Posted by Eliana Reyes / Wednesday, November 13th, 2013
If turkey-baking and stuffing-making aren’t your thing, Northern Virginia restaurants can help.
Candy honors companion dogs.
By Lindsey Jenkins
Tim Gearhart began his culinary career as a line cook in Kuwait serving 20,000 Marines a day. After leaving the service, Gearhart graduated from culinary school and for the past 12 years owns chocolate shops in Charlottesville and Richmond.
Now that Gearhart has a 4-year-old, he wanted to create a more kid-friendly environment in his stores. “I came up with the idea for a little peanut butter pup,” says Gearhart, who blends Virginia-based Reginald’s Homemade peanut butter into a creamy, sweet filling for the inside of the chocolate candy—with dark chocolate eyes and nose, and toasted almond ears.
Gearhart often donates his creations to local auctions and wanted to use the pups to raise money as well. “We didn’t seem to be getting much traction with places like the SPCA,” says Gearhart, who then found out about Companions For Heroes (C4H).
Air Force vet David Sharpe started C4H after he returned from Pakistan and began to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. The violent outbursts and depression began to take its toll until the day Sharpe met Virginia shelter rescue dog, Cheyenne. The tiny pit bull quickly became Sharpe’s best friend; C4H now helps other vets find their Cheyenne. Five percent of the profits from the peanut butter pups go to the non-profit.
But what’s Gearhart’s son think? “He loves them [but] he doesn’t even want to eat them because they’re so cute.” / gearhartschocolates.com.
Posted by Tim Regan / Wednesday, January 30th, 2013
Hearts. Candlelit dinners. Chocolates. Credit card transactions. Don’t you love Valentine’s Day? But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are some tips on celebrating Valentine’s Day without emptying out your wallet:
1. Swap dinner for lunch
The dishes may be identical, but are the portion sizes the same? The restaurant industry may never tell, but one thing’s for certain: prices at lunchtime are lower. Instead of a V-Day dinner, meet with your sweetheart for lunch and use your savings to do something really romantic, like paying off a mortgage.
2. Skip the theater, rent a movie
It’s said that movie theaters receive most of their profit from the concessions, but even before you walk through the door, tickets for two will run you $20+. For only $1.20 a day, you can rent a Redbox flick and slum it indoors.
3. Invest in a plant, not just flowers
Why do flowers symbolize love? No matter what you do, they will wilt and die. Why is something so finite the eternal symbol of an unbreakable bond? Instead of a week-long reminder, plant a tree, start a garden or pot a houseplant to symbolize your bond for years to come.
Read the rest of this entry »
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted by Jennie Tai / Wednesday, November 21st, 2012
Food Desk Note: Welcome to our Thanksgiving reader recipe series. Our team of NoVA food enthusiasts submitted their favorite holiday recipes that we’ll feature throughout the month. Enjoy these dishes perfect for gatherings.
Submitted by Kim Owens
I am not a fan of pumpkin pie! There, I said it! This is why I make a pumpkin roll instead. It’s delicious and makes a beautiful presentation. It looks complicated but it’s simple to make. It’s usually the talk of the dinner! So if you are not big on pumpkin pie, try this alternative. You won’t miss that pie!
Posted by Stefanie Gans, Dining Editor / Friday, October 19th, 2012
Now maybe this isn’t fair. Maybe I’m jumping to conclusions. But I’m just gonna say it anyway. We must put a stop to dessert raviolis. I’ve eaten two sweet ravs so far. And well, they both were pretty terrible.
The top photo shows ravs, stuffed with pumpkin, and fried, served with a watery vanilla sauce, a whipped-like cream and garnished with a cinnamon stick, left whole. They were dry and tasteless. These needed a serious dipping sauce. Probably hot fudge. A bit of salt adhered to the crust. Or really, not to exist.
The bottom photo features raviolis filled with under-cooked apples surrounded by a caramel sauce and a dollop of vanilla ice cream. Besides the uncomfortable apple texture—not snappy, not soft—a thick layer of powdered cinnamon covered the entire surface. It was like touching an ice cream sandwich covered with sand. (Jersey Shore reference, anyone? Real Jersey Shore, not TV shore, anyway…)
So maybe there are some miraculous versions of dessert raviolis out there, but I haven’t yet been privy to those treats. And because two is a coincidence and not a trend, says trend catalogers, I want to stop it before this becomes a thing.
Ravioli, this is a warning. Please refuse your attendance at the dessert table. Only allow butternut squash, pork belly, and of course, any cheese, within your center. We don’t want you ended up as overextended as bacon.
By Maddy Berner
No matter the time of day, or diet you’re on, everyone craves the sweet, decadent taste of dessert. Thankfully, the Northern Virginia area is teeming with various sprinkled delights. From fro-yo to giant cupcakes, use your lunch break to explore only the newest and most delicious in dessert fashion. Only the finest sweet shops take residence in NoVA, and we categorized the best by location to help you get to know them.
Something to remember: Larger chains often have multiple locations in the NoVA area. If you see a shop you want to try, look for it in a community closer to you.
*Know of a bakery or cafe that’s absolutely delicious but isn’t featured on here yet? Leave a comment below and we’ll keep updating as we discover new places!
Take a baking class and learn how to make these decadent treats, or simply shop the menu for an array of cakes, tarts and bars. Each one is made with the utmost care by Deirdre Parker, who has been in the business for years. Just Desserts also offers seasonal sweets, as well as catering services./ Alexandria; 703-801-6325; justdessertsva.com
Lavender Moon Cupcakery
Blood Orange Dreamsicle, Mexican Chocolate Pudding – it’s obvious this bake shop has a knack for uniquely-flavored cupcakes. Some online reviewers say it’s the best in the NoVA and D.C. area with their intensely moist, sweet cakes and decadent frosting./ 116 South Royal St., Alexandria; 703-683-0588; www.alexandriacupcake.com
This shop calls itself a cupcake boutique bakery, complete with European style décor. But the real treat is the cupcakes, which are heavenly in their simplicity and taste. Their daily flavors include dark chocolate and red velvet, but call ahead to see if they’re serving their PB&J or rosewater cupcake./1022 King St., Alexandria.; 703-299-9099; www.alexandriacupcake.com
Alexandria Pastry Shop
Not only does this Alexandria staple offer gluten-free, sugar-free and allergy sensitive specialties, but they use locally-grown produce and European chocolate in their batters. They even offer seasonal treats like gingerbread and pumpkin bread. With wedding cake and catering services available, this place seems like the one-stop shop for all your sugary desires./ Bradley Shopping Center, 3690-H, King St., Alexandria.; 703-578-4144; alexandriapastry.com
Buzz Bakery and Lounge
You’ll feel like you stepped into a sweet treat wonderland at Buzz Bakery. Go early for breakfast, or stop in the afternoon to browse their cupcakes, pies and cookies. Then, come back at night where comfortable couches and intimate table settings make a hot spot for romance./ 901 Slaters Lane, Alexandria.; 703-600-2899; www.buzzbakery.com
Hollin Hall Pastry Shop
Hollin Hall has won numerous awards for their take on weddings cakes and other pastries. Not only do they offer your typical treats, but they also sell a variety of decadent mousses in flavors you probably won’t find anywhere else. See what 30-year pastry veteran Mel Meadows is cooking up!/ 7920 Fort Hunt Road, Alexandria.;703-768-9643; www.hollinhallpastry.com.
Yes, this café and catering company offers a variety of cupcake combinations – coconut cake with lemon buttercream, anyone? But they also serve savory cupcakes like mini lasagnas and mac n’ cheese. But if you’re going for sweet, try their Kahlua mocha trifle, lemon cloud mousse, or others. The possibilities are endless./ 823 King St., Alexandria.; 703-549-1028; www.bittersweetcatering.com.
The Dairy Godmother
Professionally-trained and lover all things sweet and fluffy – Liz Davis has created a unique place for custard lovers. Check online for her Flavor of the Day (sometimes Mexican chocolate or summer pudding), then purchase a homemade dog treat for your furry pal. Both man and man’s best friend will not be able to resist her original family-style desserts./ 2310 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria.; 703-683-7767; www.thedairygodmother.com.
Rita’s Italian Ice
Combine Italian ice and custard and you have Rita’s. This chain is a favorite amongst many in the area, especially on a scorching hot day. Their menu contains every frozen treat you can think of, with toppings to mix into each one. Go classic with an Italian ice, or load up on the mix-ins with a creamy custard Blendini./ Alexandria Plaza 6242-C, Little River Turnpike, Alexandria.; 703-256-RITA; www.ritasice.com.
The real Cake Bosses are right here in town and they have a custom-made cake for any occasion. Choose from a variety of more than 100 flavors including carrot cake, cookies n’ cream, fuzzy navel, red velvet and tiramisu and let these artists work their magic for birthdays, weddings or even dessert (cupcakes). / 8859 Richmond Highway, Alexandria; 703-780-2253; occasionallycake.com
Red Velvet Cupcakery
This bake shop recently came to the Clarendon area in 2011. Using locally grown ingredients, their cupcakes are moist, fresh and decadent. They even donate their leftovers to shelters and organizations in the area. Suggestion? Try the red velvet. It’s ultra-sweet and, of course, a classic./ 3035 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington.;703-243-5660; www.redvelvetcupcakery.com.
Another popular chain bake shop is Crumbs, also located in Clarendon. They sell brownies, muffins and cakes, but they are known for their giant-sized cupcakes, which can easily feed two or more with their abundance of frosting and taste. Buy one to split in flavors such as Key Lime and Dulce de Leche./ 2839 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington.; 703-5244001; www.crumbs.com.
Pinkberry Frozen Yogurt
The Arlington location of this fro-yo giant just opened a few years ago, but has become successful in luring in customers with their unique and healthy toppings. Choose a base flavor then pile on syrups and toppings. These guys promise you’ll feel light and refreshed – just like their yogurt./ 2930 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington.;703-312-9433; www.pinkberry.com
When you walk into this quaint gelato and coffee shop, you’ll think the ice cream looks too good to eat. Take a bite into rich flavors like cake batter and banana or request your own idea for a creamy concoction on their chalkboard. Fun, different and deliciously authentic./ 2719 Wilson Blvd., Arlington.; 703-869-6522; www.boccato.com
Hiedelberg Pastry Shoppe
Hailing from Germany, Heidelberg’s authentic treats have public officials from all over the area coming for more. Since 1975, the Büchlers have been serving desserts that satisfy both sides of the Atlantic. Take a number and enjoy complimentary coffee while waiting for you order./ 2150 N. Culpeper St., Arlington.; 703-527-8394; www.heidelbergbakery.com
Pastries by Randolph
This local favorite takes pride in their dedication to dessert. Cakes of all shapes and flavors are available and can be custom-made. They also offer pastries like petit fours, chocolate dipped strawberries and small tea cookies. These guys keep it real and keep customers coming back./ 4500 Lee Highway, Arlington.; 703-243-0070; www.pastriesbyrandolph.com
For authentic Armenian desserts, Arax Café reigns supreme. Ice cream and sweet treats like baklava are popular, and often reflect the season. Summery flavors like mango and coconut will relieve you on a hot day, but the friendly customer service will stick with you forever./ 5852 N. Washington Blvd., Arlington.; 703-532-3320.
We gave them a “Best of NoVA” award for their cupcakes, but the sister/owners’ passion and dedication to flavor speaks for itself. We’re not sure where to start on their menu – with choices such as pistachio, orange and blackberry – but their decadent vanilla and chocolate cupcakes are surefire winners./ 11944 Grand Commons Ave., Fairfax.; 571-522-6315; cupcakesactually.com
Prize-winning cheesecakes and sculpted cakes make this dessert shop well-known and divine for those with a serious sweet tooth. Owner Kimberly works tirelessly to decorate cakes for any occasion, making sure even smaller treats like cookies and cake pops are original and baked to perfection./ 13140 Madonna Lane, Fairfax.;703-362-8942; www.simplydessertsonline.com
Breeze Bakery Cafe
Annandale and Centreville might be Koreatown with their endless options of BBQ’ed bulgogi and H Marts, but sometimes it can be hard to find a good Asian bakery. Breeze satisfies this need with its desserts, including sweet potato cakes, Bing Soo (gelato) and bubble tea. Plus, it’s open until midnight all week just in case your date at Honey Pig runs late. So grab a bite, then relax on the upstairs deck with friends – and forget you’re in Annandale at all! / 4125 Hummer Road, Annandale; 703-462-9093; breezebakery.com
The Swiss Bakery and Pastry Shop
Guten Tag! If you’re looking for a place to score decadent German sweets without dealing with pesky customs, look no further. The Swiss Bakery, with locations in Springfield and Burke, offers European chocolates, fresh-baked pastries and wine and beer from across the pond. Tschüß! / Ravensworth Shopping Center, 5224 Port Royal Road, Springfield; 703-321-3670; Burke Town Plaza, 9536 Old Keene Mill, Burke; 703-569-3670; swissbakery.com
Pound cake, scones and delicate tea desserts separate this bakery from your normal cake shop. Of course, the classic wedding cake option is also available, with flavors like lemon and almond on hand. Look for the quaint red shutters outside this welcoming dessert establishment./ 10430 Main St., Fairfax; 703-273-0800; www.victoriascakeryinc.com
For an Asian spin on American classics, visit Shilla for their successful blend of both. The staff has traveled to countries like Japan and South Korea, looking for that hot new dessert trend. Their website even contains a section for new products. Ever heard of melon bread? Read more online!/ 10940 Fairfax Blvd. Suite E-F, Fairfax.; 703-691-1171; intelisystemstest.com/shilla
Owner and founder David Behnam has been in the business for 30 years, whipping up custom wedding cakes, pies and cheesecakes. Converse with the friendly staff, sip coffee and browse whatever seasonal flavors this award-winning bakery is offering at the time./ 9557 Braddock Road, Fairfax.; 703-426-7202; www.theuniquebakery.com
Customers online rave about the dozens of gelato options available here. Everything is made fresh, including a warm waffle or French crepe to accompany to your frozen delight. Flavors include strawberry, tiramisu, hazelnut and coconut./ 9432 Main St., Fairfax.; 703-978-2112.
Woody’s Ice Cream
It’s a simple, classic ice cream shop taking residence in the 21st century. Get freshly-made soft-serve ice cream in a cone, dipped in chocolate, or over a brownie. Splurge for a milkshake in flavors like peanut butter and black cherry. Only open for the summer!/ 10435 North St, Fairfax.; 703-277-9553; www.woodysicecream.com
Vina Café Bakery
This dessert shop was originally a Chinese bakery, but the family updated it to include a fusion of eastern and western flavors. They now serve Taiwanese-style buns, Vietnamese-style pastries and of course, all-American cakes./ 3900-C Pickett Road, Fairfax.; 703-239-2828; www.vinacafebakery.com
Dulce’s Bakery and Empanada Shop
Entering this dessert shop will transport you south to the rich culture of Latin America. Grab an authentic empanada – sweet or savory – then try with one of their cupcakes or cookies. These guys are longtime NoVA locals, and are dedicated on bringing their unique flavors to you./ 3900-C Pickett Road, Fairfax.; 703-978-8021; dulcesbakery.com
A quick milkshake fix can be satisfied at this small, intimate shop in Falls Church. They serve sandwiches as well, but the ice cream and milkshakes are too creamy and sweet to pass up. Try the coconut and taste actual slivers of roasted coconut mixed inside./ 110 N. West St., Falls Church.; 703-525-4960.
The Mirage Café
We have to ask: who hasn’t had a craving for the honeyed, crunchy taste of baklava? Thankfully, Falls Church has The Mirage, a restaurant and bakery that specializes in the Middle Eastern dessert. Order this freshly-made pastry in bulk, along with a variety of other treats packed with nuts from Iran, Turkey and Afghanistan. Try the balooria, basma or maamoul./ 5916 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church.; 703-845-1600; www.miragesweets.com/.
Frozen Dairy Bar and Boardwalk Pizza
This frozen custard shop has changed a lot since opening in 1950. But through it all, it continues to deliver some of the creamiest and most genuine ice cream in the NoVA area. There’s a lot of history in this place, so grab a cone and enjoy that old-timey atmosphere./ 6641 Arlington Blvd., Falls Church.; 703-534-4200; www.fdbpizza.com
Natalia’s Elegant Creations
Voted best bakery, coffee shop and lunch spot in Falls Church – you simply can’t miss out on the sweet and savory items offered at Natalia’s. This quaint little café specializes in fresh, high-quality products that can be vegan and/or gluten-free. Their gourmet cupcakes almost look too pretty to eat and their various tortes will have your mouth quivering for more./ 230 West Broad St., Falls Church; 703-241-8040; www.nataliaselegantcreations.com/.
Mom’s Apple Pie Company
Experience the warm, comfortable feeling whenever you dive into an apple pie again and again – and without preservatives. All your favorites are featured on the menu, including stand-outs like almond amaretto, peach and the ever-classic apple. Their blackberry pie was even voted one of the best in the south by Southern Living Magazine. Breads and cookies are also available./ 126 A Commerce St., Occoquan; 703-497-7437; 220 Loudoun St., SE, Leesburg.; 703-771-8590; http://www.momsapplepieco.com/.
A cupcakery “that delivers to you” sounds almost perfect to us, but it’s the variety of cupcake flavors that seal the deal. Come in every day for a different selection: Snicker’s, Coconut, Watermelon, Maple Bacon and Pistachio – just to name a few. And this place loves to support the community, so choose them next time you want to host a party or school event!/ 12801 Galveston Court, Manassas.;703-670-6639; http://www.confectionsonline.com/.
Danielle and her baking expertise have been featured on multiple news outlets, which proves just how divine and delicious her treats really are. Layer cakes, pies and cookies, among others, sprinkle the menu. She even offers gluten-free desserts, enjoyed in a warm and inviting atmosphere./ 2001 International Drive, McLean.; 703-442-4096; http://www.daniellesdesserts.com/.
Reston and Herndon
Edibles Incredible Desserts
To start, the cake designs featured at this shop are one-of-a-kind and impressive – we would know, we’ve featured them in our magazine twice! Past the cakes are cool confections like gourmet truffles, rich fudge and of course, cupcakes topped with loads of frosting./ 11917 Freedom Drive, Reston.;703-709-8200; www.ediblesincredible.com
The CupCake Ladi
“Superior quality, superior taste,” is what the CupCake Ladi says about her organic cupcakes. They’re made with certified organic ingredients, meaning their great taste will leave an equally great feeling in your stomach. One NoVA Mag reader says you haven’t lived until you try her Moo Moo Moo Cow cupcake, but there are so many options, you’ll be itching to try them all!/11412 West Washington Plaza, Reston.; 703-787-6775; http://www.thecupcakeladi.com/.
Milwaukee Frozen Custard
If you thought there were only two flavors of custard, think again. Milwaukee serves more of them than we can count, with the amount of mouth-watering toppings surpassing even that. Creamy custard is mixed with crumbs and glazes to create blends like s’mores, lemon meringue pie and pumpkin pie./ 300 Elden St., Herndon.;703-467-0900; www.milwaukeefrozencustard.com
This chain claims they use only the freshest ingredients, such as grass-fed cow milk and free-range eggs, which they often import themselves. Their shop serves flavors ranging from sweet to tart, all with an authentic Italian twist. Pitango customers deserve the best of the best, and the gelato definitely delivers it./ 11942 Democracy Drive, Reston.;703-606-9906; www.pitangogelato.com
Always fresh and always handmade – that’s something promised by Chesapeake Chocolates. This dessert shop specializes in chocolate truffles, bark and shapes, making sure to add a little texture with nuts, dried fruit and toffee. Stop into this family-owned location for your next Valentine’s Day gift. They make it personal./ 11426 Washington Plaza West, Reston.; 703-620-0082; www.cheschoc.com
Nielsen’s Frozen Custard
Nielsen’s ice cream feels like melted butter on the tongue– smooth, creamy and oh, so good. There are loads of fun toppings to choose from, but nothing is wrong with going au natural. Made fresh every few hours, this frozen treat is hard to beat./ 144 Church St. NW, Vienna.; 703-255-5553.
An ever-increasing demand for sweets caused this bakery to relocate not once, but twice! Amphora now employs over 20 experienced bakers, chefs and designers to bring the rich taste of Europe to every bread and pastry on the shelf./ 405 Maple Ave. West, Vienna.; 703-281-5631; www.amphorabakery.com
The name of this cupcakery speaks for itself. Simple, elegant and just plain delicious – if that’s what you’re looking for, then Cupcakes! makes it easy. Choose from cupcakes of the classic variety, or change it up with lemon blueberry and pumpkin./ 527 Maple Ave. West, Vienna.;703-938-3034; www.cupcakescupcakery.com
Sweet City Desserts
The concept of this shop was to allow customers to watch the pastry chefs as they work. They can order any of the Filipino-style desserts, then relax in the lounge area surrounded by free Wi-fi and soft music. Try a purple yam cupcake first, it’s just one of many unique flavors there./ 131-A Maple Ave. West, Vienna.; 703-938-8188; sweetcitydesserts.co
The Pie Gourmet
If you thought you knew every type of pie, think again. The Pie Gourmet offers dozens more, as well as specialty cakes, cheesecakes and other desserts. Check out the photos of each pie, then choose the right flavor for any occasion. It’s guaranteed to delight the taste buds./ 507 Maple Ave. West, Vienna.; 703-281-7437; www.piegourmet.com
Cenan’s Baked Goods
Stop into Cenan’s for a sandwich, but stay for their array of homemade pastries, including delights like brioche, meringues and Turkish delights that are authentic and sweet. Cenan himself promises hearty, fresh bread every morning, without the icky preservatives./ 122 Branch Road SE, Vienna.; 703-242-0070; www.cenansbakery.com
Since 1986 Yas has been supplying Vienna with delicious Persian cookies and cakes. If you count yourself among the many baklava lovahs, this market is a must-stop shop. One Yelp reviewer says, “If you’re interested in unique foods, Yas is like a playground.” / 137 Church St. NW, Vienna; 703-242-4050; yasbakery.com
A patisserie (often spelled with a miniature rooftop accent thing over the ‘a’) is a French or Belgian bakery that specializes in pastries and sweets. This family-owned hidden gem boasts a selection of tempting desserts that will have you packing on the pounds if you’re not too careful with their marzipan, creme brulee and macaroons. There’s even key lime pie, which is undeniably hard to find in NoVA. / 167 Glyndon St. SE, Vienna; 703-255-6880; silvaspatisserie.com
Posted by Colleen Callery / Tuesday, February 14th, 2012
Happy Valentine’s Day, all! I hope your day has been filled with those little chocolates in heart-shaped boxes and .. wait, you forgot?
Not to worry! We’ve collected few last minute ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day for those of us that are a little late to the game.
Not too Late for Flowers:
Many florists, like Reston Floral Design and Flowers With Passion in Bristow are ready to accomodate those last minute requests. You can even order online straight from your desk if you haven’t left work yet. So what are you waiting for? Get to ordering!
Chocolate Dipped Fruit To Go:
Edible Arrangements has a ton of Valentine’s Day options, you can order in advance or in the store and take it home with you. And if you are in a real rush, stop by one of their storefronts and grab a box of their chocolate dipped fruit ready to go!
Make Dinner Together:
This isn’t reinventing the wheel or anything, but making dinner together can be a great way to spend time with your loved one. Make sure they don’t have other dinner plans, pick up a few things on your way home, and spend the night wining and dining. Delish has some great recipe ideas.
Maybe you already have dinner plans, or you are really more of a baker. Next Chefs has put together a bunch of YouTube tutorials on great dessert recipes. Everything from homemade chocolate to red velvet cupcakes. Yum!
Watch Some Ryan:
Star of one of the most popular love movies of all time, The Notebook, and indisputable Hollywood heartthrob, what says romance like a little Ryan Gosling? For the entire month of February Time Warner has made a bunch of his movies available On Demand. So snuggle up and turn up the Gosling!
Posted by The Editorial Desk / Tuesday, December 27th, 2011
Alright, the countdown begins … five more days till we kiss 2011 goodbye and welcome 2012 with open arms as the year of the world’s possible termination. Just kidding. Maybe.
Anyway, I think now would be an appropriate time to put together a list of the top five things I’ve eaten in the year 2011, since that’s really what determines how successful a year was.
Let’s start with sweets.
Top Five Sweet Eats of 2011:
5. Nutella doughnuts at EatBar/Tallula (Arlington)
These little delights were an unexpected treat before my Sunday morning brunch at EatBar (next-door parent Tallula shares the same menu). The tiny ball of classically airy donut glazed with Nutella, possibly my favorite form of chocolate ever, was the perfect backwards dessert.
Central Asian Pastries with a Twist
By Johnisha M. Levi
While artisanal pies battle it out for dominance along the Clarendon corridor, Café Assorti, a sun-colored domain expansive as a grand salon and as comfortable as your living room, is cheerily serving up a core of Kazakh standards—with a supporting cast of Ukrainian, Russian and various other Eastern European delicacies.
Assorti is a hybrid creature in more than just its interior design. It is part fast-casual restaurant, part bakery. And it is the bakery portion of the operation that most intrigued me. Both Assorti and its owners, the Bekturganova family, are anything but newcomers to the restaurant business. The Arlington outpost opened nearly three years ago. And although it is their first American venture, the Bekturganovas own three other Assorti restaurants in their native country of Kazakhstan.
You can get lost in the pastry and dessert cases alone—which is what you should allow yourself to do. It will take you a while to fully explore the myriad menu options, all the more impressive given that virtually everything served is made in house.
The head pastry chef behind this bounty is Azamat Zhanizakov, who first began working with the Bekturganovas 15 years ago in his native Kazakhstan. He handles both sweet and savory baking duties, and crafts both from the same yeasted dough. Savory options include pirozhok, samsa, rasstegai and cheburek, while sugar junkies are sated with fruit- or cheese-filled vatrushkas and the rose, a spiraled pastry resembling the petal layers of its namesake flower, glazed in heavenly meringue.
Savory fillings range from egg and onion (bland and somewhat forgettable) to fish (tilapia and/or salmon) to familiar beef and vegetable (spiced potato, sometimes with cabbage) alternatives. Assorti distinguishes the fillings by varying both the pastries’ shapes and garnishes (peppercorns, caraway or sesame seeds).
And then there’s dessert.
You won’t find butter cakes here—the denser American dessert standards—but rather riffs on thin layers of air-leavened sponge cake accented by fruit, chocolate, nuts and/or coffee.
The Napoleon Cake both is and isn’t what you’d associate with the famed mille feuille. Paper-thin puff pastry layers: Check. Creamy filling: Check. The similarities end there. This torte’s alternating layers are bound by house-made “butter cream” (a whipped mixture of sweetened condensed milk and butter replaces standard meringue-based filler) rather than the standard, traditional pastry cream.
Assorti’s lemon pie—one of a whole line of fruit pies available whole or by the slice, including apple, cherry, apricot and a sweet cheese pie studded with raisins and apricots—is a reawakening for those immune to yesterday’s charms of lemon bars. The pie delivers a punch of citrus beneath its buttery crumb topping that makes lemon bars taste anemic in comparison. Both the filling’s boldness and texture owe to the use of the lemon’s pulp and peel rather than just its juice with a scanty pinch of zest. After testing the initial recipe on its customers, Assorti added a hint of cinnamon to slightly warm the palate and balance the bitterness of the citrus. Warning: This one is not for sharing.
Café Assorti: 1800 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; 703-465-0009. To learn more about Assorti’s pastries and menu favorites, visit: www.northernvirginiamag.com/tasteofassorti.