On Saturday nights, nearly all of Sterling seems to pack into the sprawling, 18,000-square-foot Bungalow Lakehouse—a restaurant with a split personality. Just behind the host stand lies a dining room and lounge with dark wood and hunting-dog paintings that recall the horse-country aesthetic at Clyde’s. But look to the left and you’ll find a more rollicking scene, with a sports hall, patio, and outdoor cigar bar packed with a crowd putting down pints and lining up in front of dartboards.
Head chef Jason Maddens, who once led the kitchen at Central Michel Richard, grew up five minutes from the restaurant—as a kid he scrubbed dishes at the defunct Lone Star Steakhouse, in the same building. Here he aspires to make food that both befits his fine-dining skills and appeals to less adventurous appetites.
Sometimes he nails it. Take his quartet of pork from a Virginia-bred pig—a rosy grilled chop with house-made sausage, belly confit, roasted shoulder, and tangy mustard slaw—or his textbook roast chicken with silky meat, crisp skin, and jus-soaked mashed potatoes. Rich bits of bacon cling to the cheddar-coated pasta spirals in the macaroni gratin, the best of the current lineup of sides. Starters include beautifully fried brandade balls and a peppery country pâté.
In sharp contrast to those successes, the cauliflower “couscous”—desert-dry crumbles—ruined a plate of sea scallops. Worse still: a four-cheese-and-garlic flatbread with a wet, steamy texture, a limp crust, and a coating of oil.
The plot turned again at dessert. Fans of crisps will fall hard for the warm blueberry version here—a simple pleasure, sure, but from crunchy crust to buttery vanilla ice cream, Maddens gets all the details right. It’s a dish worthy of his pedigree, yet altogether appropriate for the atmosphere and a broad audience—and that’s the sweet spot for Bungalow Lakehouse. The chef’s challenge: to find a way to hit it every time.
Bungalow Lakehouse. 46116 Lake Center Plaza, Sterling; 703-430-7625. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Starters $6 to $16, entrées $10 to $34.
This article appears in the June 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.