As ceiling fans cool down the dining room at The Ice House Cafe, plates of American regional seafood arrive tableside, treating tongues to a blend of East Coast, West Coast, and southern recipes fused with French, Asian, and Italian flavors. Across the way, at the chilled oyster bar—flanked by framed vintage photographs and brass and woodworked detailing—chefs ladle out scoops of half-shell clams and oysters, each autographed by the sea captain who caught them. And on Friday and Saturday nights, diners get down and sip on the rhythms and beats generated by live jazz performances.
From its waterfront perch on the Prince William marina surveying the Occoquan River, this delectably lively eatery boasts fresh sea and land fare along with friendly, attentive service in both its indoor and outdoor dining areas. Settle in with menu offerings such as the mussels, which flex their succulence in marinara or garlic-infused sauce ($11), then cruise down the flavor highway while clutching a crab-cake sandwich ($13) or doffing a beret to the french dip, horseradish-laden beef seasoned and topped with gooey swiss cheese ($11). The eight-ounce filet mignon packs a pugilist punch of juiciness ($23), and the blackened mahi-mahi enjoys its reign atop linguini while being flanked by shrimp in a beurre-blanc sauce ($26).
It's early in the day when the airplanes land on Virginia soil, bearing fresh seafood from such far-off places as Maine, Hawaii, and Japan. Lumbering trucks transport the cargo to the little town of Sterling, where Hooked Seafood & Sushi Bar chefs await to fillet and prepare the catches for the night's dinner. The sushi chefs carve plump morsels of eel, tuna, and scallops in traditional Japanese style before rolling them into intricate rolls adorned with mango, caviar, and tempura. Meanwhile, other chefs tend to grills of sizzling teriyaki dishes and simmering pans of lemongrass halibut and stuffed trout. The Hooked team has been crafting these fresh sushi dishes and innovative specialties for the last six years, earning accolades from Northern Virginia Magazine and Taste of Reston in the process.
Vibrant photographs of the chef's dishes flash across the flat screen in the sleek dining room, casting a glow on the tall stools that line the sushi bar. Cushy booths surround vibrant red tables, and glimmering curtains dangle above the dining room. On the outdoor patio, a dancing fountain gushes with streams of water alongside a central fireplace roaring with flames. The staff strives to recreate an apropos oceanic atmosphere at the restaurant, lighting up seating areas in shades of turquoise and sea-green and requiring all servers to master basic seal calls.
At one table, a diner enjoys a forkful of flaky crab meat, dipped in a pool of butter. Across the room, a steaming plate of crawfish challenges eaters with nimble fingers and an appetite for seafood. Crafting each of these succulent dishes are the chefs of New Orleans Cajun Seafood, who help bring the sea to each table—salted and spiced to taste, of course. The restaurant's menu features all the highlights of Southern-style shellfish, including shrimp, blue crab, and clams, as well as catfish and flounder. Diners can request those denizens of the deep be fried in batter, stuffed into a po' boy, or Cajun boiled, and an experienced chef will cook up a fresh batch—except when the live crabs are busy reenacting scenes from "Jaws."
McLean 1910’s executive chef, Gregory Webb, prepares elegant American dishes that emphasize the natural flavors of his ingredients. Dinner diners can nibble on the chilean sea bass ($31), one of many sustainably fished seafood options, or chew through hormone-free meats such as a full rack of baby-back ribs in a savory rub of spices ground in-house ($26). For lunch send teeth crunching through a thick turkey club sandwich ($12), or challenge steamed jumbo mussels ($15) to a feat of gastronomic strength. When the dessert saxophone sounds, diners can gorge on key-lime pie or analyze the multiple levels of cake, hazelnut, and anxiety of influence in the chocolate mousse.
When creating their inventive, American-style dishes, the chefs at Ironwood Tavern work with nearby growers and livestock producers to ensure only the freshest seasonal ingredients land in the kitchen's wood-fired grill. Beyond the artfully-presented meals, Ironwood Tavern prides itself on repeat diners. Staffers continuously work to create a friendly atmosphere where families feel right at home, even offering to realistically roll their eyes when parents say something totally lame.
Local food and good old-fashioned friendliness only make up two parts of Ironwood Tavern's three-pronged equation, though—the other component is unmistakably beer. Ironwood makes their passion for the hoppy beverage, local and otherwise, immediately apparent at the bar, which features 24 taps that pour a regularly rotating selection of craft beer. The tavern's dedication to great brews doesn't just stop at the draft handles, however—an on-staff craft beer expert actually works with the executive chef to help create dishes that thoroughly complement the bar's selection. Good beer is such a priority that sometimes, the development of a dish begins with the beer selection and goes "backwards" from there.