(Updated at 4:45 p.m.) More than 40,000 attendees — a record — flooded the streets of Ballston Sunday afternoon for sunshine and lots of food and drink during Taste of Arlington, according to the event’s organizer.
Circa restaurant in Clarendon took home the day’s award for best appetizer with its Cobb lettuce wraps. The Green Spoon won the award for best entrée with its Kofte meatballs with tzatziki, spiced kale. and chickpeas. Kool Zone Ice & Treats took home the prize for best dessert.
The Ballston Business Improvement District, which organized the event, estimated that more than 25,000 ticket booklets were sold in advance. The tickets let attendees sample food from 46 restaurants, beer from a dozen breweries, and wine from Barefoot.
Festival-goers also got a chance to vote for the next restaurant that will be coming to Ballston as part of the Ballston Business Improvement District’s Restaurant Challenge. Eight chefs, competing for a year of free restaurant space in Ballston and a $275,000 interest-free loan, entered the competition as semifinalists.
Visitors voted for their favorite on their smartphones and Chef Victor Albisu and restaurateur Christina Campos were chosen as the winners. Albisu, who owns Del Campo in the District and Taco Bamba in Falls Church, served a variety of Mexican street-style food; Campos served Basque seafood stew. Albisu and Campos will compete head-to-head in June in a Top Chef-style cookoff to determine the winner of the Restaurant Challenge.
Disclosure: Ballston BID, Taste of Arlington’s organizer, is an ARLnow.com advertiser.
What better way to start 2014 than with another controversial topic? Kids, food trucks, tipping; you name it, and I will take it on. Well, probably not tipping ever again. That was brutal. Point is, it’s fun to explore some of the more talked about areas of what we do. So what’s first on the list for 2014? Food allergies.
Food allergies can present the most significant challenges to successful service in a restaurant. In some cases, we are told that the literal life of a guest is being placed in our hands for the duration of the meal. No pressure, Chef. It’s hard enough for us to cook a steak medium rare some nights. It’s hard for the guest as well. To constantly have to interrogate the staff about ingredients, to always need to alter the menu and to live in constant anxiety that the kitchen got it right must be terribly stressful.
Working with customers with mild to severe to fatal allergies is something that we do on a nightly basis. In fact, it was this past New Year’s Eve in the dining room at Eventide that the idea for this column came about. Faced with a limited choice tasting menu, a guest was unsure if she would even be able to stay and eat. She informed us that she had a fatal dairy allergy and was carrying an EpiPen in her purse in case she went into anaphylactic shock. She also had a gluten allergy that while not fatal was serious.
Her dining companion’s New Year’s Eve wish was to not have to stab her friend Pulp Fiction-style as the clock struck midnight.
My answer? Let’s look at the menu and figure out how to make it work. That was not easy. We use more than our fair share of butter and there is flour in many more dishes than one might imagine. Step by step we went through the menu, consulted with Chef and tried to figure out a way to make it work on the fly.
That was an example of the most challenging situation — the menu is in front of the guest, they are stuck, and we are learning of a severe allergy as they are trying to find something to eat. It is unavoidable at times to be sure, but it can make things really tough.
On an average weekend night, we have four to five tables in the dining room that have some type of allergy. Is that on the rise? I don’t know. It seems like it, but many allergies — gluten being the primary example — have been historically undiagnosed. Regardless, it is something we deal with on a regular basis, and a conversation with some helpful tips might be a good idea. Allergy sufferers usually know exactly what they need and what they want, and they are usually very good at presenting their needs early and explicitly. However, they are not always the ones making the reservations or booking the events, so this information could be helpful for non-sufferers making the plans as well.
- Plan ahead. The earlier the information can get to the restaurant the better. You can include it in the notes when you book on OpenTable, or you can mention it when you call in. Be as specific as you are able. Exactly what the allergy is and the severity is important. If the diner has preferred substitutions, that is helpful as well. This applies to dietary choices as well as allergies (vegan, vegetarian).
- Do your homework. Everyone has menus online now. Yes, it is true that restaurants are notorious for not being completely current, but you can at least get an idea what the venue offers and what might work as a substitute in advance.
- We love the cards. Many guests arrive and hand a small card to the server that lists the allergies. They are clear and concise, and they go right to the Chef. That eliminates the potentially dangerous opportunity that something might be lost in translation.
- Be clear about the severity. By all means be overcautious, but also be conscious that there is a very big difference between a fatal shellfish allergy and a mild intolerance to cilantro. Restaurants should take all allergies seriously and honor all requests that they can, but if you overstate the severity, you could limit what you can have. With a fatal allergy, we will often rule out serving you any dish or ingredient that has been in the vicinity or even the same floor as the potential offender. With a mild allergy, we might just have to remove a garnish.
- Be a little patient with the kitchens. If we hear in advance that you are coming, there is a better chance we can come up with something more interesting for you. If we hear about it the moment of, there is only so much the kitchen can do. Also, sometimes in order to cover ourselves, if there is the slightest chance of any contamination, and there is a fatal allergy, we might just say “sorry, we can’t do such and such.” It’s the last thing anyone in the hospitality business wants to do, but sometimes we might not be able to accommodate a request.
The first Metropolitan Washington Restaurant Week of 2014 will be Jan. 13-19, and 12 Arlington restaurants have already signed up to participate.
The Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington coordinates restaurant week, the last of which took place in August and featured 17 local restaurants.
This year, lunch menus will cost $20.14 and dinner menus will cost $35.14, in honor of the new year. There are two restaurants on the list — Cityhouse in Rosslyn and Zaika in Clarendon — that didn’t participate in August.
You can view the lunch and dinner menus and make reservations on the RAMW website. Here’s the current list of participating restaurants in Arlington:
- Cityhouse, 1325 Wilson Blvd, 703-276-8999
- Epic Smokehouse, 1330 S. Fern Street, 571-319-4001
- Farrah Oliva, 2250 Crystal Drive, 571-431-7090
- Jaleo Crystal City, 2250A Crystal Drive, 703-413-8181
- La Tasca, 2900 Wilson Blvd, 703-812-9120
- Liberty Tavern, 3195 Wilson Blvd, 703-465-9360
- Lyon Hall, 3100 N. Washington Blvd, 703-741-7636
- Me Jana, 2300 Wilson Blvd, 703-465-4440
- Melting Pot, 1110 N. Glebe Road, 703-243-4490
- Tallula, 2761 Washington Blvd, 703-778-5051
- Willow Restaurant, 4301 N. Fairfax Drive, 703-465-8800
- Zaika, 2800 Clarendon Blvd, 703-248-8333
Lyon Park Bat Turns Out to Be Something Else — A Lyon Park resident called animal control officers late last month after a startling discovery: a bat inside his or her home. There was only one problem — the responding animal control officer found that the “bat” was actually a sweatband. It’s not the first time something like this has happened. Previously, a balloon had been mistaken for a bat, a ski hat lying on the road was mistaken for a dead cat, and a “mangy, emaciated cat” turned out to be stuffed animal. [DCist]
GOP Trying to Find Candidate for Special Election — The upcoming County Board special election to replace the retiring Chris Zimmerman could give Arlington Republicans their best chance of winning a seat on the Board since the late 1990s, the last time any non-Democrat served as a Board member. “We could really pull a surprise,” said Arlington County Republican Committee chairman Charles Hokanson. [Sun Gazette]
County Seeking Food Donations for AFAC — As part of County Board Chair Walter Tejada’s “Moving Forward Together” initiative, Arlington County is collecting food items to help stock the shelves at the Arlington Food Assistance Center for the winter. Drop-off points have been set up at Arlington community centers and libraries. [Arlington County]
Mary Bono Selling Arlington Condo — Former California congresswoman Mary Bono is selling her two-bedroom, two-bath condo in the Eclipse building, near Potomac Yard, for $569,000. [Washington Post]
Lustron Home for Sale — A “rare and historic” Lustron home in south Arlington is for sale. The prefabricated two-bedroom, one bathroom home is all steel and was considered a “[marvel] of modern efficiency and style” when it was built at the end of World War II. It’s listed at $499,000. [Preservation Arlington]
Flickr pool photo by J. Sonder
There are numerous opportunities for donating your time to a good cause around Arlington, including serving Thanksgiving meals.
In addition to those listed below, other volunteer opportunities throughout the county can be found on the Volunteer Arlington website.
- Thanksgiving Celebration Hosts — Helpers are needed from 11:30 a.m.-3:00 p.m. on Tuesday, November 26, for the Clarendon House Thanksgiving celebration. Volunteers will assist with tasks such as decorating, cleaning up and preparing or serving food. Clarendon House is a community-based rehabilitation program for adults diagnosed with serious mental illness. Volunteers must be at least 18 years of age and must show compassion and caring for, as well as comfort interacting with and learning from, adults with serious mental illness. Volunteers should have a positive attitude, be responsible, use good judgment and maintain strict client confidentiality. For more information or to sign up, contact Susan Stolpe via email or at 703-228-1760.
- Deliver and Serve Thanksgiving Dinners — The Knights of Columbus seeks people to help ensure all members of the community — particularly the needy, elderly and home-alone — can celebrate Thanksgiving with a hot meal. Volunteers are needed on Thursday, November 28, to serve and deliver meals for around 3,000 people. Volunteers should be flexible and willing to help out where needed. Those who volunteer as deliverers should have their own vehicle to transport meals. Contact Mary Jo Galvin by email or by calling 703-532-8498.
- Food Drive Hosts — The Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC) seeks residents in condo and apartment buildings to host holiday food drives. The volunteers would coordinate with building management to host a food drive in November and/or December to benefit AFAC. Volunteers would be provided with food collection bins and fliers that can be posted around the building. Those interested in helping should contact Danielle Rampton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More than a hundred people swarmed the Z-Burger near Clarendon this afternoon (Tuesday), hoping to make the best of the first day of the federal government shutdown by scoring a free cheeseburger.
Z-Burger (3325 Wilson Blvd) is one of several restaurants in Arlington offering specials to workers with government IDs to try to ease the burden of workers forced to take a furlough after government shut down at midnight tonight. Z-Burger is offering free burgers to workers with government IDs from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and 5:00 to 7:00 p.m.
Jaleo (2250 Crystal Drive) is offering free sandwiches to government workers with valid IDs from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. every day of the shutdown, owner/chef José Andrés tweeted last night. District Taco (5723 Lee Highway) also announced that their brick-and-mortar store at 5723 Lee Hwy would be offering a free taco to government employees on furlough.
The Washington Post has a full list of specials restaurants in the D.C. area are offering during the shutdown.
Many of those waiting in the line that snaked all the way around the shop said they had resigned themselves to the shutdown well before Monday’s deadline. When one Department of Defense worker, who declined to provide his name, was asked if he was frustrated, he shook his head.
“It happens so often that if you get frustrated every time, you’ll get an ulcer,” he said. Defense employees began their second furlough of the year Tuesday morning.
Another government worker said after all the deadlines Congress has waited until the 11th hour to avoid, the shutdown was almost a relief, he said.
“It’s about time they gave us a day off,” he said. “It does suck for people living paycheck to paycheck, but I don’t expect it to last more than a week.”
A National Science Foundation worker said multiple times that he wished that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R) — a pivotal Senate Republican in the buildup to the shutdown — would “go back to Canada,” before lamenting the millions of dollars in grants in jeopardy at the NSF if the shutdown lasts an extended period of time.
“It’s so nice out, I want to use this time to go to the [National] Mall, some museums, maybe get my passport updated,” he said. “Oh wait, it’s all closed.”
Starting with lunch today, Metropolitan Washington Restaurant Week has officially begun.
Seventeen Arlington restaurants are listed on the Restaurant Week website. Participating restaurants will offer customers prix fixe menus at $20.13 for lunch and $35.13 for dinner.
Since earlier this month, several additional restaurants have signed on to participate, including Mad Rose Tavern at 3100 Clarendon Blvd, which is only offering dinner specials, and Sushi Rock at 1900 Clarendon Blvd, offering both lunch and dinner.
The Restaurant Week website has links to menus and to OpenTable for reservations. The list of Arlington eateries offering lunch and/or dinner specials include:
- Epic Smokehouse, 1330 S. Fern Street, 571-319-4001.
- Farrah Oliva, 2250 Crystal Drive, 571-431-7090.
- Fuego Cocina y Tequileria, 2800 Clarendon Blvd, 202-216-5988.
- Fyve at The Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City, 1250 S. Hayes Street, 703-415-5000.
- Jaleo Crystal City, 2250A Crystal Drive, 703-413-8181.
- La Tagliatella, 2950 Clarendon Blvd, 571-257-4600.
- La Tasca, 2900 Wilson Blvd, 703-812-9120.
- Legal Sea Foods, 2301 Jefferson Davis Highway, 703-415-1200.
- Liberty Tavern, 3195 Wilson Blvd, 703-465-9360.
- Lyon Hall, 3100 N. Washington Blvd, 703-741-7636.
- Mad Rose Tavern, 3100 Clarendon Blvd, 703-600-0500.
- Me Jana, 2300 Wilson Blvd, 703-465-4440.
- Melting Pot, 1110 N. Glebe Road, 703-243-4490.
- Pinzimini, 801 N. Glebe Road, 703-537-4200.
- Sushi Rock, 1900 Clarendon Blvd, 571-312-8027.
- Tallula, 2761 Washington Blvd, 703-778-5051.
- Willow Restaurant, 4301 N. Fairfax Drive, 703-465-8800.
The 16th annual Clarendon Day festival, in September, will include a new addition: the official D.C. Chili Cookoff.
The cookoff is moving to Clarendon after its usual venue, the DC101 Chili Cookoff at RFK Stadium, apparently didn’t include an actual chili competition this past May. The event will now be sponsored by Hard Times Cafe.
“We wanted to carry on the D.C. Chili tradition since we’ve been involved with it for the past 33 years,” said Hard Times co-founder Jim Parker. “The cookoff is sanctioned by the International Chili Society (ICS) and we expect to host competition chili cooks from all over the East Coast.”
Parker said past chili cookoffs have consisted of about 30 cooking teams competing in three categories: red chili, chili verde and salsa. This year, however, a new category, called “homestyle,” will be added.
“This category is more like the chili your mother used to make,” Parker said.
The teams will set up on the morning of Clarendon Day and cook chili on site. A panel of judges will start tasting the chili around 1:00 p.m., and the winners will be announced around 5:00 p.m. The winners will be the final qualifiers for the World’s Championship Chili Cookoff in California in October.
“Once the chilies (and salsa) are turned in to the judges the general public may taste and vote for the chili or salsa they like the best — as long as it lasts,” said Parker.
Clarendon Day will take place from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 28, in the area around the Clarendon Metro station. In addition to chili, the event will feature live music; food from local restaurants; beer, wine and other beverages; arts and crafts exhibitors; kids’ activities; and booths manned by local businesses and organizations.
Matt Hussmann, Executive Director of the Clarendon Alliance, which organizes Clarendon Day, says the chili cookoff will be a welcome addition to the day’s festivities.
“We’re very excited about having the D.C. Chili Cookoff,” said Matt Hussmann. “We’re hoping for a great event.”
Whereas the DC101 Chili Cookoff was a music-centric event, Hussmann said that cookoff organizers were looking for a new venue that will allow the chili to stand on its own.
“They really wanted to re-calibrate what they’re doing,” he said. “They wanted to focus on the chili and on family-friendly events. We’re pretty happy about it.”
Hussmann said other Clarendon Day details, like the live music lineup, are still being worked out. One notable subtraction this year: the Virginia Hospital Center Foundation “Family Fun Day” attractions that have been featured in previous years.
Ballston is getting a little more Belgian, thanks to the opening of Mussel Bar and Grille (800 N. Glebe Road) this week.
The restaurant is holding its soft opening for invited guests today and tomorrow, and will open to the public for dinner on Thursday. Friday will be the first day it will open for lunch.
This is the third Mussel Bar and Grille location, joining others in Bethesda and Atlantic City. Owner and chef Brian McBride hopes to expand to as many as 10 locations. He thought Arlington seemed perfect for the newest location.
“This Arlington area seems to be booming,” McBride said. “This is going to be a fun spot. It’s designed to be a neighborhood gathering place. It’s not pretentious, it’s very casual.”
As the restaurant’s name implies, mussels are the house specialty. Mussel Bar and Grille has exclusive rights in the D.C. area to Penn Cove mussels. That variety comes from the oldest mussel farm in the United States, and McBride says they have plumper, sweeter meat.
“We pay a lot more for those mussels than the standard P.E.I.s [Prince Edward Island mussels],” said McBride, “Just so we can have the best mussels we can get.”
Other seafood dishes include Maryland crabcakes and lobster rolls. The restaurant also offers options for customers wishing for something other than seafood, such as brick oven fired pizzas, steak frites and a lamb meatball sandwich.
Chefs at Mussel Bar and Grille concentrate on old fashioned food preparation techniques, according to McBride. He notes that although each dish will look modern, no shortcuts will be taken, unlike other chain restaurants.
Along with the mussels, the restaurant will focus on Belgian beers. The bar offers 18 beers on tap and more than 100 others in bottles. Bartenders will be able to suggest beer selections that complement each customer’s dish.
“The goal is to introduce as many different kinds of Belgian beer to Arlington as we possibly can,” said McBride.
Bar Manager Adam Jarvis pointed out that the restaurant also serves up specialty drinks highlighting the time when the Bob Peck Chevrolet dealership sat on the land. The drinks bear the names of Chevy models like El Camino, Bel Air and Camaro.
“This is a big thing, to keep the Arlington community, and the history of Arlington as well,” said Jarvis.
Mussel Bar and Grille will have happy hour specials every day of the week from 3:00-6:30 p.m.
“I think people should be happy on the weekend,” McBride said. “It shouldn’t just be a Monday through Friday thing.”
The goal is to accommodate everyone at the restaurant — from bar goers to business people to families. Customers can sit in the dining area, order at the bar or enjoy the outdoor seating.
“Customers rule,” said McBride. “We don’t set too many rules”
One rule the restaurant does abide by, however, is limiting the number of customers allowed in at one time for the first few weeks. McBride said it gives staff a chance to acclimate to the new system and smooth out any issues. He expects to go “full blown” in September and will begin offering weekend brunch at that time. For now, the restaurant is open Tuesday through Sunday, and will begin serving on Mondays after Labor Day.
(Updated at 12:45 p.m.) Metropolitan Washington Restaurant Week runs from Aug. 19 to 25, giving diners a unique chance to try some of the area’s best restaurants on a relative bargain.
Thirteen Arlington restaurants are participating in the festivities. Each one offers a prix fixe, three-course menu for lunch and/or dinner, with the lunch menu running at $20.13 and dinner at $35.13. For a full listing of all the restaurants in the region participating in restaurant week or to reserve a table, visit their website.
Farrah Oliva, 2250 Crystal Drive, 571-431-7090. Dinner Menu
Fuego Cocina y Tequileria, 2800 Clarendon Blvd, 202-216-5988. Menu not yet available
Jaleo Crystal City, 2250A Crystal Drive, 703-413-8181. Menu not yet available
La Tagliatella, 2950 Clarendon Blvd, 571-257-4600. Menu not yet available
La Tasca, 2900 Wilson Blvd, 703-812-9120. Menu not yet available
Pinzimini, 801 N. Glebe Road, 703-537-4200. Dinner Menu
Tallula, 2761 Washington Blvd, 703-778-5051. Menu not yet available
The Liberty Tavern, 3195 Wilson Blvd, 703-465-9360. Menu not yet available
The Melting Pot, 1110 N. Glebe Road, 703-243-4490. Menu not yet available
Revelers can listen to The Verve Pipe while waiting to watch the fireworks display on the National Mall, which is expected to begin at 9:10 p.m. The band is known for its 90s hit “The Freshmen.”
The event runs from 3:00-10:00 p.m. next Thursday. Live entertainment kicks off at 3:30 p.m. with WAMMIE award winning band “The Grandsons,” followed by the Army Voices ensemble from the U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own” and then D.C. area party band “Jeff from Accounting.”
More details about the bands and all of the activities offered at the celebration can be found online.
Two other popular places to watch the fireworks from Arlington include the Marine Corps Memorial and the Air Force Memorial. Police will be working traffic control in those areas in addition to helping near Long Bridge Park. ACPD has not yet announced a list of road closures.
Anyone heading out to celebrate is reminded that grills, fireworks and alcoholic beverages are prohibited on county and federal park lands.
Disclosure: Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreation is an ARLnow.com advertiser
Flickr pool photo by Clint Farrell
The owners of Cantina Mexicana have opened a new location just off of Columbia Pike.
The new restaurant, at 922 Walter Reed Drive, took over the space previously occupied by Senor Pan. It joins the existing location at 515 23rd Street S. in Crystal City, which has been in business since 1974.
Last year, owner Gloria Arias told ARLnow.com that she had hoped to open the new restaurant in November. It just celebrated its grand opening this past Friday, however.
The restaurant will serve the same “fine Tex-Mex cuisine” as the Crystal City location. In addition to bottled beer, wine and cocktails, the restaurant offers Dos Equis, Pacifico, Modelo Especial and Negra Modelo on tap.
The new Hot Hot Bakery food cart is spending its first day on the streets of Arlington today, featuring freshly baked croissants and other French inspired fare.
Chris Deutsch and his wife Amy Fuller spent a year baking and training in Paris in preparation for opening a food business in Arlington. Deutsch, who is part French, grew up eating the type of pastries featured in his food cart.
“I used to work for the State Department but it wasn’t for me. I wanted to follow my passion and get into the food industry,” he said. “My mother is French so I’ve always loved this kind of baked goods, baguettes, croissants. I just felt that there was a need in this area for that kind of baking.”
“I signed on for that knowing that Enzo (Algarme) and Anastasiya (Laufenberg) would kind of allow me to run my own business at some point with their help, and here we are,” said Deutsch.
Algarme and Laufenberg even allowed Deutsch to use the old cart that helped them get their start in 2007, eventually leading to the opening of a brick and mortar location in 2010.
“This is their old cart that they used. It takes a lot of work to run the restaurant so they couldn’t really use the cart and they offered it up to me,” said Deutsch.
Hot Hot Bakery operates out of a cart and not a truck, so it can stay in one location for most of the day without being required to move. Deutsch plans to spend most of his time serving customers in the Ballston area because it’s so close to Pupatella, where he bakes his pastries in the wee hours of the morning.
Customers can enjoy sandwiches on house made breads baked with organic flours. Eventually there will be lunch specials and perhaps a few different donuts added to the menu. For now, Deutsch says he’s sticking to the basics, such as the croissants he has spent so much time training to make.
“It’s not rocket science but it’s tricky dough. I really wanted to bring the kind of croissants I grew up eating in Paris here. No offense to any bakers or bakeries in this area, but it’s hard to find this kind of baked goods,” said Deutsch. “What I do with the process of making these baked goods is that I let the dough take its time. When it’s ready to move on to the next step, that’s when I’ll go ahead. A lot of bakers will pump stuff full of yeast and put it in a hot chamber to make the process go really fast. But to get nice bread and nice croissants, you have to let it just hang out, basically.”
As far as the name Hot Hot Bakery, that also stems from Deutsch’s time in France.
“My grandmother lived in the south of France along the beaches. Along the beach is a guy who sells hot peanuts. He would go around screaming ‘Hot, hot peanuts!’” Deutsch said. “I was telling my twin brother and sister-in-law that I swear it’s the same guy doing it for the past 25 years. That’s how it came up and it kind of stuck.”
In order to cater to both the lunch and the breakfast crowds, the cart will be open from 8:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m., earlier than many of the other mobile food options. Customers can follow Hot Hot Bakery on Twitter to find out the cart locations on Tuesdays through Fridays.
The restaurant began serving food over the weekend for both its soft opening and grand opening. Owner Homayon Karimy is originally from Afghanistan and has lived in Pakistan, but Arlington is where is heart is.
“This is home, Arlington is home,” he said. “We’re very happy to be here. Every foreigner says America is the land of opportunity and we want to have that opportunity.”
Prior to opening his own restaurant, Karimy worked at the Lebanese Taverna Market (4400 Old Dominion Drive). His years of experience there helped prepare him for his new venture. Plus, he grew particularly fond of the Cherrydale area.
“I’ve worked in this area only a quarter mile away so I know everyone here. I know people at the Cherrydale Hardware store, I know people at the bank, at the Safeway. I know a lot of people here and Arlington is very close to me,” Harimy said. “Cherrydale in particular because I notice that there is a very neighborhood type of feel. People care about each other, it’s a great community.”
Kite Runner Cafe mainly focuses on Afghan food but also has some Lebanese and Indian dishes. The menu is still being tweaked while employees figure out which dishes will and will not work well in the given kitchen space, which Karimy originally anticipated would be larger.
“The first month is always crazy. In the beginning when you open, there’s a lot of stuff that can go wrong. The other day our A.C. unit started leaking, the day of the grand opening, so I’m like, great. Today the soda machine stopped working,” he said. “Everyday there’s something new, but these are the challenges that come with a business. But we’re very positive.”
Another challenge is that immediately upon opening the doors, Kite Runner Cafe was packed. That, Karimy says, is a welcome problem.
Karimy notes that the restaurant is a family based business. A number of his family members help out there including his parents, sister and cousin.
“It’s a family effort, it’s a family business that we all want to share with the rest. We come from a different country with a different culture but we want to bring that to the people,” he said. “Afghanistan has great food. We don’t just want to hold onto that, we want to share it.”
Eventually, plans for Kite Runner Cafe include delivery service and catering. Until then, employees will focus on providing delicious food and friendly service.
“Come and give us a try. We’re very open to feedback,” said Karimy. “We’re here to serve, we’re here to delight people.”
Tonight the restaurant will team up with its neighbors in the 3800 Lofts building, Subway and House of Steep, for a mixer event from 7:00-8:00 p.m. There will be food samples paired with House of Steep’s tea and snacks from Subway.
The new Sweet Leaf Cafe in Courthouse quietly opened its doors this past weekend and handed out free food to customers who stopped in. Now, the restaurant is officially open for business.
Sweet Leaf Cafe moved in at 2200 Wilson Blvd, formerly occupied by Hikaru Sushi. It is the third location, with others in McLean and Vienna. Owner Arita Matini said she’s been wanting to expand into Arlington for a while.
“I love the young environment here, it’s so refreshing,” she said.
Matini believes the cafe stands out because it doesn’t specialize in just one food item. Customers can pick up a little bit of everything, including sandwiches, smoothies, coffee or all day breakfast items. There is also a kids menu and a variety of freshly baked treats.
“We try to do a little bit of everything but also try to keep it simple. We care about providing really good quality food and being part of the community,” said Matini. “Customer service is really big for me. I want to be sure that everyone who comes in is really happy when they leave.”
Matini grew up in Northern Virginia and was an interior design major at Marymount University. She was inspired to get into the restaurant business during her commute to and from Marymount because she felt there were too many chain restaurants in the area. She sought help from her mom, who owns Sweet Stuff in McLean. Matini says all the members of her family now play some role at Sweet Leaf Cafe.
“It wasn’t really something that we thought we were going to do, it was one of those things that kind of just happened. We all loved it and it was successful and we wanted to open another one,” said Matini. “My parents definitely helped me out. Without them, this probably wouldn’t have happened.”
From the couches in the lounge area to the doorknobs functioning as coat hooks to the pieces of an old chicken coop serving as a holder for bags of chips, Matini’s interior design education shows through. She travels around the area searching for unique antiques to adorn the restaurant. She describes the vibe as “farm fresh, country, like your mother’s home.” The free sunflower seeds placed on the table for customers to munch on also add to the country feel.
If things go well with the new location, Matini would like to expand into other areas of Arlington, such as Rosslyn. She hopes to have a grand opening celebration in a few weeks. Until then, the staff will continue serving the curious customers who have been steadily coming in.
“It’s been a good welcome to the neighborhood,” said Matini. “Everybody’s been really nice and welcoming.”