Home Plate January/February 2012
Vietnamese, new spots, and more.
East Meets West
We adore Vietnamese cuisine for its fresh mingle of light flavors and its emphasis on vegetables and yummy noodles rather than slabs of meat. Interactive dining—as in make-your-own lettuce-and-rice-paper wraps or tabletop hot pot dishes—spells fun-to-eat.
For the tens of thousands of people of Vietnamese descent who now call Northern Virginia home (and for Westerners alike), a trip to Eden Center in Falls Church is an enriching shopping and dining experience that can sate every sense. From its humble beginnings as a tired strip mall in the mid-1980s, Eden has morphed into a vibrant enclave of more than 120 specialty stores and eateries, spilling forth with bustling crowds and wafting culinary aromas.
Still, for some Westerners, a visit to Eden’s restaurants and takeout shops, with all of their dining options and unfamiliar provisions, can be intimidating. Menus can run more than 10 pages. So we asked the owners of five of our favorite restaurants to give a brief rundown on which dishes are most often ordered by Viet customers and which are spot-on favored by other folks.
Let the crossover dining and experimentation begin.
6785 Wilson Blvd., 703-538-7110, www.huongviet.com
Eden’s oldest restaurant (opened in 1987) retains its loyal following by offering consistent, traditional dishes and efficient service under the watchful eye of manager Nick Trieu. (cash only)
#17: Sweet and Sour Tamarind Soup with Fish
#25: Beef Noodle Soup with Steak
#140: Caramelized Fish in Hot Pot
#1: Crispy Spring Rolls
#91: Grilled Pork with Vermicelli
#112: Caramelized Lemongrass Chicken with Chiles
6799 Wilson Blvd., 703-538-7575
With its industrial décor and spacious seating options for groups and families, both indoors and out, reliable VB has produced fresh and tasty dishes since its opening in 1999.
#35:Thai Style Hot Pot (hot-and- sour soup with shrimp, scallops and beef)
#76: Crab Fried Rice
#151: Seafood Crispy Egg Noodles, with squid, scallops and shrimp.
#45: Combination Clay Pot Rice, with pork, chicken, beef and seafood
#54: Grilled Pork and Crispy Spring Roll Vermicelli
#113: “Shaky” Beef (stir-fried steak with garlic and onions on a bed of watercress)
Pho Xe Lua
6765-A Wilson Blvd., 703-663-8717
For more than 20 years, owner Toan Nguyen has served guests his oxtail-rich beef noodle soup at marble-topped tables, surrounded by his extensive collection of abstract and impressionistic oil paintings and books by Viet artists and authors. It’s a pho soup salon.
#16: House Special, with eye round, fat brisket, tripe, tendon, shank and meatballs
#3: Eye-Round Steak and Brisket Noodle Soup
Rice Paper/Taste of Vietnam
6775 Wilson Blvd., 703-538-3888
Opened in early September, stylish Rice Paper has quickly gained well-deserved recognition for its terrific lettuce-and-rice-paper wraps and modern dinnerware and décor.
#61: Spicy Rice Vermicelli Soup, with prawns, fish, squid and pork.
#62: Hue-Style Spicy Lemongrass Beef Noodle Soup
#82: Special Hot Pot, with shrimp, mussels, squid, fish balls, beef, tofu and vegetables in a chicken and pork broth
#22: Combo Rice Platter, with grilled pork chops, tofu, shrimp, fried egg and Chinese sausage on broken rice
#41: Fried Rice with Filet Mignon, Chinese Sausage and Vegetables
#104: Combo Platter, with grilled pork, seafood and ground beef folded in grape leaves, with rice-paper wraps.
Nhu Lan Sandwich Shop
6763 Wilson Blvd., #14, 703-532-9009
Banh mi traditional Viet sandwiches composed of a choice of meat and garnished with radish, carrot, cucumber, cilantro and jalapeño pepper, served on a crisp baguette—have become an affordable nosh of choice across the region. Nhu Lan’s owner, Ha Lu, makes some of the best.
#6: Chopped Roast Pork
#3: Pork Meatballs
Diners apparently aren’t springing for six-course tasting menus in the current economy, according to 2011 “Chef of the Year” Bertrand Chemel. So the maestro of 2941 in Falls Church is taking it down a notch. Closed for a brief hiatus as of January 1, the restaurant will reopen later in the month as a slightly less formal dining destination offering a modern American menu with Mediterranean influences. Watch for a greater selection of cocktails, craft beers and value-focused wines by the glass, plus a bar menu.
Fans of hickory pit-smoked barbecue can get their fix at Memphis Barbeque, a new Crystal City eatery in the former Mackey’s Public House space at 320 South 23rd St. The menu, courtesy of pit masters Redrick Rayborn and Yuri Soria, includes pork shoulder, pulled chicken, spicy shrimp, smoked sausage, catfish fingers and brisket enchiladas.
Another D.C. food truck has parked its concept in Arlington with the opening of Pedro and Vinny’s, a stationary eatery on Columbia Pike next to Penrose Square. It specializes in veggie, steak, pork and chicken burritos with a choice of tortillas, toppings and homemade hot sauces.
Also on the Pike, the owners of Ragtime, Dogwood Tavern and Rhodeside Grill have launched William Jeffrey’s Tavern, a 6,530 square-foot restaurant on the ground floor of Siena Park. Created by restaurateurs Chris Lefbom, Wilson Whitney and Adam Lubar, the tavern serves up “eclectic American” cuisine, a full wine list, 16 beers on tap, a weekend brunch and live acoustic music. At press time, it was scheduled to open in mid-December.
The former La Cabana Peruvian Restaurant at 922 Walter Reed Drive has been resurrected as Senõr Pan, a Latin bakery offering specialties such as Colombian pan de queso, pan de bono and filled arepas.
The year kicks off with at least five excuses for breaking a certain New Year’s resolution, thanks to three renowned Arlington pastry chefs.
Throughout Mardi Gras season, starting on Twelfth Night (January 6) and up until Fat Tuesday (February 21), Bayou Bakery owner David Guas will produce his tweaked take on a King’s Cake. In the Big Easy’s version of this Christian tradition, a garish glazed ring, similar to a coffee cake, honors the Wise Men who brought gifts to the Christ Child 12 days after Christmas. But don’t expect the now-popular fillings of sliced apple, cream cheese or jelly in a Guas King Cake. “I hate that they turn it into a strudel or Danish,” he says. “I prefer the cake my family brought home.” The chef’s more refined version, in the brioche style, has a cinnamon sugar swirl twisted throughout the 16-inch ring. Order one day in advance. ($37.50, serves 16)
Bayou Bakery, 1515 N. Courthouse Rd., Arlington, 703-243-2410, www.bayoubakeryva.com
Soft and chewy macaroons are a growing bakeshop trend. “They are small, portable, affordable but still rich, and more sophisticated than cupcakes,” says Kate Jansen, co-owner of Willow Restaurant. For Valentine’s Day, under her new retail Kate@Willow pastry line (available at the restaurant), she is producing Italian almond paste macaroons filled with either a passion fruit/chocolate ganache or raspberry cream. A collection of flavored French macaroons are in the works for the months ahead. (eight for $6)
Willow Restaurant, 4301 N. Fairfax Drive., Arlington, 703-465-8800, www.willowva.com
With nods to Valentine-red and President’s Day, not to mention National Cherry Month, pastry chef Marc Randolph is offering a trio of classic European-style pastries, each with his own twist, throughout the month of February. Randolph’s freestanding Chocolate Cherry Parfait ($5.50 each) combines airy layers of chocolate mousse, whipped cream, cherry compote and white chocolate mousse. Sharing the display case is the chef’s Cherry Vanilla St. Honoré—puff pastry filled with brandied cherries and pastry cream, topped with three caramelized puffs ($5.50 each). Perhaps the richest of all is his Brandy Cherry Tartufo ($18 per pound), a bite-sized Italian truffle composed of brandy-soaked cherries and chocolate cake, with a layer of chocolate ganache, rolled in chocolate shavings.
Pastries by Randolph, 4500 Lee Highway, Arlington, 703-243-0070, www.pastriesbyrandolph.com