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Entries in Virginia (10)


Ray's Hell Burger

*Post by Mark.

We are constantly looking for causes to celebrate. Oftentimes Flag Day, Half-Birthdays, or even the completion of a difficult crossword puzzle have become cause enough for an over-the-top dining extravaganzas. It should come as little surprise then that in moving from DC to LA this September, we found more than our share of causes for celebration and elaborate last-month/week/day-in-town blowout meals.

It all became rather exhausting actually. Nearly as much so as the packing and apartment hunting itself. All that eating, and shoveling and stuffing and gluttonizing... 

By the time it rolled around to my last official night in DC, Angela was already on Pacific Standard Time (along with our camera, so forgive the grainy iPhone pictures below), unpacking our things into a new West Hollywood apartment, and I was left behind contemplating one last DC-centric meal. One final taste of the District to savor for the road. It wasn't a difficult choice. I landed on one of my go-to favorites - Ray's Hell Burger. Not only is the Ray's franchise responsible for the best hamburger I've had in the DC-area, they've also created a brand that's become quite synonymous with quality food in and around the District.



And how about those Hell Burgers I love so much? Ray's supplements their thick, juicy burgers with an impressive list of add-ons that take the notion of toppings to a whole new level. You won't just find guacamole, applewood smoked bacon or the house-made 'Heck Sauce', you can also optimize your burger with a $4 slice of cave-aged Amish cheddar or even a slathering of roasted bone marrow with persillade. But for my final trip to Ray's Hell Burger, I decided to bring the ridiculousness. Put your arteries on alert, because the "Fat Joe" crowns its aged 10 oz. burger with balsamic-glazed, seared foie gras, white truffle oil, crispy shallots and vine-ripened tomatoes.



That's right. A seared patty of delicious foie gras is added on top of the 10 oz. burger. (I considered adding the bacon too, but I'm already on PETA's watch-list as it is.) To make matters worse for my future cardiologist, I added smoked mozzarella, grilled onions and a side of Ray's sweet potato fries. Hey, it's not every day you say goodbye to a city you love. 

The burger was ah-mazing, but after a couple bites, hands barely able to wrap themselves around the kitchen-sink-style burger creation, I realized I'd fallen victim to my own vices. The burger stood up to its name, and I was condemned to a damnation of my own making. Don't get me wrong, these burgers are fantastic, but every now and then I need saving from my own self. Ray's offers so many possibilities, the mad scientist inside of me wants to experiment, and I get over-zealous with the menu and concoct things that tend to overwhelm my palate rather than err on the side of simplicity. 



In spite of the grease insurgency, the bun, flavored with sesame and poppy seeds, held up quite well to the sopping wet grease attack. It was a battle I nearly lost, but I finally managed to polish off every last savory bite. Were I to ever return to Ray's in the future, I'll trust the experts and cut back on the add-ons.

Either that, or bring a bigger mouth.

Ray's Hell Burger Too on Urbanspoon


Peking Gourmet Inn

*Post by Angela.

And now, onto my third and final entry on my Asian-food packed Saturday! I was strangely not bursting at the seams as I met up with friends Adam, Stephanie and Calypso to visit Peking Gourmet Inn in Falls Church. The restaurant has been around for some 30 years, and is a favorite of the former President(s) Bush.



When we got there at 7 pm on Saturday, the place was packed (a lot of families). And I don't just mean every table in the massive restaurant was taken up - I mean both the waiting area and immediate outside vicinity were crammed with people waiting for a table. Thankfully, Stephanie and Adam had been there before and knew to make reservations ahead of time. We were quickly led through the almost labyrinth-like dining area, through rooms with walls crammed with photos of famous (and not so famous) patrons, as well as kitschy Chinese decor.



We ordered a lot of things, including some mouthwatering vegetarian dishes, but Adam and I were there for one reason, and one reason only, the Peking duck. All around the dining room, we spied tables opting for the house specialty, which comes complete with tableside carving. The gentleman pictured below arrived at our table soon after we placed our order and silently - and with almost scary efficiency - got down to the business of breaking down our fragrant duck.



I'm not even sure we let him finish carving the whole bird before we dug in. And MAN, is the restaurant aptly named. The Peking duck was as good as I've ever had it, with the crispy, fatty, salty skin perfectly seasoning the juicy meat underneath. The duck was carved into thin slices ideal for eating with the moo shu-style pancakes and plum sauce which accompanied the bird. Adam and I were stuffed, but we managed to eat the entire thing (plus a couple of bites of Stephanie and Calypso's dishes) between the two of us, because we are eating champions.



I can't believe I managed to have THREE fully successful Asian food outings in one day without my stomach exploding. But successful they were. If you are a fan of Peking duck (or just delicious northern Chinese cuisine in general), Peking Gourmet Inn is worth a visit - just make sure you make a reservation ahead of time.

Peking Gourmet Inn on Urbanspoon


China Star

*Post by Angela.

Last Saturday, the cards fell in place for me to have a ridiculously Asian-food packed Virginia weekend with friends. For my first stop, I met up at China Star with Twitter friends @handpecked (D) and @PensFan2166 (J), who clued me in to this purveyor of Szechuan food in Fairfax after my raves over the ma la menu at Great Wall. Normally I wouldn't stray this far away out of my zombie-apocalypse emergency plan safety zone, but I felt I was in good hands with D & J, who may just know even more about zombie-killin' than I do (although they did sign off on my plan to arm myself with samurai swords - after all, as zombie expert Max Brooks advised, "Blades don't need reloading").



The one-room dining area had pretty bare bones decor with just a few ethnic touches, which is about what I would expect from a strip mall establishment.  The service was no-nonsense and efficient.



China Star offers both a menu of more common Chinese food (think General Tso's Chicken, Beef with Broccoli, Moo Shu Pork, etc.) and a menu of authentic Szechuan food. For the most part, we stuck to the latter. Because he is a man after my own heart,  J got a cold appetizer of sliced beef and beef tripe (below). I think it would have tasted even better hot, but it was still good, with a lot of flavor, just the slightest bit of spice and a tiny bit of the numbness that comes from eating Szechuan (Sichuan) peppercorns.



I got the ma la diced rabbit (below), again, served cold, and again with a little bit of heat and numbing factor. I liked this dish, but the meat was a little gamey and it was a bit difficult to eat - rabbit has little bones with little meat on them, so eating it can be somewhat indelicate. Luckily, my eating companions didn't seem to be too put off by me picking around my food.



D got the cold salty duck (below), which was a little unsettling, appearance-wise, but nice. The meat was really juicy and well-seasoned (surprisingly not overly salty).



While we all dug into the entrees family-style, we each made our own selection for the table. J decided to pass up the spice and went with the cashew chicken (below) off the regular menu, a very competently executed take on a classic, and not as greasy as you typically find at the typical Americanized Chinese restaurant.



D and I, being the hardcore women that we are (J eventually caved and had a few bites), went straight for the good stuff, the ma po bean curd (below). It was pretty glorious, with silky tofu that melted in my mouth, and a spicy, garlicky sauce that I used to drown my rice. It didn't have quite the numbing factor that the Great Wall version does, but it does have a fair amount of heat, and 10 pounds of flavor in a 5-pound bag. It was by far my favorite dish of the meal.



D also ordered the shredded pork with bitter melon, a.k.a. bitter cucumber (below). The greens had a very interesting flavor, obviously bitter. At first, I wasn't sure I liked it, but with each successive bite, wanted more. I really liked it in a complete bite with the other components of the dish, as the juiciness of the pork and the spice in from the red chilis offset the bitterness. On top of its strangely addictive taste, medicinally, bitter melon is a powerhouse (as D put it, it's like the Chuck Norris of fruit), said to aid in digestion, as well as help to prevent/counteract Type II diabetes and treat malaria.



I had definitely started off my Saturday food adventure on a good foot - the food was all very tasty (I've been dreaming about that ma po bean curd), and the company was even better. Fellow food lovers D & J took turns making me laugh and terrifying me with talk of zombies and furry conventions in Pittsburgh (and the horrific possibility of a combination of the two). After taking our sweet time over the mounds of tastiness we had ordered, we packed it up and headed to my second food adventure of the day...

China Star on Urbanspoon



*Post by Angela.

Somehow Mark and I keep finding ourselves in northern Virginia. We've even established a kind of Saturday tradition - set up shop at Northside Social for a few hours to do some work, then head to a nearby restaurant for dinner with friends. Last weekend, we met up with friends Adam, Stephanie, and Sara at EatBar, adjacent to Tallulah in Arlington. From word of mouth, the self-proclaimed "American Gastropub" is a favorite among neighborhood residents for its whimsical and fun atmosphere - for example, the restaurant hosts a movie night every Sunday night at 8, as well as a cartoon brunch on Saturdays and Sundays.



Walking into the dark interior, our first impression was that the restaurant was so cold, Mark was shivering throughout the entire meal. Nevertheless, I liked the vibe - laid-back (you seat yourself), relaxed - it has a very "neighborhood watering hole" feel that I appreciated.



Once we were all snuggled into a booth, we began navigating the sort of confusing menu, which is broken down into categories like "snacks," "fritters," "red apron," "veggies," and "bigs." Since we weren't exactly sure how big portions were in the various categories, we just decided to start ordering and go from there. We started with an excellent assortment of cheeses (below); unfortunately, I couldn't even begin to tell you what they all were - we left it up to our friendly and accomodating server to make a selection for us. The cheeses were accompanied by slices of crusty bread and a nice assortment of veggies.



From the "snacks" section, I ordered the onion rings (below), a fairly substantial offering for just $3, and top-notch, too. The rings were not too oily, crunchy, and light, and were the perfect medium for transporting the yummy herby aioli into my mouth.



All being fans of the fried, our party ordered at least one of each of the fritter offerings: the bacalao (salt cod with lemon aioli), the falafel (chickpea with tzatziki), the dirty risotto (jalapeño and scallions), and the Chesapeake crab. Each fritter was nestled on a little bed of complementary aioli. The dirty risotto fritter was the big winner, but all of them were very rich - more than a couple and you risk filling too quickly.



We continued on our ordering death march, getting (clockwise from the bottom) the smoked lardo, the cherry tomato salad (with mozzarella and basil), the beet and feta salad, a couple more of the diry risotto fritters and a Sloppy Joey Slider, slathered with BBQ Pork Shoulder and house pickle. Of these, I only had the smoked lardo, which was gloriously fatty and nicely seasoned. But again, everyone seemed to enjoy their dishes.



For my entree, I got the mussels, with chilis, white wine, herbs, and fries (below). While it was not the most original dish of mussels I've ever had, it was very nice, although I wish the chilis would have imparted a little more heat. Nevertheless, the fries were excellent (the ideal amount of crispy), and I got a surprisingly big portion of everything for $12.



Mark and Adam split an order of the chicken & waffles, served with braised collards, gravy and syrup. The chicken could've used a little more gravy, but the boys both made due. When it was all said and done, a few leftover crumbs were the only remaining evidence that they enjoyed the dish.



All said, we had a very good time at EatBar. We loved the playful menu, relaxed atmosphere, and reasonable prices, and all of the food was solid, if not outstanding. While I don't think I'd travel to NoVa solely for EatBar, it's definitely going to be on my short-list of options for dinner next time Mark and I make a Northside Social trip.


Eatbar on Urbanspoon


Pizzeria Orso

*Post by Mark.

Two Amys has long been our undisputed king of DC pizza. While the District has had a influx of challengers spanning a variety of pizza styles, the restaurant's supremacy has never been placed in serious jeopardy, at least in our opinion. Rather than try to top the list with yet another new style of pizza, Pizzeria Orso has seemingly adopted the old adage, 'if you can't beat 'em, join 'em' as their motto. With Neapolitan pizzas that are comparable to 2 Amys in nearly every single way, Orso has formed a bizzarro version of the pizzeria and dropped it in the Virginia suburbs. The likeness isn't entirely surprising - Orso's primary pie-maker Edan MacQuaid has worked in just about every notable pizza kitchen in the city (2 Amys, Red Rocks and Pizzeria Paridiso).



The interior of Orso, located in Falls Church, provides a cheerful atmosphere - high ceilings and sunny reds and yellows. With the restaurant's cavernous size, gone are the hour-long waits you'd expect at some of the city's top pizza shops (2 Amys and Pizzeria Paradiso, we're looking at you). On our visit around noon on a recent Saturday, the restaurant had maybe half a dozen tables taken. 



The salad and appetizer options are plentiful and impressive. We ordered the Arrosticini (below) - lightly cured lamb, skewered and grilled, and served with bruschetta and lemon slices. The lamb was incredibly flavorful and juicy, and perfect with a little squeeze of lemon.



We also ordered the Suppli al Telefono (below), which are fried risotto balls (very similar to arancini, but smaller) stuffed with buffalo mozzarella. The little bites were really rich and well- (bordering on heavily) seasoned.



Angela went for the Crudo (below) pizza. with tomato, mozzarella, basil, arugula, shaved grana (a hard mature Italian cheese), and prosciutto. Cooked in a special oven for only ninety seconds, the crust comes out charred and crispy on the outside, leaving the inside perfectly soft and chewy. As stated, the paper thin crusts are extremely reminiscent of 2 Amys' tasty bases. That's not to say the pizzas are an exact carbon copy, since MacQuaid uses a hint of sourdough to make his crust, giving them a boost of extra flavor.



I sprung for the Giamette (below), topped with tomato, provola (smoked buffalo mozzarella), pepperoni, sausage, salami, and ham. This meat lover's delight was dressed with a fine garment of ingredients that any crust would have been proud to wear. The quality of the ingredients left little room for any complaints. 



So, does Pizzeria Orso trump DC's reigning champs? The pizzas are so similar, it's hard to say - maybe not. But it is dusting off a little extra space on the podium.


Pizzeria Orso on Urbanspoon