You might momentarily forget your hunger when you step into Curry Mantra's striking, newly expanded dining room, where vivid Indian artwork speckles the warm orange and yellow walls. Your appetite is reawakened, however, when you peer into the large kitchen window and catch sight of juicy morsels of lamb, salmon, and chicken waiting to be cooked in tandoori ovens. When discussing his decision to install a kitchen window with a food critic Tom Sietsema from the Washington Post, owner Asad Sheikh explained, "I want my customers to see what's going on in the tandoor." He's proud of the work that goes on in his kitchen, which earned Curry Mantra a spot on Northern Virginia magazine's 50 Best Restaurants list in 2011 and 2012, and Washingtonian Magazine's Best of Fairfax 2013. His chefs pull culinary inspiration from all four corners of India, folding lamb, chicken, and seafood into a wide variety of flavorful curries and fiery vindaloos. To craft their goat biryani rice dish, the chefs use a generations-old recipe passed down to Sheikh from his grandmother, peppering aromatic basmati rice and tender goat meat with saffron and nuts.
Silverware clinks against glass tabletops in the dining room, where diners sip on glasses of wine and creamy mango lassi. Come lunchtime, a buffet table will stretch across the room, lined with silver trays of freshly made dishes. On the weekends, the eatery hosts live music, as traditional flutists and drummers play classical Indian music and the theme from Three's Company upon request.
Executive chef Gian Piero Mazzi fell in love with food at a young age, when he was growing up in the Liguria region of Italy. His mother’s passion for cuisine planted the seeds for his infatuation, which he cultivated during formal culinary schooling in Florence as well as an internship in France. After honing his skills in the kitchen, Mazzi ventured across the pond, earning new fans stateside when he showcased his recipes at an event at the James Beard House in 2002.
But that was just the beginning. Today, at two locations of Piero's Corner, he and his team hand make an assortment of authentic pastas, including ravioli stuffed with Maine lobster or a blend of spinach and portobello mushrooms. The menu highlights Chef Mazzi's hometown cuisine, with a focus on fresh seafood. Entrees include blackened tilapia and shrimp served with fruit salsa as well as scallops wrapped in prosciutto and arranged on a bed of spaghetti carbonara. Pizzas are made to order and baked in a brick oven, as are calzones stuffed with ingredients such as ricotta, ham, spinach, and tomato sauce. A gluten-free menu features pastas and doughs imported from Italy, whose climate doesn’t support gluten.
Both of Piero's Corner’s locations facilitate mini European getaways, with brick arches framing murals of Italian landscapes, and columns reminiscent of classical architecture supporting their ceilings. In Fairfax, diners can eat or sip wine al fresco beneath red and white umbrellas.
At Choices By Shawn, head chef and owner Shawn Warner welcomes the challenge of creating gluten-free and allergy-accommodating fare while still capturing the essence of classic American cuisine. Shawn rules the kitchen each day with an eye for nutrition, baking gluten-free breads, muffins, and cookies onsite. Warm loaves of the allergy-free bread uphold the menu's list of sandwiches. Though the bill of fare caters to modern tastes, Choices By Shawn's setting is decidedly vintage. Nestled inside the Moore House, a historic landmark that was erected in 1840, the dining room exudes an old-timey sophistication with crisp white tablecloths and side-by-side sets of french doors. In the outdoor garden, eaters devour plates filled from a buffet brunch. Alternatively, guests can enjoy teatime, complete with housemade clotted cream and scones, on a wraparound porch where rocking chairs sway like seasick first mates.
At Cee Fine Thai Dining, chefs assemble stunningly arranged plates of authentic Thai fare, separating meals and sauces for an interactive dining experience, or arranging disparate components in an artful stack to create a new twist on a familiar dish. This culinary runway show honors Thailand's cooking traditions at every turn, earning kudos from the Washington Post for serving "food that tastes as good as it looks." Flavors such as sweet yellow pineapple complement the spicy red sauce of a roasted-duck curry, and tableside clay pots throw aromatic steam diners’ way to announce a mélange of shrimp, mussels, and rice. Whether enjoyed on the patio or amid the dining room's ripe orange walls, luscious desserts including key-lime pie conclude meals on a tropical note. The restaurant also hosts live music, wine tastings, and cooking classes, helping diners liberate inner chefs and pent-up running men.
Since opening their first location in 1996, Robeks' associates and franchise owners across the country have been passionate about the benefits of healthier eating, and what they can do to help guests maintain active and healthy lifestyles, all through portable smoothies. Customers can step up to the counter and order from a menu of fresh, premium ingredients in unique, made-to-order combinations. Robeks Premium Fruit Smoothies aims to create innovative ways to reach the daily recommended 9-13 servings of fruits and vegetables without compromising on flavor. Each Robeks Premium Fruit Smoothies location makes a concerted effort to support the neighborhood it resides in, through local organizations, such as Save the Children.
Through an entrance marked by natural woods and a screen of latticed rice paper, the interior of Cafe Ima opens up into an expansive dining space replete with a sushi bar and rows of hibachi tables where chefs deftly manipulate fresh, sizzling ingredients on steel tableside grills. Crafting an extensive menu, highly trained chefs slice, dice, and flip succulent morsels of steak, seafood, and veggies on flat-topped hibachis to create a culinary experience more entertaining than Penn and Teller's famous cooking show in Vegas. Meanwhile, Café Ima's experts behind the sushi bar slice slabs of fatty tuna and freshwater eel into sushi and sashimi, and craft specialty maki rolls filled with deep-fried shrimp, smoked salmon, and broiled eel.