Conversation hums at Bazin’s on Church (111 Church St., NW, Vienna; 703-255-7212), a spot for oenophiles (check out the 2004 Valminor Albarino) and comfort cuisine with a twist. Think crusty porcini risotto balls oozing fresh mozzarella and lamb shank with citrus-rosemary gremolata and smoked-onion sauce. Not every dish wows—flounder stuffed with crab has a ’70s-fishhouse feel—but there are more hits than misses.
With rustic wood beams and painted Italian ceramics, Assaggi Osteria (6641 Old Dominion Dr., McLean; 703-918-0080) has a similar feel to the Bethesda original, Assaggi Mozzarella Bar. Regional Italian plates such as crisp fried calamari and zucchini, fig-and-arugula salad with lemony dressing, and spaghetti with whole clams and a hit of crushed chilies are nicely done. The wine list is Italy-centric, and desserts such as the marvelous stuffed zeppole go beyond the usual tiramisu.
An expanded dining room means shorter waits at Evo Bistro (1313 Old Chain Bridge Rd., McLean; 703-288-4422), a wine bar with vintages both familiar and esoteric. You can order by the glass or buy a wine card and sample on your own via an automatic dispenser. Besides an extensive cheese-and-charcuterie roster, there are small plates to share. The most successful are Spanish/Moroccan-inspired dishes such as chorizo and clams, chicken with olives and preserved lemon, and lollipop lamb chops.
You’ll feel far away from the bustle of Tysons Corner at the Korean spot Woo Lae Oak (8240 Leesburg Pike, Vienna; 703-827-7300). Vivid abstract paintings catch the eye, and a mural of comet-like swirls adds a note of drama. Mung-bean pancake sports a crunchy golden shell around a mashed-potato-like interior. Short ribs have the sweetness of dates and the sharpness of radish. Bibim bap is a lively bowl of beef, carrots, rice, and filaments of kale topped with a fried egg—the idea is to personalize it with a dollop of chili or soybean paste. Condiments, or panchan, such as julienned fishcake, fresh cabbage kimchee, and silken tofu are fun to mix and match, and they add interest to bulgogi or other meats cooked on the gas grill at your table.
It doesn’t get more date-nighty than the sleek dining room at Michel (Ritz-Carlton, 1700 Tysons Blvd., McLean; 703-744-3999). See “100 Very Best Restaurants” for more on this newcomer from chef Michel Richard.
AROUND THE WORLD
China Wok (8395 Leesburg Pike, Vienna; 703-893-4488) has the divey vibe of a Chinatown eatery. So it should come as no surprise that alongside the moo shu pork and General Tso’s chicken, this no-frills dining room offers more obscure dishes. House-made noodles float in a brothy beef soup redolent of five spice and red chili. Dan dan noodles are slicked with sesame oil for the ultimate Chinese comfort food. Flounder in “superior pickle sauce” isn’t especially pickly, but with crunchy fresh bamboo shoots and wood-ear mushrooms, it’s a dish you want to keep eating. You don’t have to beg for the secret menu at this friendly place—the full roster is right on the table for all to see.
In a few short months, Sushi Yoshi (101 Church St., NW, Vienna; 703-242-1350) has become the go-to restaurant for Japanese expats. Expertly cut sushi artfully arrayed on platters and little bowls brimming with delicacies are the draw. White tuna appears in several guises: sashimi style, marinated and grilled, or wrapped around a stellar spicy and crunchy shrimp roll. Other pleasures include thin-sliced lotus root and a crusty wedge of pork belly in sweet soy gravy.
The low-country lineup at Coastal Flats (Tysons Corner Center, McLean; 703-356-1440) is rife with diet-busting thrills: savory doughnut-like rolls with sweet butter, salt-and-pepper fried shrimp in a bun with crisp fries, and deviled eggs with sugar-cured bacon. With colorful fish mobiles, the often jammed dining room feels more South Florida than Old South—regulars know to reserve or call ahead to shorten wait times. And don’t miss the flourless chocolate waffle with a scoop of vanilla ice cream—the signature sweet of the local Great American Restaurants group.
MIDDLE EAST CONNECTION
In Vienna, Rose Restaurant (126 Maple Ave. W.; 703-255-2557) does many Persian standards well. Kebabs, especially saffron-scented Cornish game hen and kubideh, are juicy and flavorful. Tender lamb shank mates beautifully with a heap of basmati rice and tiny tart barberries. But the stars are the robust beefs stews: gheymeh with lentils, onion, and beef in a tomato-filled brew and ghomeh sabzi with red beans and herbs. Lace tablecloths covered with clear plastic in the airy dining room may make you feel as if it’s Sunday dinner at Auntie’s house.
McLean’s answer to Rose is Amoo’s House of Kabob (6271 Old Dominion Dr., McLean; 703-448-8500), which is similar in feel and decor. Persian music plays as a backdrop, and plates are piled high with fluffy basmati and assorted kebabs. Juicy, flavorful kubideh is outstanding, as are two chicken picks: classic as well as fiery tandoori style with a green jalapeño rub. Beyond these are other pleasures. Soulful ash-e-reshteh soup, thick with noodles and beans, is one of the better renditions in the area. Same goes for silky kash ke badmejan, an eggplant purée with a hint of sweetness and a dollop of fried onion. If it’s available, be sure to order a round of taah deg, a rice pot atop a buttery golden crust that’s prized by Persian diners.
Part grocery, part cafe, Al Nakheel Café (340 Maple Ave. W., Vienna; 703-938-4220) has at least two must-trys for fans of Lebanese fare: baba ghanoush with a smoky finish that sets the bar in the area and a satisfying mash-up of chicken shawarma, hummus, and French fries tucked into a pita.