The inside joke behind the name of Lara Stuckey's bakery goes all the way back to her childhood. As she told the Fairfax Times, "When my sister and I said silly things, we would call them 'fluffy thoughts.'" The reference to her youth is appropriate, considering that's when Lara got her start at baking by whipping up treats in her Easy-Bake oven. Her pursuit of culinary skills continued throughout her life, including during a period when she would design cakes at night after returning home from her full-time therapist job. At the urging of her friends, Lara eventually left her job to dedicate herself to her true passion at Fluffy Thoughts Cakes.
The bakery looks as cheerful as the story behind its development. Bright baubles hang from the walls, spotlighting display cases of specialty cakes and cupcakes made with Valrhona chocolate, pure European butter, and fresh fruit. Cupcake flavors rotate frequently, but they typically include inventive creations such as an apple cupcake with bacon bits and a pina colada cupcake that gives you the ability to play the piano if you practice the piano a lot while you eat it. Lara is also a longtime painter and sketch artist, so sculpting towering specialty cakes with intricate designs and imaginative shapes comes naturally to her.
At the age of 13, Domenico Cornacchia was already forming dough into pasta by hand, building manual dexterity that would further his ambitions of becoming a chef. He grew up working in restaurants in northern Italy before moving to the United States, where he opened his own trattoria-style eatery, Assaggi Osteria. The restaurant has been lauded by local publications, such as Viva Tysons and Washingtonian magazine.
Chef Domenico Cornacchia’s authentic menu centers on steaks and seafood, as well as house-made pastas and fresh produce garnered from farmers' markets and Amish farms. Hand-painted plates stand out from golden-yellow walls, which flank dark wood trim and rustic chairs, giving the space the European air of an old-country inn. Though the main room seats as many as 70 guests, the tables leave an arm’s length of space between each other, so that conversations flow freely without crashing into each other or causing sitcom-style confusion. In the outdoor area, lush greenery surrounds tables, ensuring that diners won’t be spotted by roving census workers.
If Cafe Taj’s large stone fountain could talk, the rippling waters would still keep mum, because the restaurant’s authentic Indian cuisine can speak for itself. Warm naan and whole-wheat roti sop up creamy curry sauce from main dishes, and the black tables are loaded down with charcoal-roasted tandoori dishes for pairing with both wine and beer from a fully stocked bar. After sating sugar cravings with rose- and cardamom-scented sweets, patrons can question servers about their catering services or use the dining room’s Romanesque columns to kick off a backflip in honor of an evening well spent.
High-backed, black leather sectional sofas set the stage for seriously fun lounging at the expansive, sprawling Iris Lounge. The sultrily, dimly lit nightspot features drooping lamps that spill red light across the lounge's four red-felted billiards tables as a weekend DJ spins floor-filling party anthems. Throughout the week, salsa, live jazz, and ladies’ nights entertain patrons who would otherwise keep occupied by luring skunks into the crawlspaces of neighbors’ homes. An exclusive members' only cigar bar offers up vintage scotches for smokers, and a menu offers calamari, crab cakes, and customizable grilled cheeses.
Evo's expansive and eclectic menu wards off midday malaise with an all-tapas lunch, with most dishes priced at $5 each. Coworkers can bond over a round of office gossip—or at the very least, office speculative fan fiction—paired with a few indulgent orders of ravioli filled with butternut squash and smothered in wild mushrooms and sage cream, plump garlic-coated shrimp bathing in a white wine sauce, or sautéed baby spinach and chorizo. If you have the time and an urge to splurge, the Valenciana paella's ($13.75) symphony of chicken, chorizo, scallops, shrimp, mussels, clams, piquillo peppers, and saffron rice is worth the 10-minute wait.
In the dead of night in 1976, the Abi-Najm family boarded a cargo ship bringing only what they could carry; an escape from Civil War in Lebanon called for a quick getaway. They traveled across the ocean to safety in Arlington, Virginia, where they were able to open a small cafe in 1979. To save money, they changed the eatery’s name from “Athenian Taverna” to “Lebanese Taverna” so that they only had to update one word on the eatery’s marquee.
From these modest beginnings grew a series of eateries that today comprises of six cafes and four quick-service cafés, all still operated by the Abi-Najm clan. One look at the menu explains the success: chicken shawarma, spicy hummus, lamb tartare—all Lebanese staples that helped the restaurant earn a spot on Northern Virginia magazine's list of 25 Iconic Eats. There's even kibbeh, or stuffed meatballs, which blend ground beef, lamb, almonds, and pine nuts into fried spheres suitable for felling miniature bowling pins on top of the table before entrees arrive. The decor is as striking as the cuisine; inside the Bethesda location, light filters through the colored glass lanterns that decorate the dining room.