simple, wonderful and efficient. Once-upon-a-decade, it was pioneered by McDonald's: a limited basic menu that appeals to the entire multi-generational family. Our readers will recall that Northern Virginia was home to the original Five Guys, which built on that very idea and has become a national success. Incidentally, The Halal Guys are in good hands. They have tapped into the expertise of the same franchising company Fransmart that helped spur Five Guys' expansion.

The efficiency of this approach cannot be understated. You can see The Halal Guys food cart in action in this YouTube link. While New Yorkers always appreciate the direct communication and speedy pace of service without sacrificing quality, the simplicity of the limited choice and assembly line compilation clearly lends itself to pushing the frontiers of all ethnic cuisines and offering fast and good food across the country. Teriyaki Madness launched the first Northern Virginia location recently with fast-casual Asian food, and there are many more examples.

This recent Bloomberg article points out the rapid rise of the Halal market in the U.S., making it a $20 billion industry in 2016, up by one-third since 2010.  But in the spirit of catering to the North American market, the typical Middle Eastern meat staple - lamb - has been taken off The Halal Guys' menu, focusing instead on the more popular North American meats - chicken and beef.

The Halal Guys' mid-town Manhattan food truck actually has its own website 53rd and 6th. After running highly successful food trucks in New York for over 15 years, they decided to open up their first storefront. You can see the YouTube video here posted by Sameer's Eats about the first brick and mortar location on 14th Street and 2nd Avenue in Manhattan in the neighborhood of my alma mater New York University. One of the main menu additions with the opening of the storefront was a variety of vegetarian options.  

The halal aspect of the food is what got the business started nearly 26 years ago in New York City. The objective was to fill a then-void of catering to the Muslim cab drivers who wanted to grab a meal on the go. It is the wide appeal and popularity of The Halal Guys' food that clearly transcends ethnic boundaries today.  

 Springfield, VA location in a local strip mall

 Ready to serve up

 Servers compiling a fresh Shwarma platter

 Entertainment built in - you can watch the cooks cut up the Shwarma behind the serving counter

 Decor takes you back to The Halal Guys' original digs in NYC

 French Fries

 While sitting at the counter, you can see photos of the original The Halal Guys NYC street cart, where it all began almost 26 years ago

 Hummus, Babaghanouj and Fresh Pita

 Chicken Shwarma Platter with The Halal Guys' White Sauce, which is a house recipe

 The Halal Guys' signature sauces - very very HOT sauce and a mild White sauce

 Crispy falafel

Delicious Baklava

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Greenhouse Bistro and Samovar Tea Lounge in Vienna, VA (Tysons Corner area)

2070 Chain Bridge Road
Vienna, VA 22182
Tel: (703) 537-5700

There is nothing not to like about the newcomer Greenhouse Bistro and Samovar Tea Lounge, which claims to be the largest restaurant (by seats) in Fairfax County. Located in the "toilet bowl building," as it is known in the neighborhood, the restaurant is the brainchild of Masoud Aboughaddareh, well-known D.C. area restauranteur and nightclub impresario. Families, couples, friends, and diners of all gastronomic orientations will find a menu that is diverse and accommodating, as well as evening themes to appeal to a wide variety of tastes. 

Greenhouse is four restaurants in one. First, it is an upscale dining environment offering sustainable "nature-to-table" dishes, including some outstanding all-organic, vegetarian and vegan choices. Food is sourced primarily from local and regional farms... did you know there are over 300 farms within a 250-mile radius of where we are? The chef, Dale Schnell, originally from the West Coast, has an impressive resume, including the famous Russian Tea Room and the Rainbow Room in New York City. His creations have an urban vibe with an emphasis on the healthy and the light... as he says,  "foods that energize."  

Second, depending on the night you dine here (note: they are closed on Mondays), you will get an entertainment treat.  We came here on Thursday - Flamenco night - with a live guitar band and dancers that twirled around the restaurant.  While the music was a bit loud at times, the extravaganza was definitely entertaining, exciting and fun to watch. By the end of the evening, we saw families of all ages dancing near the band and enjoying a fun evening out that multiple generations can enjoy. The entertainment selection is a clear a manifestation of many years of nightclub experience carrying a distinctive Middle Eastern and Spanish style from Middle Eastern and Latin DJs to Flamenco and Latin American pop and rustic beats.

Third, the adjacent Samovar Tea Lounge provides a completely different feel.  It is a more relaxed, quiet, subdued and secluded atmosphere.  A dimly-lit romantic setting, it is a separate large room, outfitted with couches, embroidered pillows and, yes, samovars that brew an extensive variety of delicious flavored teas. There is a selection of food pairings that accompany the samovar service, ranging from baked pastries to fresh veggie and herb dishes. Food pairings can include savory finger foods or sweet baked pastries.

Fourth, is the large outside patio area with coffee tables and couches on one end and dining tables on the other, where you can enjoy the same menu as indoors. The patio has ground-up heating, so even on colder days, this is a place where you can hang out. You can come here either in shorts or dressed up... up to you.

Now for the food. There are plenty of options for carnivores, pescatarians, flexitarians, and vegetarians, including some vegan. Some dishes have a hint of the delicious Middle Eastern flavors interwined throughout the various items on the menu, using herbs and combinations to create a nice medley of tastes.  There is also the traditional Persian brunch that is offered here on Sundays.

All the dishes we tasted are pictured below. We enjoyed all of them, but particularly liked the salads and the short ribs in the dining room. In the Samovar Tea Lounge, the veggie platters were terrific - really that could be a great dinner in and of itself, as well as all the desserts offered here, which were wonderful.

We would definitely return here. 

 Outdoor view of the "toilet bowl building" with the Greenhouse patio

 Restaurant patio food menu

 Modern welcoming decor

 Walls are lined with an "herb garden" as well as flat-screen TVs

 Live Latin American Band with Flamenco Dancers

 Enjoying drinks out in the patio bar area
Chargrilled East Coast Octopus $17

 The Hearty Salad $13

 The Greenhouse Salad $13

 Atlantic Codfish $25 Inspired by the Spanish Paella

 Vegetarian Pizza

Half-Roasted Organic Chicken $21

Burgundy Braised Short Ribs $12 with palm puree

Hearts of Palm Sea Cake $16 with vegan (cashew) tartar sauce

Greenhouse at night

 DJ stand

Samovar Tea Lounge carries a more Middle Eastern decor vibe than the main dining room

Samovar, claimed both by Russians and Persians as their own invention

Samovar Tea Lounge menu

 Couches in the Samovar Tea Lounge

 Fresh veggies and herbs that accompany the Samovar Tea Service

Ricotta Reignets $8 with strawberry-rhubarb dipping sauce

 If you're not in the tea kind of mood, and have not had enough energizing food in the main dining room, you can order a perfect cup of cappuccino