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, 2012, 2013, and 2014, as well as 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.
To say Capital Teas? founders, Manelle and Peter Martino, know tea might be a bit of an understatement. Fifth-generation tea merchant Manelle?s great-great-grandfather, Francis Van Reyk, was a Dutch tea planter who immigrated in the 1870s to present-day Sri Lanka, where he planted and managed the Diyagama Tea Estate, from which the Martinos now source their Great Grandfather?s tea. Manelle?s family has been in the tea trade ever since, a tradition she has carried to her own specialty tea business, which has boutique locations throughout the Washington D.C., Northern Virginia and Maryland area. Additionally, Peter has become a popular speaker at World Tea Expos, where he frequently educates and inspires the tea world.
In addition to tea from Sri Lanka, Capital Teas carries more than 200 loose teas and herbal infusions from 18 countries including India, China, Japan, Malawi, and Kenya. A sniffing wall dispenses wafts of black, oolong, and green teas, and knowledgeable employees drift around the store?s tasting stations to explain each flavor?s nuances.
Capital Teas also pairs customers with accompaniments such as teapots, infusers, treats, and artisanal honey. In-store patrons may sample free tea samples?which are brewed fresh daily?while online purchasers receive a free sample with every order.
Each of the 100 cupcake flavors served at Cupcakes Actually was conceived by resident pastry chef and self-described cupcake snob Sue. Sue's mastery of mini cakes actually began in her home kitchen, where she often whipped up treats for family and friends. Word-of-mouth made her cupcakes so popular, though, that she and her sister, Jen, decided to open a dedicated cupcake bakery so they could keep up with the orders without outsourcing work to elves. Today, they run not one, but two cupcakeries where the sweet repertoire includes four original basic flavors?chocolate fudge, flourless chocolate, red velvet, and vanilla bean?and a slew of specialty filled and seasonal varieties ranging from banana split to chocolate Guinness. But while cupcakes are the specialty, they aren't the only sweet treats being churned out: Sue and Jen also oversee a gourmet coffee bar, and make breakfast pastries and creamy gelato in-house.
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.
Lanterns cast a warm glow through red, orange, and yellow fabrics to illuminate the rich wood accents in Asian Bistro's dining room. Guests sit at polished wooden tables and around an open sushi bar where meticulous chefs slice fresh sashimi and pack sushi rolls with fresh yellowtail, shrimp, and eel. In the kitchen, the culinary traditions of Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, China, Malaysia, and Indonesia blend together to create flavorful entrees, such as lobster pad thai or Korean-style short ribs. After polishing off gyoza appetizers, guests can insulate yakisoba noodles with unique add-ins of cashews and pineapple, or impress a date by eating miso soup using only one chopstick.