FOOD: A Little Gem in Western Maryland

March 8, 2013 by · 3 Comments 

Falls Church Times Staff
March 6, 2013

As we settled into our sitting area a few winter weekends ago, my husband said “this really is a little gem” referring to our cabin at Savage River Lodge. After just under three hours away from the City of Falls Church and after a lovely stop for lunch in Frederick at Family Meal, our drive dipped down into a canyon, across a meadow stream and then up Savage River Mountain.

In the winter, if you do not have four or all wheel drive, you either have to call to be picked up or don’t bother coming. The road is plowed but still needs extra traction to get up to the main lodge and even some cars (Audis) still don’t make it. If you try to chance it and get stuck, it is a $250 charge to get pulled out. This seclusion is worth it because at the end of the road is a luxurious and sumptuous get away for you and possibly your favorite furry friend.

Once at the main lodge, you feel like you have returned to your family’s mountain retreat. Rough hewn walls,  comfy chairs and a huge fireplace welcome you to your retreat. This lodge has seen many of my family celebrations – birthday, anniversaries, holidays and the all important get a way.

Savage River Lodge is set on 45 acres surrounded by 750 acres of the Savage River State Forest in western Maryland. You are very far removed from traffic congestion, hub-bub of urban life and most importantly TV or electronics of any kind. The lodge was started by Jan and Mike Russell after forming Nature of Business, a management development program founded on the principle that nature can teach us personally and organizationally how to succeed.

After purchasing the land in 1990, the long road was started. Literally as the road and bridge to the main lodge was not finished until 1998 with the lodge and cabins completed in 2001. Each of the 18 cabins is a serene get away with a loft for sleeping, a cozy sitting room with gas burning stove and a porch.  All the cabins are similar in layout but offer different views of the forest, which is right outside your door. You can step out of your cabin and be on one of the many hiking or cross country skiing trails. The favorite and easiest trail being the Bodhi’s Green trail which circumvents the main property and allows secluded views of the forest and its valley’s to and from the main lodge or just to take a walk.

In following Jan and Mike’s environmental vision, many “green” enhancements have been made along the way to support their business venture. Biodiesel was first used in 2008 utilizing the restaurant’s cooking oil to power all of the equipment on the property and in 2010 350 solar panels were installed on the hillside behind the Main Lodge. Mike has done all this himself and provides many tidbits to interested parties. These conversations have been helpful to my family as Virginia and the City of Falls Church seems to be void of any green energy practitioners.

The lodge has a restaurant that may serve most of your meals. You do receive a lovely morning basket with muffins, juice and the daily lodge newsletter. The lodge restaurant serves breakfast/brunch/lunch on the weekends from 9am to 2pm and dinner all evenings. You can go off property for your meals, but you really won’t want to. A leisurely walk through the forest to the lodge where a sumptuous meal awaits is what getaways are all about.

During the warmer weather the restaurant offers a lovely porch with a commanding view of the meadow and surrounding forests. Hummingbird feeders and flower filled planters frame the view. In the winter, the dining room just beyond the bar is warm and cozy. The lodge works with several area farms for their ingredients including a new partnership with Firefly Farms for their goat cheese.

The new chef Tylor Dinteman has significantly expanded the menu including several vegetarian options including Grilled Trumpet Mushrooms served over black Beluga lentils and Heirloom Bean Cassoulet served with mushrooms and root vegetables. The rest of the menu has also been expanded to include several new dishes for brunch and dinner.

For breakfast I was enthralled with “The Hunter” omelet with caramelized mushrooms, melted leeks, smoked Gouda and wilted arugula. Omelets sometimes are too big and too wet for me, but this omelet was so perfect that I had it both mornings. The caramelized mushrooms and melted leeks supported the smoked Gouda, so the overall taste was warm and inviting with just enough bite from the arugula.  Maple glazed bacon – maple from trees on property – was thick and crunchy.

For dinner the Lodge Meatloaf is a favorite with its unique bland of wild meats, pork and beef with fresh herbs, spice and local maple syrup that is wrapped in apple wood smoked bacon, finished with cabernet mushroom demi glace. The new menu includes several new items such as a Lamb Cassoulet a lamb loin with braised lamb, Brie Stuffed Chicken Breast and a duo of Pork which includes a pork ragu tossed with fresh pasta served with a roasted pork tenderloin.

One of the new additions is a partnership with Firefly Farms and you can see this at its best with either a private tasting at the farm or for dessert by choosing the cheese plate. I am partial to cheese after dinner rather than dessert so I was thrilled to see this addition to the menu and impressed by the selection of cheeses presented.

For your dining pleasure there is an extensive wine list which has been noted by both the Wine Spectator and the Wine Enthusiast as being exceptional. I tend to agree.

In addition to the secluded and lovely location and the wonderful food, the Savage River Lodge is a very the dog friendly environment. The current lodge canine hosts are Koko and Karma who just celebrated their third birthday – 21 in people years – and they were able to enjoy their first micro brew.  Besides seclusion, luxurious hospitality and environmental responsibility, canine comfort is important to the team at Savage River Lodge. In your cabin there are supplies that all dog parents need – towels, bowls and bags. If you need any treats, they are freshly baked on the premises. If you would like to treat your pup to a gourmet meal, there is a menu to select from. And in your morning breakfast, you will find a sumptuous doggie treat for your pup along with your muffins and juice. Dogs are allowed everywhere on the property except in the Main Lodge and only need to be on leash in and around the cabins. There are plenty of puppy stations throughout the main property equipped with bags and trash receptacles. Ill behaved puppies and their families are noted and not invited back.

Savage River Lodge is located off of Interstate 68 just outside of Frostburg Maryland. The cabins are all the similar with differences being in size of the bed and view. They range from $225-$245. There is a pet fee of $30 per night. There is a two night minimum on the weekends, and a three night minimum on holiday weekends. The lodge notes that it is an adult centered retreat and does not have activities or sitting arrangements for children as well as a very limited children’s menu in the restaurant.

Savage River Lodge
1600 Mt. Aetna Road
Frostburg, MD 21532
Phone:   301-689-3200

FOOD: Cooking Primer – Good Food from Good Ingredients

March 1, 2013 by · 1 Comment 

BY Kathleen Smith
March 1, 2013
Falls Church Times Staff

Every now and then you need a refresher on basic cooking techniques; no matter how many reruns of Julia Child you watch, we all need a reminder of some of the basics. With so many diets, fads and trends that have clouded the landscape it is difficult to remember – do we use oil, butter or nothing? What is wet versus dry cooking? And not only how will this taste but how will it be good for me?

We recently attended a cooking class titled “Basic Meat Cookery Methods” which included Pan Searing, Braising, and Poaching. The class was part of a series of cooking classes taught at the Fields Of Athenry farm, outside of Middleburg which also raises beef, lamb, duck, turkey, chicken and goose while sourcing pork from a local Mennonite farmer.

The class setting is intriguing as it is part of a farm kitchen and many of the ingredients for the class could be purchased in the farm store. The farm, class and chef follow the Weston Price Foundation philosophies which believe that healthy lives are only possible if we eat nutrient dense foods and animal fats prepared in traditional manner from ingredients that are raised sustainably, organically and responsibly.

The class is taught by Chef Wes Rosati, formerly the Executive Chef at Landsowne Resort and now formally part of the Fields of Athenry farm.  Chef Wes has been a long supporter of sustainably raised foods, so he fits in perfectly with the farm which adheres to sustainable farming practices.

For our class, the menu was set: Steak au Poivre, Braised Lamb Osso Bucco with Red Wine Integral Jus, and Poached Salmon with Winter Vegetables all which we were able to see prepared and then enjoy lunch. It was a sunny cold winter afternoon, but the class kitchen was warm and toasty and while observing the class we enjoyed local cheeses complemented with local wines.

The basics of the class centered on understanding that there are two different types of cooking for meat and fish: wet and dry. Depending on what end result you were looking for, you chose the appropriate method. Chef Wes first built a vegetable broth that would be used to poach salmon. Poaching is a wet method that requires first building a broth, which he did utilizing seasonal vegetables that could poach, create a sauce and maybe later use as a nice soup base.

Onions were first sauteed in lard, but coconut oil or ghee could be used. Chef Wes shared that certain sautéing ingredients are easier for the body to digest, thus he uses lard, ghee or coconut oil. Then adding spices, primarily turmeric, which is especially beneficial in a diet, he then deglazed with some wine. After this he added in lemon, garlic and his other vegetables – kale, carrots, turnips, celery and covered them with water and simmered. He shared that when using herbs distinguishing between hard and soft herbs that will stand up to cooking; using the hard herbs – thyme, rosemary, first and then following with the softer herbs such as oregano, parsley or chives.

After cooking for 15 minutes the broth is ready to use to poach the salmon. The salmon is first prepared with sea salt – again a more easily digestible form and better for the overall diet – and pepper and set at room temperature. The poaching took about 10 minutes, 5 minutes each side and then was served with some of the vegetables in the broth. The vibrant colors and delicious taste brighten up the winter afternoon. What was even for sublime, was that my husband was able to recreate the entire dish a few nights later using salmon from the farmers market.

The next dishes – steak au poivre and chicken – featured the dry method but using a spice rub or just plain salt and pepper, and high heat to seal in the juices. The preferred cuts for this method were Sirloin, or Delmonico as well as just a plain chicken breast. The key in this method is to use a high heat and patience – just a few minutes. This allows the ‘sealing” of the meat which happens as the meat pulls away from the pan. The final dish involved braising which is a long slow cooking process again in a broth, a heartier one than poaching, and a cut of meat that is fattier. The slow cooking allows the fat in the meat to render down creating a melt in your mouth texture.

The next class available is on March 9th which will feature how to prepare proteins with an accompanying pan sauce, a basic Sauce Bolognese and vegetable cookery. The demonstrated dishes will be: Pork Tenderloin Medallions with an Apricot and Red Onion Compote, Beef and Lamb Bolognese, Roasted Cauliflower, Sautéed Garlicky Kale.

The team at Fields of Athenry is developing a spring schedule of classes, so check their website for updates on upcoming classes. The Fields of Athenry will also be providing the “pop up wellness café” at the March 10th Grow Your Health conference occurring at the Woodson High School in Fairfax. The Wellness Festival will be featuring a food documentary called “In ORGANIC We Trust” as well as gardening classes and local foods panel discussions.


SATURDAY, 4/20: Free Composting Workshop

February 28, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Participants will learn to make rich organic compost from yard trimmings and leaves at this beginners composting workshop on Saturday, April 20. The free program will include a composting demonstration, making compost tea, proper food waste composting, and vermicomposting (composting with worms). Participants will take home a free portable yard waste compost bin.

The event will be held at the Cherry Hill Picnic Shelter (312 Park Ave., Falls Church) and run from 9:30 to 11:00 a.m. To register, call Sandy Tarpinian (703-536-7186) or e-mail to

FOOD: The Little Gem of Bastille

February 22, 2013 by · 3 Comments 

BY Christianna Sargent
February 22, 2013
Special to the Falls Church Times

On an unsuspecting street corner along the northern fringe of Alexandria, locals escape as mental travelers to provincial France and experience all the facets of fine-dining in a casual atmosphere without the exorbitant price tags. Bastille meets my criteria for restaurant essentials, not only for the talents represented by two award-winning chefs, Christophe and Michelle Poteaux, but for the genius behind their incitement to refresh the interior and hire a sommelier from the ranks of DC’s Old Guard. Bastille is what I look for when I file a restaurant way as a true favorite:

  • Knowledgeable wait staff who orchestrate service without you even realizing it. They intercede on your behalf in a gracious, un-interruptive fashion and never gab unless you have engaged them.
  • Food that’s balanced and well-portioned featured in a menu that offers light fare as well as entree selections of ample protein, fish, and vegetarian options. It’s even better if the restaurant is earth conscious and sources locally. Finally, an artisanal cheese list with compelling selections is a must.
  • Comprehensive wine list that offers wine selections bridging all predominant styles, not necessarily region. The list doesn’t have to be long; it just has to complement the food menu entirely, meaning each dish on the menu has a wine to pair with it in concordance or in contrast.
  • Price. Value is essential and fair pricing is truly appreciated.

How often does this town dish up amazing wine service that is masterfully and consistently paired with inspirational culinary feats for an affordable price? To my standards, Bastille boasts all the ingredients to cook up a fabulous restaurant where you can easily slip in as a regular. Now, Bastille offers a new component to its secret mix, a James Beard award-winning beverage director, Mark Slater, formerly of Citronelle in Georgetown.

Resident sommelier, Mark Slater, amplifies the thunder of husband and wife chef team with thirty plus years under his belt—an advantage that young sommeliers just can’t top regardless of how many corks they’ve popped. Mark offers yarn-spinning stories with depths of knowledge that capture the corners of your soul and leave your palate salivating. On my very first trip to Bastille, I was seriously pleased with my experience and the food journey.

I eased onto a stool at the bar during Alexandria’s restaurant week, which immediately dampened my spirits, as I don’t tend to like the frenzy surrounding this turbulent week for most restaurants. But, my hopes were catapulted when my first dish was placed before me:

Three charcuterie selections neatly aligned: pork rillette, house-made bresaola seasoned with marjoram and oregano and a goose liver pâté topped with Concord grape aspic. The first course could have sufficed as a full meal for me on a casual Monday, but it was Saturday and I anticipated the splurge. Slater made a point to ask me what my wine preferences were. I essentially replied, “I trust your judgment.” He was right on, too, with a not-so-usual pair when he presented a Côtes de Provence rosé that shimmered salmon-colored hues in the glass. Most people would raise an eye-brow when pink wine sloshes in their glass next to robust charcuterie; but, the pair couldn’t have been more spot-on to my taste buds coated in fatty decadence and then bedazzled by a caressing strawberry-tinged savory aperitif. Next up, cassoulet and pan-roasted duck breast with white bean stew, slow-baked with pork belly and duck sausage. The crispy slab of bacon was out of this world due to texture and melt-in-your-mouth flavor, but what really sent me soaring was the combination of duck, cassoulet and a serious Bordeaux red known as the “bad boy” in French slang. Slater poured Mauvais Garçon, a blend of 95% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc all sourced from the right bank. The value speaks volumes of Slater’s talents to source true gems for less, as the pedigree on this regular Bordeaux AOC couldn’t be higher coming from the notorious garagiste, Jean-Luc Thunevin, who is considered by most to be the black sheep of the region.

Ending in sweetness, I enjoyed Valrohna pot de crème with orange compote and candied cranberries paired with Maydie ruby port. But, I dared to forge on and order a cheese board offering three artisanal selections of blue, triple-crème and a semi-hard paired with a white burgundy. Wow! I was in bliss, and thankfully not the driver. I departed Bastille in high spirits, cloaked in warmth from a heart-warming meal paired with the best ingredients, friendly staff, bistro-style dining, and delicious wine. Bastille, you’re an exception in a sea of mediocrity and over-priced indulgences. I’ll be back and ready to sample more of your expertise.

Editor’s Note: I would like to offer my congratulations to Will Artley, Executive Chef Pizzeria Orso, who recently visited Bastille for a special dinner to propose to his beloved. “It was a complete experience from perfectly seasoned food to well polished comfortable service…. It’s a gem for sure!” says Will. Kathleen Nixon

1201 N. Royal Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
(703) 519-3776

FOOD: Miss Fat Tuesday? Need to Warm Up? Try this Jambalaya!

By Claire McConnell
February 15, 2013
Special to the Falls Church Times

Hurricane Katrina occurred about a month into my second year at culinary school. Not only was it devastating to the all the people that lived in New Orleans, but also equally as devastating to all the restaurants that would be affected over the coming months. In an initiative to raise money for the city of New Orleans, my school held a mock Mardi Gras in the town of Montpelier. The students were urged to cook their Creole and Cajun favorites, with the incentive of major bragging rights if our dish was the best. My mom use to make this Jambalaya for us growing up and although some have told me it is not traditional, it still tastes awesome. My dish was up against 3 other students, one of which was raised in the ‘Big Easy’. I knew my competition was tough and that wining wasn’t going to be easy… pun intended. Long story-short my dish won and helped prove that you don’t have to be from NOLA to cook a great Jambalaya.

Three of the ingredients for this dish are from the Falls Church farmers market. The pesticide-free, ecorganic potatoes and onions are from Potomac Vegetable Farm. The farm has two locations: in Vienna, Va., and Purceville, Va. And the Texas Red Hot Beef Frankfurters are from Stachowski Brand Charcuterie in Arlington, Va.

Equipment: Large Dutch oven (similar to a Le Creuset) or wide, 4 inch deep skillet with a lid.

2 ounces butter (1/2 stick) — $0.35

1 medium onion – small dice — $0.43

3 garlic cloves – minced — $0.10

1 cup long-grain white rice (such as basmati or jasmine) — $0.45

¾- pound sausage, such as Texas Red Hot Beef Frankfurters – cut into 1/2 inch, half moons — $5.00

2 medium Yukon gold potatoes – peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes — $0.75

2 ¼- cup chicken stock — $1.00

½- cup dry white wine — $0.49

½- cup roasted red peppers (canned) – cut into 1 inch, thin strips — $0.99

½- tsp. turmeric — $0.02

Pinch cayenne pepper — $0.01

1/2- pound wild, raw, large 18-20 count shrimp (peeled, deveined and sliced in half down the middle) — $5.49

½-cup cilantro – chopped — $0.20

Total cost = $15.28

Melt butter in the pan and add onions and garlic. Cook onions and garlic over medium heat until they are translucent, about 5 minutes. Make sure the onions and garlic don’t cook too high, the butter will brown and the garlic will burn, so no higher than medium heat.

Add the rice to the pan and stir to coat with butter. Cook for about 1 minute to toast the rice. Add sausage and potatoes, stir. Add chicken stock, white wine, red peppers, turmeric and cayenne. Stir. Bring mixture to a boil. Once mixture comes to a boil, cover and simmer on med-low for 20 minutes.  After 20 minutes add the raw shrimp to the top of the mixture (DON’T STIR!) Cook for an additional 5 minutes until shrimp have steamed and turned pink. Let mixture sit with the heat off for additional 5 minutes before serving. Stir in chopped cilantro right before serving. Enjoy!


FOOD: Wine Dinner Bust

February 1, 2013
Special to the Falls Church Times

Oh where, oh where have all the wine dinners gone? Long time passing, but the economy has shifted the trends on how we explore and sample wine these days. For those of you who love to seek out a great wine dinner at a fabulous restaurant, or just your neighborhood joint, you might notice a trend of slim pickings. Blame it on the economy. Most restaurants may be reluctant to forge ahead with costly, time-consuming endeavors, such as the proverbial wine dinner. So, what alternatives are left to food and wine hounds looking for a bargain and the services offered at exclusive wine dinners? Educational wine classes (usually accompanied with food).

Even though a wine dinner is the perfect venue for a restaurant to strut its stuff with cool food art, inspired wine and food pairings, and perhaps a chance to meet  the celebrity wine maker, trendy “small-batch” wine tastings are sprouting up in its place. More casual settings with less emphasis on “dinero” allow retail shops and restaurants more elbow room to showcase 4-8 wines in a more fast-paced setting. When you nix elaborate food courses upwards of five or more, fine cutlery, white table cloths, massive amounts of glassware, and heavy wait staff, you can become more creative with the idea “less is more.”

What to look for around town:

Red, White and Bleu in Falls Church launches SAVE-HOUR Monday, February 4th. This play on words for savor is all about informed wine tastings led by an official sommelier and captivating themes that vary each month.  The tastings only cost $10, and the best part is the $10 is applied to your wine purchase that evening. Featured foods sold in the shop add highlights to the tastings while also adding the food pairing factor.

Arlington Cinema Draft House may not be reinventing the wheel for 2013, but you can’t beat this deal of $1 wine tastings presented by the Washington Wine Academy while you enjoy a movie and some chilled out pub food. Some people buy up to 10 tickets and still walk out remembering the flick.

Arrowines in Arlington offers top-notch classes and wine tastings that are always sponsored by experts. Here’s your chance to meet the winemaker, the dude (or gal) that actually sourced the wine, or the nerdy wine salesman that can lay on the facts till you snore.  Trick is you need to sign up for their newsletter and inquire of their private tastings, which are all FREE!

Northside Social is the place for eclectic food, chef-taught classes, pig roasts, open mic nights with wine tastings, and a whole lot of funkified flavorful events. Usually $35 or less, this is a steal for those wine dinner seekers out there. A broad, diversified wine list makes this such a cozy hide out, and you can feast your eyes on locally sourced art.

Twisted Vines on Columbia Pike is still a well kept secret. Finally, someone thought to throw in an open area kids’ playground while Moms and Dads can partake of Happy Hour. Once a month, stroller mania takes over at Twisted Vines and parents can take a break from 10am-3pm for FREE while enjoying happy hour wine specials. And better yet, this joint offers private wine classes with a Certified Wine Educator and unique themes. Prices vary based on wine themes, but usually run less than $35. Call to inquire.

Screwtop Wine Bar and sister wine shop, Grateful Red, also add to the Clarendon wine scene with chocolate & wine pairings this Valentine’s and more educational wine classes usually under $50 a pop. Wendy Buckler has a knack for whipping up wine grandeur in tiny spaces with stunning cheese selections.

Hope this trot around town helps diversify your wine tasting palettes. For even more specialty listings, you should also check out David and Nycci Nellis’ The List Are You On It for event details or Capital Cooking with Lauren DeSantis. They always have the scoop on the latest food and wine gossip of the DC metro area.

Christianna Sargent
Certified Sommelier
Advanced Certificate–
Wine & Spirits Education Trust
Association of Italian Sommeliers
French Wine Scholar


FOOD: An Ethiopian Extravaganza at Meaza

January 11, 2013 by · 10 Comments 

Falls Church Times Staff

January 29, 2010 (republished January 11, 2013)

After a few ho-hum experiences with Ethiopian food in high school I was ready to swear off the cuisine forever.  Even though Washington D.C. — especially the “Little Ethiopia” neighborhood at 9th and U streets– reputedly has the best Ethiopian dining scene in the country, I couldn’t bring myself to shell out cash for what I perceived to be nothing more than mushy vegetables and cold, sour, spongy bread.

Then I went to Virginia Tech and everything changed.

My four years in Blacksburg, Virginia, were, for the most part, unbearable when it came to eating out.   Most places were generic sports bars or pathetic attempts at Chinese, Thai, or Mexican food.  One day, out of sheer desperation for something “ethnic” I tried a hole-in-the-wall, one-woman take-out Ethiopian joint called Excellent Table, which had been open a few months and seen little business.

Given what I thought of Ethiopian food and what the standards were for restaurants in Blacksburg my expectations were unbelievably low.  But I was shocked at the freshness of the food, the spicy complexity of the lentils and meat stews, and even the injera, the ubiquitous flatbread that I’d only had cold and sour could apparently be pleasantly tangy and earthy when made right.  I went back several times, gaining more respect and admiration for Ethiopian cooking each visit.

A communal plate of injera with all the fixins is messy but delicious.

A communal plate of injera with all the fixins is messy but delicious.

Now back in Northern Virginia I’ve gotten away from Ethiopian food a bit.  I’ve neglected the cuisine in favor of so many others that I can’t get enough of.  I’ve been pulled away by the Eden Center and great Thai, Chinese, and Middle Eastern restaurants in the region.  I’ve been on Indian kicks and Lebanese kicks and Persian kicks.  And that’s a loss for me, because Ethiopian food is soulful and unique.

So this week I finally got off my rump and hit up Meaza Restaurant, one of a few Ethiopian restaurants within a reasonable grasp of the City of Falls Church.  The gargantuan, tastefully decorated eatery (supposedly the biggest Ethiopian restaurant in the United States) straddles the border between Falls Church and Arlington and has garnered rave reviews by every major news outlet.  Meaza is widely recognized as the best Ethiopian restaurant outside of Washington D.C. proper.  Many food writers even consider it to be better than the innumerable Ethiopian award-winners in the District.

Injera smells a little funky and feels a little spongy, but scoop up some spicy lentils with it and it just makes sense.

Injera smells a little funky and feels a little spongy, but scoop up some spicy lentils with it and it just makes sense.

After one visit all I can say is that I will be back.  Though it was just a single meal, my dining companion and I ordered a variety of dishes, easily enough to feed four people.  Essentially, I crammed two trips to the restaurant into one lunch.

Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first, because there wasn’t much of it.  In fact, the only thing we got that I wouldn’t order again were the sambusas, Ethiopia’s off-shoot of the fried Indian turnovers called samosas.  They were oily, heavy, tepid, and bland, and a horrible waste of calories to start your meal with.  Also, I suppose the service wasn’t fantastic.  I’ve read many complaints in reviews and online about slow servers, unfilled water glasses, and missed orders.  Nothing on my visit was too egregious, but there was some difficulty in placing the order because of the language barrier and the waitress was a tad pushy.  If you go in expecting so-so service you’ll probably leave happy.

Food-wise, everything we got after the sambusas was either good or excellent.  And all of it was greatly aided by the first-rate injera that Meaza makes on-site.  The starchy staple of choice in Ethiopia, injera is a thin-as-a-pancake, fermented flatbread traditionally made from teff, an ancient grain that resembles millet.  Most every Ethiopian dish is served atop of a piece of injera, which soaks up sauces and gravies beautifully.  Additional injera is used to pick up whatever is on the plate, including the well-drenched injera.  No utensils necessary.

Teff is expensive to get in the states (though it is grown in the Midwest now); so many Ethiopian cooks use part teff and part wheat flour to make their bread.  Meaza makes both an all-teff injera and a half-and-half one, but you’ve got to ask for the all-teff to get it and pay an extra dollar.  We opted to have our meal served on the half-and-half but got all-teff on the side for scooping.  The “pure” bread was noticeably darker in color, and, to my taste, a little bit less sour and more pleasant to eat.  For a measly buck, I’d splurge for the traditional stuff.

The dish I’d be most inclined to order again—and, actually, the one I would order every single time if I were with a big group—is the #7 special vegetarian combination meal.  Ethiopian’s treat vegetables and legumes in a delicious manner, gussying them up with chilies, ginger, onions, and berbere, an indispensable spice mixture with a laundry list of ingredients.

I won’t recount every dish on our platter, which included eight dollops of veggies and lentils, but there were a few that really spoke to me.  The mesir wat, an earthy, rich, brick-red mass of lentils, was excellent.  Wat means stew in Ethiopian and pretty much any dish involving the word is chockfull of spice and seasoning, thickened with cooked-to-death onions, and uncommonly delicious.  The jalapeno and ginger-studded collard greens, called gomen, were another standout.  They were tender but not mushy and the perfect foil for the injera.  They were also strikingly similar to the greens I’d had in Blacksburg, which gave them some bonus nostalgic points.

But the best part of the special veggie combo was one of the elements that separates it from the standard veggie combo; a salad of injera and tomato known as timatim fitfit.  I’d never had the dish before but went gaga over it after one bite.  It’s nothing more than leftover shards of injera with tomatoes, onions, and a light lemon dressing.  Yet it is so refreshing and bright, and such a great counter to the heavier stews and meat dishes.  Having tried it, I don’t see how anyone can justify getting the regular veggie combo.

To test out the meat options, we opted for the doro wat, a richly spiced chicken stew served with hard boiled eggs that is the nation’s national dish, and the lamb tibs with awaze sauce.  Both were spooned onto our communal platter of injera, which housed all the veggies from the sampler on the perimeter.

The food at Meaza is the star, but the space itself isn' too shabby either-- in fact, its quite elegant.

The food at Meaza is the star, but the space itself isn't too shabby either-- in fact, it's quite elegant.

Doro wat was often on the menu at Excellent Table in Blacksburg, so I’m quite familiar with the dish.  Meaza’s rendition was spot-on but its flavor profile overlapped too much with the mesir wat.  But that was my fault because I ordered both.  Also, I had forgotten that the dish is usually served with one scrawny piece of chicken and is mostly about the sauce, so don’t expect a plate full of chicken if you order it.

I’d never had lamb tibs or anything prepared with awaze sauce before, so it was a thrill to try both in one dish.  Tibs are a quick-cooked Ethiopian specialty, usually consisting of stir-fried pieces of beef or lamb teeming with jalapenos, onions, and garlic.  They can be eaten as is or embellished with a marinade in awaze sauce, which typically includes red wine or Ethiopian honey wine and all kinds of spices.  Our tibs could have been a tad tenderer but were still perfectly delicious—spicy, assertive, and fun to pick up with the injera.

There’s still plenty on the menu I’d like to try, including the kitfo, a famously spicy minced raw beef preparation, and any number of lamb and beef tibs variations.  If my meal is any indication most of it will be pretty darn tasty.  This is the sort of place where you should feel comfortable exploring much of the menu.  Someone in the kitchen really cares about what they are putting out.

Meaza’s also a good bargain.  The portions are generous and, considering the quality, well-priced.  You could get out at 15 to 20 bucks a person for dinner no problem.

So the only real hurdle for a City of Falls Church resident is getting there.  But if you’re an adventurous diner with a pension for spicy foods, I think a ten or fifteen minute trek isn’t too much to ask.

Meaza Restaurant is located at 5700 Columbia Pike, Falls Church, Virginia, 22941. (Click for map.) 703-820-2870.

(Editor’s Note: Kathleen Nixon has succumbed to the flu and will be taking a break for the next few weeks. Over the holidays she visited Meaza and concurs with Jimmy’s assessment of the restaurant.)

FOOD: Winter Farming

January 4, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

January 4, 2012
Falls Church Times Staff

While winter may have us in its icy grip, we do still have access to local seasonal vegetables such as kale, spinach, carrots, beets, sweet potatoes, and a wide variety of Asian greens. Many farmers markets including our own continue to provide fresh local vegetables. But what about growing your own? Yes, it is still possible to have vegetables growing in your garden like spinach, kale and carrots like I have in mine throughout the winter, but you would have had to plant them a little earlier in the fall. But why share this with you now? If you are like me, the seed and gardening catalogs have started to arrive in your mailboxes. Out with the gift catalogs and in with fantasizing about perfect well weeded tomato, zucchini and pepper gardens.

What I have enjoyed about this year’s seed catalogs is the opportunity to learn about heirloom seed varieties that will do well in our area in the winter. As I plan my spring and summer garden, I also pick a few vegetables that I will put in at the end of summer that will continue to grow throughout the end of the year and be harvested next winter.

Many of the farms in our area practice four season farming to support various CSAs ( Community Supported Agriculture ) and restaurants. My favorite book on this is Eliot Coleman’s Four Season Harvest which I read frequently. While many may think that we cannot grow food year round in our climate, Elliot shows how he has done this in northern Maine for several years based on techniques he learned in northern France.

Better than reading about this, you can actually see how this is done locally through the Winter Farming Lecture Series provided by the Accokeek Foundation. They are offering a four Saturday lecture series starting January 12 at local farms that support the Washington DC area with winter produce. One of the farms featured is Tree and Leaf Farm in Unionville, Virginia who is a regular year round vendor at our local farmers market. You can go to one or all four of the lectures.

This is an opportunity to get out and see winter farms in action, pick up a few gardening tips and maybe think about growing your own vegetables next winter.

« Previous PageNext Page »