Sunday, January 8, 2012

Bang the Gong for Hong Kong Express - Barcroft Plaza

Hong Kong Express is located in the Barcroft Shopping Center just West of Braddock Road on Columbia Pike between Falls Church and Annandale in Virginia.   I won't kid you on this - it's just a tiny "hole in the wall" kind of place.  Business is mostly takeout but it has five tables in case you want to eat there - wear a warm coat if you do, because the door opens a lot as customers stream in and out for their orders.  And that's the point. Hong Kong Express has such great takeout that EVERYONE goes there for it.  Generous heaps of a wide variety of fresh vegetables are added to your dish, as are large shrimp, tender properly-sliced beef, chicken and pork, and ample servings of rice and noodles if a dish calls for it.  They even have Peking duck (call ahead or go grocery shopping next door after you place your order, it takes and hour to prepare).  The dishes are properly seasoned and sauced without too much salt and they do not use peanut oil in their cooking.   You don't go away hungry.  You don't go away wishing you had eaten somewhere else.   From the first bite, you could close your eyes and be transported to China.   It's that good.

I've been going there for a while.  So long that the owner recognizes me and his wife chats with me, asks about my sons, and shares exotic treats like salted plums and Asian candies.  I'm particularly fond of the pan-fried noodles and the chow foon.  My sons can't get enough of the General Tsao's chicken with a ring of bright green broccoli surrounding it.   Service is prompt, efficient, friendly, and wonderful.  It's okay that you are drinking from a bottle or foam cup and using plastic utensils to eat your food from the colorful plates because you are there for the food, whether you eat it there or take it home as so many do.

Food 5 flies, Service 5 butterflies.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Indaroma in Alexandria, VA - A Tasty Treat

Situated next door to its sister Indian grocery store, Ginger and Spice, at the intersection of Little River Turnpike and Braddock Road, Indaroma looks like a bakery but there's something -- a lot of something -- more to it.  Sure, it's a bakery, and a wonderful one at that - breads, cakes, pastries, cookies and more stock the display shelves and cases.  Mango cream, pistachio and chocolate are some of the popular cake flavors. Cookies included cardomom shortbreads and others with a distinctly Indian flavor.  Whether you want a custom birthday cake or a beautifully decorated wedding cake, Indaroma is sure to please.  They do a thriving business as wedding caterers that don't disappoint.

But the real surprise comes when you order a meal at the counter. Samosas, butter chicken, lamb and tandoori chicken are just a few of the multitude of Indian dishes available.   They also make a mean BLT!   Most entrees are served with a fragrantly spiced rice dish.  I like to order an herbed yogurt to cool the spices in the sauces.   Don't forget to try the naan - it's freshly made also.  In addition to mango lassi and an assortment of bottled beverages, they offer a variety of hot teas and black or peach iced tea to quench your thirst.

The atmosphere of this family-run place is friendly, relaxed and casual and the place draws a regular, devoted crowd for both lunch and dinner.  Meet your friends or make a few new ones at this place.

Food - 4 flies, Service 4 butterflies.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Riding High at Silverado

Silverado's is a local Annandale treasure.  It's one of several restaurants in the same restaurant group as Mike's American, Best Buns, the Carlyle, and Sweetwater, among others.  Even though it is part of this group, it offers its own unique atmosphere and decor.  The place is adorned with fascinating, fun cowboy art and features a large bronze cowboy on a horse in the central bar area. It can get very busy and a little noisy but the food - ah, the food is uniformly wonderful.

My son ordered Southwestern rolls as an appetizer, and I ordered calimari.  The rolls were crispy and overflowing with fresh herbs, chicken, corn, peppers and a zesty sauce.  The calimari was hot, fresh and tender, and coated in a light, crunchy batter and served on a plate with a spicy, creamy sauce.   For dinner my son ordered crab cakes that were pure lumps of crab meat lightly bound together and broiled.  It was served with a homemade chunky coleslaw that has a little zestiness to it and long shoestring fries.  I ordered a tender and flavorful 7 ounce steak served with sauted, saucy mushrooms and redskin mashed potatoes.  It came with a generous Caesar salad that was filled with crunchy romaine lettuce, fresh ingredients and FLAVOR!   The iced tea was freshly brewed and had a bright, clean taste.  

One thing that Silverado's takes seriously is customer service.  The place, even at its busiest, is swarming with wait staff and managers attending to every table.  No sooner do you move your glass to the side than another magically appears at your table.

Food - 5 flies; Customer Service - 5 butterflies

Pastries and more at Le Matin De Paris in Annandale

I can't tell you how many times I have driven past Le Matin de Paris on Little River Turnpike in Annandale, Virginia.   It moved a few years ago from a more crowded storefront on a quieter street to its current location and, although I had fond memories of the cookies and croissants, I just hadn't made time for it before.    Looking for a new spot for breakfast and lunch I ended up making two trips to the place.   It's spacious and modern inside, with plenty of comfortable seating, large sunny windows, and beautiful displays of cakes, cookies, and pastries.  Plus the place offers sandwiches and light fare along with coffees and tea lattes.  The counter staff is cheerful and happy to see you.   It's mostly self-serve but you get your coffee in large ceramic cups and your food is served on real plates unlike the chain coffeehouses.

This is no ordinary French bakery.  It's one of several Korean French bakeries in Annandale, so while it offers tender, crusty croissants and gorgeous cakes dripping with fruit and chocolate ribbons, it also offers donuts filled with bean paste and fluffy breads with chestnut, hazelnut or blueberry cream.  On my first trip I had a warmed almond croissant that was perfect, a custard filled donut covered in ground cake crumbs instead of the usual powdered sugar, and a cup of tea.  Noting that this treasure also had WiFi, I made a point of taking one of my constantly e-tethered sons there for a late lunch.  He had a Korean Beef sandwich and French Onion Soup along with a Green Tea Latte.  I opted for a tasty bowl of spaghetti and another tender almond croissant along with a large cup of cappucino.  I didn't get much of the croissant because my son snagged most of it while I was picking through the baskets full of rusks, black sesame cookies, almond cookies and other treats so I could take some home for later.

Food - 4 flies; Customer Service - 4 butterflies

Monday, January 2, 2012

No Check at Las Tapas

New Year's Eve in Old Town, Alexandria was "jumping" with kids attending First Night Alexandria with their parents.  It's a tough night to get a reservation, even tougher to find an opening but we were able to get a walk-in at Las Tapas on King Street.  They offered live flamenco dancing, wonderful Spanish guitar and a prix fix of $65 for an appetizer, dinner and dessert.  The place seemed a little bright but the staff was friendly and the waiter attentive.

The bread arrived warm and tasty for dipping in olive oil.  Wishing for something more than ground pepper and table salt, I requested and quickly received some fresh lemons to squeeze into the oil. The lemons turned out to be a good idea - more on that later.  The iced tea was fresh and refreshing.   Guitar was piped up from the bar and a little too loud for the space but was spicey and exciting.    My friend ordered a mixed seafood ceviche which was fresh and colorful.  I received a salad with fresh, crisp lettuce that was a little too mature, a tasty assortment of olives and a not too unripe tomato, but it was adorned with limp asparagus and some rather smelly sardines and came without dressing.   The waiter cheerfully exchanged it for a sardine-less bowl that had a side of salad dressing which I munched upon after adding a little lemonjuice for zing.

Dinner arrived and I'm sorry to report it was a disappointment.  In my opinion the chicken was too dry, the vegetables were undercooked and oily, and the food was bland.  I didn't try the rice.  The lemons came in handy to make the chicken more moist.  My friend's dinner seemed to be a big disappointment to him.  He had the same vegetables and steamed?/grilled? salmon served with a side of somewhat dried-out spaghetti tossed with tomato sauce.  It was an unusual pairing to say the least.  Hoping to have a fine dessert, a small flan arrived that was too bubbly - it should be smooth - and served with two thin slices of strawberry and a red and white decorative trickle of something that turned out to be raspberry and white chocolate on a large plate.  It was lost on such a large plate and strawberries and I don't mix well.  My friend's chocolate cake was cold and hard and he returned the desserts and ordered the check.  To Las Tapas credit, they desperately wanted to please and earnestly asked for our feedback.  They did not charge for the dinner and provided a generous gift certificate for a future return visit in the hope that we would give them another chance on a less busy evening.  New Year's is a hard time to review a restaurant.  Kitchen staff are stretched their thinnest when things are so busy and packed so this may not be the fairest assessment of Las Tapas capabilities but for New Year's eve the food just didn't make the grade.

Food - 1 fly; Customer Service - 5 butterflies   Will update this rating after I use the gift certificate.

Launching a New Food Review for Northern Virginia

I've been wanting to do this for a long time and so I am finally taking the plunge into critiquing food experiences and sharing recipes.  I don't go to too many fancy restaurants so much of this will focus on everyday lunch and dinner spots and fare.   I do have a fairly unrestricted palette and am fortunate to live in an area with rich and diverse culinary offerings. A very little about me but not too much - as a roaming food critic I need some anonymity.  I was a chef in college many, many moons ago and have a creative streak and long history in the kitchen.  Brought up on Fannie Farmer and a treasured Hungarian cookbook, I experimented under the watchful eye of my dad, who taught me the chemistry of cooking.  Who knew, eh?

The Fly on the Soupbowl  rating scales:  1 to 5 flies for food; 1 to 5 butterflies for service