Arlington, VA

With the announcement that Ray’s the Steaks would be closing Saturday (June 15) after 17 years, finding seating at the iconic restaurant has become a herculean challenge in its final days .

Last night (Thursday), owner Michael Landrum stood outside the restaurant with a clipboard, taking orders from dozens of locals hoping for a spot at the restaurant in its closing weekend.

Ray’s the Steaks is a no-frills steakhouse tucked away in the Courthouse neighborhood. In its final two weeks, the restaurant has stopped taking reservations and is working on a first-come, first-serve basis.

The system left hopeful carnivores herding to the entrance, leaving their names and table-sizes with Landrum. Either he would eventually find a spot for them or, if not, tell them to try again the next night.

A paper sign taped to the front door informed the gaggle of stranded steak-hungry locals when the next tables would be open. However, a new sign eventually replaced it, announcing the closure of the waitlists, with the hopefuls left to try again Friday.

Outside the restaurant, Landrum was too busy to talk, but noted curtly that “any interview questions you might have should be answered by the crowd outside.”

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Mediterranean restaurant House of Mandi may be gone from 5515 Wilson Blvd, but mandi devotees won’t have to go far to find the eponymous dish.

King of Koshary — a new Egyptian restaurant that opened a month ago in the former House of Mandi location — includes Mediterranean dishes like mandi on its menu.

“We’re an Egyptian restaurant, but we knew a lot of people really liked mandi, so we incorporated it into our menu,” said Ayob Mentry, owner of King of Koshary.

Like House of Mandi, King of Koshary features a variety of dishes from Mentry’s home, but centers around one. In this case it’s koshari: a vegan rice, macaroni and lentils dish topped with chickpeas, tomato sauce and fried onions. Koshari is a popular fixture of the roadside street-food scene in Egypt.

“King of Koshary isn’t a name, it is a title,” the restaurant’s Facebook page boasted in a post.

Mentry said the $8.99 meal is the restaurant’s signature dish. Other entrees include a variety of kabobs, oxtail, and seafood prepared in traditional Egyptian styles.

The restaurant includes dining-in or takeout options. On Sundays from 8-10 p.m., it also has an open seafood buffet.

The restaurant is currently hiring, as much of the work is currently done by Mentry running back and forth from greeting visitors to preparing the food.

King of Koshary is Mentry’s first restaurant and is a love letter to Egypt, both in modern food and ancient-style decorations. King Tutankhamun features prominently in the artwork.

“It feels great [to be open],” said Mentry. “It’s a challenge, but not taking that risk would have felt like a bigger risk.”

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A building in one of the highest foot traffic areas of Rosslyn is getting a big upgrade.

The owner of the Rosslyn Metro Center building at 1700 N. Moore Street announced today that it will be starting construction on a $35 million renovation project later this month. The building, which is next to the Metro station, will also be getting a new food hall and fitness studio.

“As part of this effort, the building’s exterior, lobby and common areas will be totally renovated and will include a state-of-the-art conference facility and flexible work space,” according to a press release. “The addition of new retail, a 30,000 square foot fitness studio with a dedicated outdoor terrace, and the chef-driven destination food hall by Oz Rey housing 12 artisanal food stalls and two lounges that extend onto an outdoor terrace overlooking the streetscape.”

Oz Rey, an Austin, Texas-based “culinary experience company,” plans to fill the dozen food halls with locally-based vendors offering “premium coffee, as well as things like a burger/sandwich concept, Asian stalls, and a fresh seafood purveyor,” the Washington Business Journal reports.

Arlington’s first food hall — a term that essentially refers to an upgraded version of a traditional mall food court, populated by local chefs and vendors instead of chains — opened earlier this year in Ballston and continues to add vendors.

A press release with more on the upgrades to Rosslyn Metro Center, which is now being called Rosslyn City Center, is below, after the jump.

Photos (1 and 2) via American Real Estate Partners, (3) via Google Maps

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The Sloppy Mama’s brick-and-mortar location at 5731 Lee Highway is about two weeks from opening, according to co-owner Joe Neuman.

The sit-down restaurant announced in January will be the second Sloppy Mama’s location in Arlington, but Neuman said the restaurant will be very different from the Ballston Quarter eatery.

“We will have a full barbecue menu,” said Neuman. “The food hall is a quick service location with a limited menu for a lunch crowd. Here, we’re not in a hurry.”

Sloppy Mama’s started out as a food truck, which currently sits outside the restaurant and will still hang around for events after the restaurant opens.

Neuman said the new location will have a little bit of everything and serve meat by the pound rather than plate. The larger space will allow Sloppy Mama’s to offer a wider variety of barbecue options, so Neuman said in contrast to the traditional plate combo style meals, if someone wants to come in for just slabs of cooked meat, they can get just slabs of cooked meat.

Inside, the restaurant has a very traditional southern barbecue joint feeling, with a metal food counter and long wooden tables in one big, open room.

According to Neuman, the contractors for the restaurant are just making the finishing touches of the restaurant, like sanding and staining the table.

“It’s a lot of little things,” Neuman said. “Finger’s crossed: we’ll open just after Father’s Day.”

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The owner of Ambar and Baba in Clarendon is planning to open the last piece of a three-tier set of Mexican eateries at 2900 Wilson Blvd on Monday (June 10).

TTT Mexican Diner — a street food-style eatery on the first floor — and Buena Vida — a more traditional Mexico City dining experience — are both already open. But the rooftop cantina called Buena Vida Social Club will complete the set.

Ivan Iricanin, the owner of Buena Vida Social Club, is not Mexican, nor is general manager Marijana Skerlic. Both are Serbian, but worked together with celebrity chef Richard Sandoval, from whom they developed a passion for Mexican cuisine. For Buena Vida Social Club, Iricanin said he is working with chef Gerardo Vázquez Lugo, whose restaurant Nicos in Mexico City has earned acclaim.

The restaurant boasts a variety of seafood options and food from Acapulco with prices ranging from $9 to $16. Drinks range from cocktails served in fresh coconuts and frozen margaritas to agave-infused sangria, priced from $8 to $80.

The restaurant is open daily from 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Brunch hours on Saturdays and Sundays are planned to open sometime in July.

Opening restaurants in direct competition with each other can be hazardous, but Iricanin said he’s confident that the concepts for each of the Mexican eateries and the other nearby restaurants are distinct enough that they won’t poach each other’s business.

“I think Arlington needs a lounge,” said Skerlic. “This is not a sports bar. The whole place has the feel of a Mexican lounge. We want to give it a very social feel.”

Skerlic’s background is in tending bar, a job she’s worked since she was 17, so her passion is for the mix of new cocktails being offered at Buena Vida Social Club.

“I feel proud,” Skerlic said. “It’s not my restaurant, but to be able to run it… that feels special.”

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Local students, teachers and friends are invited to dine on Arlington-planted and grown lettuce at an event this week.

The Reevesland Learning Garden — part of the park that was split from the now-privately-owned Reevesland farmhouse — is planning a “Fiesta Salad-Bration” on Friday (June 7) from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. at Ashlawn Elementary School (5950 8th Road N.). The salad celebration is a twice-yearly program.

“Hundreds of Ashlawn Elementary students and neighbors have planted and grown a huge crop of luscious organic lettuces in the Reevesland Learning Garden and in three neighborhoods that will be served at the Fiesta Salad-Bration for more than 800 students, teachers and Arlington friends,” Joan Horwitt, president of the Reevesland Learning Center, said in an email.

Horwitt noted that the salad will also include a vinaigrette dressing made by Ashlawn neighbor and Reevesland volunteer Ron Battocchi.

Photo via Reevesland Learning Center/Facebook

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Kora — an Italian eatery at 2250 Crystal Drive in Crystal City — seems closed, but with no visible indication of whether the closure permanent or not.

In addition to the doors being locked and the website saying “closed,” staff at Jaleo — the tapas restaurant next door — said the restaurant had been closed for at least a couple of weeks.

Kora bills itself as a restaurant, bar and lounge, with a menu offering various pizzas and pastas. The restaurant was founded by Morou Ouattara, a quasi-celebrity chef who also owns Lily and the Cactus in D.C.’s NoMa neighborhood.

The restaurant was most recently in the news this past January when it, along with several other Crystal City restaurants, offered free food for federal employees affected by the shutdown.

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Slapfish — a seafood restaurant featuring locally-sourced fish tacos and lobster rolls — is planning to open next week in Ballston Quarter.

“We plan to open Ballston end of next week,” Andrew Gruel, Slapfish owner and occasional Food Network judge, wrote to ARLnow. “We very well may open a few days before next Friday, but nothing guaranteed as we are still awaiting a few products, etc.”

According to the Slapfish website, the goal of the restaurant is to make eating seafood “fun and sexy again.”

The menu offers a variety of seafood dishes, from starters like “chowder fries” — french fries smothered in clam chowder and bacon — to Hawaiian shrimp and pineapple bowls.

The restaurant door notes that Slapfish will be open daily from 11 a.m.-9 p.m.

Slapfish isn’t the only eatery planned to open in Ballston Quarter over the next few weeks. Ted’s Bulletin and Sidekick Bakery — a bakery and pastry shop that also serves milkshakes, coffee and tea — are also planning June openings.

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Two new Ballston eateries are reportedly opening over the next two weeks.

Sidekick — a new bakery and “confectionary concept” — is scheduled to open on Monday, June 10 at Ballston Quarter (4238 Wilson Blvd), according to a press release.

A spokeswoman described the bakery as the “hybrid intersection of the whimsical and playful with the familiar,” like offering cereal or candy flavors for standard bakery items.

The restaurant is also planned to offer frozen drinks, like milkshakes.

Sidekick owner Salis Holdings is also opening a new location of its Ted’s Bulletin restaurant chain next door. While both restaurants are separate concepts, they do share a head pastry chef.

Ted’s Bulletin, known for its nostalgic desserts, was one of the restaurants that won approval for patio dining last year from the Arlington County Board.

Staff at another Ted’s Bulletin location said the Ballston location is planning to open late next week.

The press release about Sidekick is below, after the jump.

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Arlington County is turning trash into treasure by growing thousands of pounds of fresh produce for a local food bank using compost from residents.

Last February, Arlington’s Solid Waste Bureau began a pilot program to create compost from residents’ food scraps. Now some of that compost is coming full circle and being used in some of the local gardens that supply fresh produce for Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC).

AFAC is a nonprofit that receives around a million and a half pounds of food donations annually. The goods comes from several sources: grocery stores, private food drives, farmers markets and farms, and gardens around the region, according to spokesman Jeremiah Huston. Part of that comes from its “Plot Against Hunger” program, which cultivates the fresh produce.

AFAC staffer Puwen Lee manages this program, which she helped grow back in 2007 after noticing the food bank distributed frozen vegetables even in the summer months.

“And I thought, ‘This is really strange because I got so many vegetables in my garden,'” she said. After mentioning it to the nonprofit’s leadership, Lee said the director dropped off 600 packs of seeds on her desk and left it up to her.

Since then, Lee, who grew up gardening in Michigan, estimates the program has received over 600,000 pounds of fresh produce and has grown to include gardens from the Arlington Central Library, schools, and senior centers — and now it’s experimenting with using waste from residents themselves.

Trading trash for treasure

The Solid Waste Bureau collects food waste in two green barrels behind a rosebush by its headquarters in the Trades Center in Shirlington. The waste is then dumped into a 10-foot-high, 31-foot-long earth flow composting stem that cooks the materials under a glass roof and generates 33 cubic yards of compost in about two weeks.

When Solid Waste Bureau Chief Erik Grabowsky opens the doors to the machine, the heady smell of wine wafts out, revealing a giant auger slowly whirring through the blackened bed, turning the composting food.

Grabowsky said the final mix is cut with wood chips — something not always ideal for most vegetable gardens. But Grabowksy says it’s an “evolving” mixture that the department will tweak over time and which he plans to test in the department’s own garden next to the machine.

After the wood chips, the mix is shifted through a hulking “trammel screen” and distributed to AFAC and the Department of Parks and Recreation.

On a recent weekday, workers Travis Haddock and Lee Carrig were busy in Bobcats shuffling dirt off the paved plaza Grabowksy says will host the department’s first open house next Saturday, June 8 to show how the recycling system works. Normally, they manage repairs to the auger and the flow of compost in and out of the machine.

(When asked what their favorite part of the job was, they joked it was when the auger “stops in the middle and you got to climb in there.”)

The department’s free June event, called “Rock-and-Recycle,” will run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the department’s lot in the Trades Center and will feature music and food trucks. Attendees will also be able to check out the compost for themselves, as well as the nearby Rock Crusher and Tub Grinder.

From farm to food bank

AFAC is currently experimenting with using the compost for one of its gardens. The nonprofit also makes its own mix using plant scraps and weeds pulled up from the beds.

Near AFAC’s Shirlington headquarters, volunteers run a garden that donates all its yield to the food bank. Boy Scouts originally built the raised beds that now make up 550 square feet of gardening space, and grow lettuce, beets, spinach, green beans, kale, tomatoes, and radishes, on a plot near a water pump station along S. Walter Reed Drive.

Plot Against Hunger manager Lee said the space was originally planned as a “nomadic garden” in 2013, but thanks to the neighboring Fort Barnard Community and the Department of Water and Sewer, it became a permanent fixture on Walter Reed Drive.

Certified Master Gardener Catherine Connor has managed the organic garden for the last three years. She says she’s helped set up the rain barrels and irrigation system that waters the beds in addition to supervising the planting. Now the beds are thick with greens and bumblebees hum between the flowers of the spinach plants that have gone to seed.

“Last year, we had just an incredible growing season,” Lee said. “From the farmers markets alone we picked up something like 90,000 pounds [of food.]”

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Amid difficulties for American shopping malls, Arlington’s two malls are betting on new eateries to turn more diners into shoppers.

Management at the newly-renovated Ballston Quarter and the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City say elevated dining options — from Ballston Quarter’s trendy local eateries to newer, healthier options at Pentagon City mall — are becoming an increasingly important part of mall design.

Commercial real estate experts say food options are now the key driver of mall traffic.

A new study released by the International Council of Shopping Centers shows that 40 percent of customers choose which mall they go to based solely on the food there, and nearly 38 percent of those surveyed said healthy options were a priority, according to CNBC.

“People increasingly value experience-based shopping and place higher expectations on how they spend their time,” said Will Voegele, senior vice president of mixed-use development for Brookfield Properties, in an email to ARLnow. “We designed the revitalized Ballston Quarter with the community in mind and our vision reflects a strong focus on experiential retail, innovative food and beverage concepts, and diverse entertainment offerings to create a new all-season neighborhood experience with the density of an urban center that is purposeful, thoughtful and unique.”

Voegele said part of the redesign for Ballston Quarter was to maintain a focus on local vendors for the 25,000 square-foot food hall.

“The uniform array of national names that we associate with the traditional food court does not provide the richness and authenticity that is so important to our mission at Ballston Quarter,” Voegele said. “Families and young professionals still want grab-and-go, but they are also looking for better quality and healthy dining options. Food halls offer the perfect solution in this case.”

Voegele said the new food hall design has gradually supplanted the traditional fast food-oriented food court of the archetypical ’80s and ’90s malls.

“The fundamental design of the traditional mall no longer supports the way people like to shop and dine as consumers are craving visually stimulating and creative experiences,” Voegele said. “The boxy retail behemoths of yesterday are just not practical for today’s landscape.”

Healthy options were also a big part of the expansion and renovation of the Pentagon City mall.

“Fashion Centre at Pentagon City has introduced enhanced dining options over the recent years, including Matchbox American Kitchen + Spirit, honeygrow, Sugar Factory and Shake Shack,” management at the mall said in an email. “In addition, the center added modern furniture, finishes and additional seating during the renovation in 2016 to offer an even better experience for shoppers visiting the dining pavilion.”

But does this translate into sales at other retail options in the mall? Voegele said the Ballston Quarter’s food hall, Quarter Market, has seen consistent traffic across all age groups — and events like Quarterfest last weekend boosted its local profile. The study said transactions increase as much as 25 percent at malls with quality food and beverage options, with shoppers who eat at the mall spending 15 percent more per trip.

Shoppers inside Ballston Quarter weren’t so sure. While several said they came for the food hall and loved the dining options, many also said this wouldn’t necessarily translate into going into the upstairs part of the mall to shop.

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