Best New Restaurants 2011

20 Fledgling Hunger-Slayers You’ll Want to Sink Your Teeth Into

20 Fledgling Hunger-Slayers You’ll Want to Sink Your Teeth Into

By Warren Rojas / Photography by Jonathan Timmes

We know that the omnipresent/omnidirectional congestion clogging our local roads makes getting back into the car to search out a great meal seem almost totally unbearable. ¶ No mas. ¶ Let the formerly District-bound restaurateurs—Michel Richard has made the move; so have a slew of gourmet pizza heavies—come to us. ¶ But they better get here quick, before the blossoming band of homegrown talent—Balls-y beer kitchens? We got’em. Envelope-pushing ethnic eateries? Get in line.—corners the entire discerning-yet-determined-to-stay-close-to-home dining market.

BEST NEW: Italian Redux
Ozzie’s Corner Italian {$$}
11880 Grand Commons Ave., Fairfax; 571-321-8000; www.greatamericanrestaurants.com/ozzies
Open for lunch and dinner daily, late-night dining Tuesday through Saturday.

If killing customers with kindness ever became a felony, the Ozzie’s crew would blow all their tips on bail money.

It may simply be that as the new recruit on the Great American Restaurants squad everyone at Ozzie’s remains ever mindful of their organization’s commitment to customer service. But I choose to believe that the restaurant’s famiglia-first bent—that wall-length mural screams “Godfather”—compels servers to treat patrons as one of their own.

After showing us to a table, one hostess volunteered to fetch desired sections of the newspaper. Another server offered up a booming “good afternoon!” and held wide the door for me during a trip to the facilities.

Slow-roasted chicken arrives nestled amid savory, mini meatballs and tender cannellini beans simmered to perfection with onions, garlic, tomatoes and spinach.

Luxurious porcini cream sauce envelops a 14-ounce Strauss Farms veal chop carefully trimmed of extraneous fat. A side of smashed red potatoes proves riveting, the spuds fried to an oily crisp and perfumed with rosemary.

Once the Chianti-poached prunes and candied pecans disappeared, so did any interest in a mountainous mascarpone confection. The cocoa-covered tiramisu ho ho, on the other hand, kept finding ebullient takers down to the very last forkful.

BEST NEW: Expectations Slayer
Pizzeria Orso {$$}
400 S. Maple Ave., Falls Church; 703-226-3460; www.pizzeriaorso.com
Open for lunch, dinner Tuesday through Sunday, late-night dining Friday and Saturday.

Pizzeria Orzo
Baked eggs bask in tomato-y bliss

Having earned a reputation as the poster boy for Neapolitan pies during his whirlwind tour of the local pizzaverse, Edan MacQuaid remains the man everyone expects to see wielding the peel when they stroll into Orso.

So, there he toils—wearing a roughly 3- x 2-foot trench in front of the blazing brick oven, methodically shepherding pies from oven to plate in 80-odd-second intervals before beginning the process anew with another flour-y disc.

Sorry, chef. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Thea, his wife and Orso’s general manager, twirls about the establishment like an airborne pizza, tending to guests and administrative duties with boundless energy and infectious charm. And staff pitches in by keeping patrons abreast of daily specials ranging from Marsala-steamed clams to fennel-farro soup to pineapple-topped pies.

Oversized panuozzos put traditional sandwiches to shame, plying fans of foldable snacking with combinations like capicola, caramelized onions and arugula or roasted peppers, mushrooms and shaved pecorino (a salty-smoky tour de force).

A mixture of heavy cream, fragrant basil and gooey provolone almost makes us swear off tomato sauce entirely, the aforementioned trio compelling us to finish off every last bite of dairy-deluged crust.

House-made cannoli yield crunchy shells flush with chocolate chip-mascarpone (good), citrusy cream (better) or pistachio (best).

BEST NEW: Strip Mall Sanctuary
Viet Taste {$}
6763 Wilson Blvd., #6A, Falls Church; 703-531-0011; www.viettaste.com
Open for lunch and dinner daily.

Viet Taste: Clay pot excavators will be handsomely rewarded.
Clay pot excavators will be handsomely rewarded.

Though tucked into the bowels of the sprawling Eden Center, Viet Taste’s aesthetic charms put it head and shoulders above many of its neighboring competitors.

Sage green walls set a forestal tone, an outdoors-y illusion completed by the flocks of wide-eyed birds and shadowy butterflies perpetually frozen in mid-flutter amid illustrative perennials, free-floating phone lines and rows of 2-D windows.

The menu is predominantly Vietnamese but borrows freely from other Asian cultures (pad Thai, Korean short ribs).

Eastern ex-pats seem to favor roiling hot pots (fish, combo, oxtail) and assorted delicacies—vegetables stir-fried in pig’s blood, pork heart soup—while most Westerners tend to gravitate toward Vietnamese touchstones (seafood-stuffed crepes, grilled proteins).

Baby clams, lemon, hot peppers and onions pummel the palate with piquancy, their coordinated assault seamlessly abetted by a pile of peppery sesame crackers.

Frog legs falter tragically when sautéed (the meat is bland and unappealing), but triumphantly bounce back post-frying (deliciously juicy).

Seasoned pork—the handsomely grilled ham sweetened by soy and emblazoned with grill marks—calls to mind crispy, smoked bacon after a leisurely dip in maple syrup.

Clay pots runneth over with scorched rice, crunchy pea pods, baked quail eggs, five spice-packed sausages and caramelized meats (chicken, pork, beef).

BEST NEW: International Nosh
Twisted Vines {$}
2803 Columbia Pike, Arlington; 571-482-8581; www.twisted-vines.com
Open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday, late-night dining Tuesday through Saturday, brunch Sunday.

What’s a frazzled mommy to do when she’s got wine on her mind and a fussy toddler buzzing about?

Beeline for Twisted Vines’ stroller happy hour, of course.

“The first time, we had 30 moms with kids. It was a zoo,” one barkeep says of their mommy-and-me mixers.

Attendees can cool their heels in rotating wine flights (white, red, sparkling) or seasonal pours (mulled wine, sangria). The master wine list touts broad categories (fruity whites, crisp whites, fruit-forward reds, spicy reds) rather than vintages, and tends to favor global risk-takers (Fondo Antico Grillo Parlante, Arizona Stronghold Nachise, Stark-Condé Three Pines Cabernet Sauvignon) and gutsy locals (Thibaut-Janisson Blanc de Chardonnay, Sugarleaf Vineyards Petit Verdot, Mountfair Vineyards Belated).

And while adults should keep the grown-up grape juice to themselves, there’s no reason kids should be precluded from enjoying a tasty nibble or two.

Sliced-for-sharing stromboli reveals robust bites of spicy soppressatta, sweet peppers, grassy leeks and salty cheese.

Gorgonzola-filled meatballs bounce from Italy to Latin America with the help of smoky-sweet, roasted corn-tomato salsa.

The croque monsieur is shaken up as well, its Texas toast-sized slices soaked through in nutmeg- and mustard seed-laced béchamel, while honey sweetened ham and nutty Swiss make nice inside.

BEST NEW: Self-Contained Snack
The Pure Pasty Co. {$}
128-C Church St., Vienna; 703-255-7147; www.purepasty.com
Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday.

Any aspiring restaurateurs worried about going too “niche” should ring Pure Pasty founder Mike Burgess first chance they get.

The British expat figured his fellow countrymen would be the main ones lining up for fresh baked Cornish pastries. But his fledgling business is attracting all kinds of unexpected admirers.

“It draws a huge contingent of people from Michigan, especially the Upper Peninsula,” Burgess notes. “But there are also Australians and New Zealanders turning up.”

Bully for him.

The menu turns on baked goods, including a half-dozen signature pasties (traditional and chicken Provencal lead the pack), sausage rolls—all of which are available straight from the oven or prepackaged for home baking—as well as seasonal soups and salads.

Sausage rolls prove exponentially decadent, the surrounding dough three times as crunchy as a croissant and at least twice as buttery. But, ultimately, it’s just a giant pig in a blanket.

A traditional pasty provides more depth, rewarding the mouth with steaming bites of peppery beef, savory potatoes and racy onions. Most importantly, at no time did the baked shell sag, crumble or remotely falter.

Meanwhile, minibar/Cheesetique alumnus Joshua Andrus is already brainstorming new pasty recipes (cheese and onion, pork and apple, lamb and mint). And a roaming pasty cart is in the works.

BEST NEW: East-West Imaginarium
Elephant Jumps {$}
8110-A Arlington Blvd., Falls Church; 703-942-6600; www.elephantjumps.com
Open for lunch and dinner daily.

Elephant jumps
Baked shrimp toast is big on flavor

If America is indeed a grand melting pot, it’s visionaries like Songtham Pinyolaksana who help stir it.

The Thai expat opened Elephant Jumps in Merrifield to zero fanfare, steadily building his clientele with the help of familiar temptations (pad Thai, mango sticky rice) and soothing environs (intricate wood cuttings adorn cream walls, inverted parasols keep light in).

After delving into the compact but comprehensive carte, I’m happy to report that hidden gems abound. Including several dishes others might categorize as fusion, but this hired mouth considers pure fun.

Fried watercress gives the usually mundane green a tempura makeover that wraps each leaf in puffy, fried batter. “That’s the good stuff,” Pinyolaksana assures me as he delivers the mass of what looks like herbaceous funnel cake—though any dessert confusion should be quashed by the arresting, lime-chile dipping sauce that rides shotgun.

The basil burger is a total misnomer, summoning instead shaved steak—smothered in fragrant herbs, minced hot peppers and whole basil leaves—nestled with a toasted croissant. The buttery canvass and zesty payload battle it out in my mouth, transmuting each bite into a tug of war between fire and fat. And I’m only too happy to get caught in the culinary crosshairs.

BEST NEW: Rib Tickler
Moley Brothers Q-Pit {$$}
9-E Catoctin Circle SW, Leesburg; 703-777-8632; www.moleybrothers.com
Open for lunch, dinner Tuesday through Sunday.

Don’t let all the random sports paraphernalia plastered on the walls—for the record, we support the Stephen Strasburg tribute 100 percent, are 50/50 on the Dwayne Wade pic and couldn’t care less about the Lakers—fool you. Moley’s is not a sports bar that dabbles in barbecue.

This is a bonafide barbecue joint with frosty beverages to boot.

Though somewhat funky, as evidenced by tables splashed with surreal animal prints (splotchy reds and yellows), Moley’s is a family-run place seeking to attract more of the same. And they seem to be succeeding. Extended families occupy the booths most nights, with everyone from 20-something couples to ‘cue-sharing seniors rounding out the attendance.

The kitchen sticks with pit barbecue basics (pork and beef ribs, brisket, pulled pork, smoked chicken) and presents everything accordingly. So expect your sides in plastic cups, your mains parked on plain white bread and your meals served in wax paper-lined plastic baskets.

Beef ribs are huge, each strip of meltingly tender meat dripping with homemade barbecue sauce stirred by onions, molasses, tomatoes and smoke. Pork ribs were surprisingly lean, and subsequently much drier than their bovine counterparts. A Carolina-style sauce restored some pep, blasting the bones with vinegar, crushed red pepper and mustard.

BEST NEW: Stew U.
Uncle Liu’s Hot Pot {$}
2972 Gallows Road, Falls Church; 703-560-6868
Open for dinner daily.

Thanks for making me feel so … WASP-y,” one companion sputtered while frantically mopping her brow as I greedily slurped the liquid fire a-stewing before us at Uncle’s Liu’s Hot Pot.

Whereas sibling establishment Hong Kong Palace made its name with secret menus, Liu’s stakes its claim to fame right there in the title.

Each hot pot—those bubbling, churning gateways of create-your-own-adventure dining—begins with simmering chicken broth. Patrons then customize each bowl by plopping in the priced-per-portion additives of their choosing, a supporting cast that flows from “Green Acres” (mushrooms, bean sprouts, cabbage) to “Fear Factor” (duck feet, fish heads, beef tendon). That’s not to mention all the gratis condiments (diced garlic, cilantro, red tofu sauce, oyster sauce).

Each cauldron can also be partiontioned into spicy (pre-stocked with whole and crushed chile peppers) and mild (seasoned with onions) halves, assuaging those who prefer to ease into hot potting.

Fried pork arrives cold. But the breaded bites emerge saturated with broth to their meaty core. Enoki mushrooms blossom into de facto noodles, their incredibly absorbent stalks fanning out across the bowl.

And don’t worry too much about the complainer. She got to cross “consuming pork blood” off her bucket list by the end of our meal.

BEST NEW: Authentic German
The Bavarian Chef {$$$}
200 Lafayette Blvd., Fredericksburg; 540-656-2101; www.thebavarianchef.com
Open for lunch Saturday and Sunday, dinner Tuesday through Sunday.

Bavarian Chef
Ich bin sehr aufgeregt, hier zu sein.

Never have I seen a restaurant patron so happy to get the boot.

Granted, it was a glass boot, brimming with dark, hoppy beer, which had been ushered to the table by a comely fraulein in a colorful, form-fitting bodice.

Such are the charms of Fredericksburg’s The Bavarian Chef.

Executive chef/owner Jerome Thalwitz—his parents founded the original Bavarian Chef in neighboring Madison nearly 40 years ago—and sous chef James Steele keep traditional German cooking as their baseline but also experiment with local ingredients (venison pate with cranberry-horseradish sauce) and global mash-ups (roast rockfish surfs atop spaetzle).

Composing a complete bite of liebercasen—a platter comprising savory homemade sausage loaf, vinegary potato salad and a silky yolk-filled egg—took some doing but proved well worth the effort.

A seductive chardonnay-mango sauce chews through spice-crusted shark steak, transforming the muscular predator into a sponge full of tropical fruit. Potato pancakes serve as the perfect backstop, adding crunch to each bite of tender fish.

Braised pork tumbles from shank to surrounding wine sauce with a flick of the tine, the mouthwatering meat joined down below by peppery sausage stuffing and fried onion straws.

Braised cabbage—sour, tangy and sweet all at once—is almost entrée-worthy.

BEST NEW: Maine Event
Ford’s Fish Shack {$$}
44260 Ice Rink Plaza #101, Ashburn; 571-918-4092; www.fordsfishshack.com
Open for lunch and dinner daily.

Fords Fish Shack
Spiced lobster lounges atop pesto-covered chips

I’m always fascinated when new restaurants appear and then you can’t remember what life was like before them.

Something tells me that’s how Ashburnites feel about Ford’s.

Chef/owner Tony Stafford appears to have struck a chord with frustrated seafood lovers, displaced Northeasterners or some combination thereof, because seats are scarce at this nautically themed newcomer, even mid-week.

The crowd skews older, mostly 50-plus-year-old couples, and tends to include more nuclear families than not. But then, so does Ashburn. That being said, the bungalow-esque bar readily accommodates those who prefer to grab a quick bite and craft brew and then split.

Seasonal specials ran the gamut from grilled arctic char over pappardelle to chicken pot pie to pumpkin cheesecake. But if you are here, chances are you’re angling for lobster.

You’ll get a good deal of the sweet stuff in Maine chips, hand-cut spuds tossed with basil pesto—which puts nuttiness into play—tender morsels of spiced lobster and bubbly blobs of piquant blue cheese.

The signature lobster roll features succulent claw and tail meat heaped into a buttered bun and dressed with a very refreshing, celery-and tarragon-powered slaw.

Fancy blueberry pies fall flat (less presentation, more fruit) while gooey whoopie pies typically rise to the occasion.

BEST NEW: Belgian Oasis
Cock & Bowl {$$}
302 Poplar Alley, Occoquan; 703-494-1180; www.cockandbowl.com
Open for lunch Thursday through Saturday, dinner Wednesday through Saturday, brunch Sunday.

“This is our beer café. So, you have the best view in the house,” Cock & Bowl co-founder Jacquie Lopez asserts as she drapes herself alongside the fully stocked beverage cooler like a game show model.

Survey says: Beer me.

Every inch of the modest eatery has been devoted to beer appreciation, from walls plastered with vintage promotional posters to shelves piled high with branded glassware.

Although most employees appear willing and able to discuss their favorite pours, formal recommendations seem to flow almost exclusively from resident beer geek Allen Fournier—a Trappist-brewing sage stuck in a slacker’s body (standard uniform: Operation Ivy hoodie, Dickies’ slacks). The restaurant fields nearly five dozen craft brews ranging from familiar (Stella Artois, Orval) to far out (Houblon Chouffe Dobbelen IPA Trippel, Corsendonk Pater), all categorized according to intensity (fruit, white, pale, amber, dark).

Food specials swing from croque monsieur to coq au vin, while seafood and sweets rule day-to-day dining.

Steamed mussels gather strength from a supporting cast of applewood-smoked bacon, wilted spinach, zesty red onions and splashy tomatoes. Chimay-braised short ribs ooze boozy splendor that puts plain gravy to shame. Homemade waffles delight beneath blankets of warm caramel and crunchy pecan brittle.

BEST NEW: Social Climber
Pupatella {$}
5104 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; 571-312-7230; www.pupatella.com
Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday.

From its graffiti mural to its bus-your-own-table mentality, this scrappy pie-slinger screams DIY success story.

Rather than scouting street corners, food cart vets (see What the Truck, pg. 40) Enzo Alargame and Anastaysia Laufenberg now spend their days parked in front of the imported brick oven— “Built in Naples from volcanic ash from Mount Vesuvius,” the pair trumpets—at the heart of their brick-and-mortar shop.

The menu features just over a dozen specialty pies including dueling margheritas—“real” (read: buffalo mozzarella) vs. “simple”—appetizers (fried Brussels sprouts flanked by green apple, anchovy-olive bites) and desserts (tiramisu, Nutella-swabbed pizzas).

The real margherita is floppier than expected; the crust crackles in spots, but folds as a rule. The real stars are the San Marzano tomato-based sauce, delivering acid and tang, and ovals of glistening mozzarella pooled on every slice. The sauce-less filleti is charred but still spongy, its “naked” dough adorned by fragrant basil, piquant garlic and sweet cherry tomatoes.

Algarme loads specialty dough with milky ricotta, shredded mozzarella and thinly shaved prosciutto, and gingerly lowers it into the deep fryer. The ensuing feast—crunchy shell, molten cheese, sultry ham—is reason alone to consider investing in a FryDaddy.

Sadly, homemade donuts remain MIA since the move.

BEST NEW: Toppings Titan
BGR The Burger Joint {$}
Multiple NoVA locations; www.bgrtheburgerjoint.com
Open for lunch and dinner daily.

BGR The burger joint
Another towering BGR masterpiece

“It’s my first time here. I’m very excited,” a burger enthusiast informed the cashier in the run-up to ultimately losing his BGR cherry.

Was it good for you, too?

Though owner Mark Bucher took his time getting to know the area (D.C. and Maryland were early adopters), Virginia is rapidly becoming his largest market (three stores and counting). And that’s no small feat, considering the wealth—some might even go so far as to say, glut—of gourmet burger shops across the NoVA landscape.

BGR’s recipe for success is simple enough: Start with quality ingredients (proprietary buns, aged beef, robust cheeses), add seasonal accents (lobster claw burgers come summer, pumpkin pie shakes in the fall, a Russian dressing-and “rogue”-fort “Sarah Palin” burger—just because) and sprinkle liberally with kitsch (tabletop mosaics of pop culture icons, TVs locked on VH1 Classic).

Beer-battered onion rings delight the inner child, while Parmesan-dusted and balsamic-splashed asparagus sate adults done with deep-fried sides.

A gourmet patty melt arrives matted with rich truffles, mellowing Swiss and zippy Thousand Island dressing. The standard turkey burger is anything but, inserting mushrooms and gorgonzola into the burger and finishing everything off with sautéed red onions and zesty mayo.

BEST NEW: Culinary Camouflage
Michel {$$$$}
1700 Tysons Blvd., McLean; 703-744-3999; www.michelrichardva.com
Open for breakfast and lunch daily, dinner Monday through Saturday.

Michel
A quick peek at Michel’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it bar scene .

Is Michel a gustatory game-changer? That remains to be seen.

What we do know is that cheflebrity Michel Richard’s propensity for enchanting guests with edible whimsy and gastronomic wonders remains stronger than ever.

Suit-clad gents and well-coiffed ladies seem to rule this suburban roost. Still, plenty of patrons appear happy to let their hair/guard down when the dessert carte is presented—even at lunch (guess it’s never too early for a Richard-inspired treat).

The kitchen excels at delivering both steak and sizzle—though most meals gleefully tilt toward the things-are-not-necessarily-what-they-seem school of design.

Straight shooters can feast upon gourmet burgers predicated upon from-scratch brioche buns, tomato confit and top-tier proteins (lobster, lamb, beef). Frites are a natural fit. But I’d splurge on Brussels sprouts—mouthwatering greens inundated with two kinds of fat (butter, bacon).

Deconstructionists should enjoy unraveling the inner workings of onion carbonara, featuring piquant, bulb-based noodles tossed with bacon, cream and shaved Parmesan, pasty-clad “porcupine” shrimp replete with phyllo spines and chardonnay-braised bean bedding or eel carpaccio (drizzled in seductive soy-ginger sauce).

Can’t-miss closers include Richard’s signature Kit Kat bars (hazelnut- and powdered cocoa-powerhouse), fetching “snowmen” (ice cream-filled meringue with marzipan accessories) and dazzling, flame-spewing chocolate cakes (party on!).

BEST NEW: Sweets Talker
Northside Social {$$}
3211 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; 703-465-0145; www.northsidesocialarlington.com
Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily, late-night dining Wednesday through Saturday.

Northside Social
Amish ingenuity, at your fingertips

While Northside Social enjoys access to many of the unctuous proteins and elegant cheeses spun out by sibling establishments Liberty Tavern and Lyon Hall, make no mistake: This place is pastry chef Rob Valencia’s house.

Sugar and sustenance are synonymous here, as early birds fill up on gourmet coffee—think: Sumatran, Peruvian blends; embellishments include: honey, simple syrup, cane sugar and ground cinnamon—and fresh-baked pastries while night owls indulge in craft brews, boutique wines (most bottles reside in the $20-$30 zone) and tantalizing crostinis (prosciutto and pear mostarda, anyone?)

One terrifically sweet-and-sour eye-opener features coffee cake infiltrated by spicy vanilla and brushed with lip-smacking lemon glaze. Crunchy almonds and juicy strawberries battled for our affections in a summerific scone.

Apple turnovers dwarf your average gyro, encasing caramelized apples in a pocket of ultra buttery dough studded with glimmering sugar crystals.

Crumbled starlight mints invaded Valencia’s intensely fudgy brownies during the holidays, producing chocolaty bars harboring a wintry mix of peppermint.

Craving savory? Give all your tasting zones a workout by biting into an Amish chicken salad boasting coarsely chopped chicken bathed in herby green goddess dressing, strikingly sweet apricots and tangy pickled beets.

BEST NEW: Sausage Fest
Lyon Hall {$$}
3100 Washington Blvd., Arlington, 703-741-7636; www.lyonhallarlington.com
Open for lunch Monday through Friday, dinner daily, late-night dining Friday and Saturday, brunch Saturday and Sunday.

While bending the elbow is always a pleasure at Lyon Hall (love me some Blood, Sweat and Tears), the main attraction has got to be all that glorious meat.

Executive chef Liam LaCivita and chef de cuisine Andy Bennett make no bones about their affinity for flesh, fielding a full catalog of house-made sausages (wursts, kielbasas, puddings), charcuterie (pates, rilettes, cured meats) and mains (steaks, shanks, bellies) plucked from across the protein spectrum (rabbit, veal, duck).

“I’d recommend it just for this,” one companion announces while foisting a plump lamb sausage—interwoven with cumin, paprika and garlic—to his lips. His center-of-the-plate fixation is well warranted, as the accompanying fingerling potato salad mostly plays possum.

A short rib frankfurter pits the extra savory link (bravo!) against spicy pub mustard and tangy, house-made sauerkraut. The winner: you.

Shaved speck and fresh sage punch up a plate of potato-prune dumplings inundated in butter, heavy cream and heavenly ubriaco. “I call it our version of mac and cheese,” one server says of the gourmet garden party.

And lest anyone think seafood gets the short shrift, keep an eye out for the beet-cured arctic char. The fish is flush with natural sweetness and escorted by wildly crunchy potato cakes.

BEST NEW: Grape Escape
Parallel Wine Bistro {$$}
43135 Broadlands Center Plaza, Ashburn; 703-858-0077; www.parallelwinebistro.com
Open for lunch Saturday, dinner daily, brunch Sunday.

A no-pressure playground for the wine set, Parallel affords guests the opportunity to sip and swirl to their hearts content without much badgering from the laidback staff.

Because who wants to sweat choosing a relaxing beverage?

Rotating flights boast fairly transparent threads (oysters, Italiano, pinots). The master wine list bops from region to region (Australia, Chile, Washington state), favoring boutique producers (Patagonian cabernet sauvignon, Kenneth Volk Malvasia Bianca, Spanish priorat) while also paying big boys (Cakebread, Barrel 27) and locals (North Gate Vineyard Viognier, Fabbioli Cellars Rose, Winery at La Grange Meritage) their due.

Most of the action, however, takes place at the 32 automated wine dispensers. Printed descriptions are glib (“crisp, citrus”; “velvety, dark”; “cherry, finesse”), but staff use all the tools at their disposal—direct lines of questioning, personal anecdotes and even free samples—to help connect the dots between personal preferences and unknown pours.

BLT crostinis don’t skimp on the bacon, but allow ripe tomatoes, full of juice and spice, to lead the flavor assault (quite the refreshing change).

Seared pork belly may get top billing in the cassoulet. But it was the supporting cast of slow-cooked celery, cannellini beans and leeks that pushed my hand to scrape the bottom of the bowl for more.

BEST NEW: Hops Spot
Mad Fox Brewery {$$}
444 W. Broad St., Suite 1, Falls Church; 703-942-6840; www.madfoxbrewing.com
Open for lunch Monday through Saturday, dinner and late-night dining daily, brunch Sunday.

Mad Fox Brewery
Stuffed meatloaf and Brussels sprouts

Unlike Larry Craig, I don’t socialize in restrooms (much). But several pints of Mad Fox brews later, fate decided this was happening:

Total Stranger (washing hands): How ya doing?

Me (drying hands): Fine. You?

TS (big smile): I’m in a brewpub! Can’t complain!

The childish glee expressed by my clearly extroverted washroom buddy is totally understandable, given the dearth of full-service breweries in the NoVA ‘burbs.

Founder Bill Madden commands a beverage program focused on seasonal drafts, cask-conditioned brews and off-menu specials (just ask). Our favorites include summery IPAs that sting the lips with lemon and tangerine, malty altbiers clothed in chocolate and spice, and pitch-black porters worthy of your local coffeehouse.

Agraria alumnus Russell Cunningham has proven adept at marrying Madden’s bubbling contributions to his comfort food-y carte, injecting beer into the cuisine where possible, all while building in complementary flavor profiles throughout.

Spice-rubbed pork belly wades in a pool of honey-molasses, the fork-tender lobe conveying profound richness while mini spoonbread answers with additional sweet.

House-made brisket smacks of vinegar, black pepper and molasses, the porter barbecue-sauced beef tempered by fresh cucumber.

Piercing the shimmering egg atop a carbonara pie sparks a race to inhale the ham-, onion- and tomato-laden landscape before the glorious yolk dissipates.

BEST NEW: Boundaries Tester
Da Moim {$$}
7106 Columbia Pike, Annandale; 703-354-3211; www.damoimrestaurant.com
Open for lunch, dinner and late-night dining Tuesday through Sunday.

Playing with expectations is what Da Moim is all about.

An off-the-beaten path respite for those perhaps burned out on tabletop grilling and crowded karaoke jams, the decor here pays tribute to more Anglo-friendly entertainment (The Beatles, Audrey Hepburn, the Rat Pack).

But the menu is where the true artistry lies.

Korean touchstones, from traditional ssam to fiery vegetable stews, abound. The more adventurous, however, can leap headlong into a fusion carnival drawing from Asian, European and Nuevo Latino influences.

Caramelized short ribs invade flour tortillas, commingling there with shredded cheddar, tomatoes and sour cream. I approached these tacos with trepidation; sure the sweet meat and sharp dairy would butt heads, but I found the clash quite complementary. Hot sauce further enhances the experience, with the distilled vinegar and preserved peppers counterbalancing the dulcet beef.

An intercontinental quesadilla weaves together spicy pork, more dairy and caramelized onions, the thin veil of melted cheddar, stir-fried till sugary onions and cooling sour cream working in concert to alleviate the stinging pig.

Double-fried chicken yields crispy bird shrouded in tangy-sweet, ginger-soy sauce. While it’s neither as crunchy nor incendiary as neighboring iterations, it was served, as promised, in under 30 minutes (unheard of at BonChon).

BEST NEW: Multicultural Mash-Up
Mokomandy {$$}
20789 Great Falls Plaza, #176, Sterling; 571-313-0505; www.mokomandy.com
Open for dinner daily.

Mokomandy
Prepare to be tempted by Mokomandy’s deviled eggs.

The next time a dining pal asks if there’s anything new worth checking out, tell’em they’ve just got to try Korjun … Cajean?

Just ferry them over to Mokomandy and let chef Daniel Stevens broaden your gustatory horizons.

The stylish upstart pays homage to the competing, but also curiously complementary, cuisines—daddy is Korean, mom a Southern belle—founder Thaddeus Kim experienced around the family dinner table.

Mind you, they don’t just throw kimchi on everything and call it a day. But cross-pollination is not entirely verboten.

Deviled eggs are fiercely mousse-y/mustard-y. But make no mistake: These beauties are really just another delivery vehicle for lusty bacon.

Seared scallops lead a knife-and-fork assault featuring house-made English muffins fried in pepper jelly butter, hot house tomato slices (ravishing) and lemon-y oil excised from the signature remoulade.

Spires of dried pork reach skyward from a bowl of fiery jambalaya stoked by smoky Andouille sausage, cayenne-laced grains of rice and saucy peppers.

Fried egg and house-made kimchi, which is plenty pungent but could certainly stand to be hotter, join wild boar in a good-to-the-very-bottom rice bowl.


Pie in This Guy

In ‘Za House
Before our Best New Restaurants Guide
Friend: “Let’s grab a slice.”
You: The icy grip of terror and indecisiveness causes you to curl up in the fetal position and wail uncontrollably for hours on end.

After consulting our new pizza cheat sheet
Friend: “Let’s grab a slice.”
You: “You’ll have to be WAY more specific about your munching priorities, kemosabe. Better yet, just follow me.” (strides off triumphantly)

COAL-FIRED
Tagolio Pizzeria & Enoteca

GLUTEN-FREE
Fire Works Pizzeria & Bar
Pizzaiolo Café on Fern
Rustico

WOOD-FIRED
Fire Works Pizzeria & Bar
Pizzeria Orso
Pizzeria Paradiso
Pupatella
RedRocks Pizza Napoletana

SINGLE SLICES
Flippin’ Pizza
Pizza Autentica
Sal’s NY Bar & Grille

DELIVERY
Brick House Pizzeria
Flippin’ Pizza
Pizzaiolo Café on Fern
Sal’s NY Bar & Grille
Tagolio Pizzeria & Enoteca
NY-style
Del Ray Pizzeria
Flippin’ Pizza
Mad Fox Brewing Company
Pizzaiolo Café on Fern
Pizza Autentica
Sal’s NY Bar & Grille

NEAPOLITAN-STYLE
Mad Fox Brewing Company
Pizzaiolo Café on Fern
Pizzeria Orso
Pizzeria Paradiso
Pupatella
RedRocks Pizza Napoletana

Brick House Pizzeria / Winchester
Del Ray Pizzeria / Alexandria
Fire Works Pizzeria & Bar / Arlington
Flippin’ Pizza / Multiple NoVA locations
Mad Fox Brewing Company / Falls Church
Pizzaiolo Café on Fern / Alexandria
Pizza Autentica / Arlington
Pizzeria Orso / Falls Church
Pizzeria Paradiso / Alexandria
Pupatella / Arlington
RedRocks Pizza Napoletana / Alexandria
Rustico / Arlington
Sal’s NY Bar & Grille / Leesburg
Tagolio Pizzeria & Enoteca / Arlington

(March 2011)

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