“Iron Chef” – MEH Husky Style

January 28, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

By Julie Walters
Falls Church Times Staff
January 28, 2014

On Monday and Tuesday of this week, more than 40 Mary Ellen Henderson 7th graders competed in the school’s second annual “Husky Chef” cooking contest. Based on the popular TV show “Iron Chef,” the award winning “Husky Chef” competition is the culmination of each academic quarter’s required course in Family and Consumer Science (a 21st Century version of Home Economics). By the end of this school year, every 7th grader in Falls Church city will have participated in a cook-off with their classmates.

IMG_6625The competition is not simple. The 7th graders spend weeks working in teams of between 4-6 students to plan menus that fit within the USDA guidelines for a healthy school lunch. These guidelines include considerations such as portion maximums and minimums of protein and fruits or vegetables, and fat and sodium content of the meal. Further, the menu must fit into an extremely tight budget. This year’s budget is $2.25 per serving — which must cover the main course as well as any side dishes. After the students research the nutritional value and cost of their desired ingredients, they then shop for everything they need at a nearby grocery store.

On the day of the cooking competition, the teams have one hour to cook and serve their lunches to a panel of judges (local chefs, restaurant owners, school administrators, and local restaurant reviewers). The meals are judged on taste, presentation, originality, and whether the students worked well together as a team. The winning team from each of the two class sections will later help prepare and serve their meal for lunch to the entire MEH student body (hence the requirement that the meals follow USDA school lunch guidelines). They also, of course, win bragging rights among their peers.

This week’s competition yielded two winning teams whose meals will soon appear on the school lunch menu at MEH. Monday’s winner was team “Kill ‘em” (the other judges and I assumed they meant this in a good way). The six-person team won with a whole wheat pasta served with chicken, sun dried tomato, and pesto, with a strawberry and pineapple kabob on the side.

Tuesday’s winning team, “Awesome Sauce,” won with a mac ‘n cheese with a homemade sauce, spicy baked chicken wings, and celery sticks served with two dipping sauces – ranch dressing and a little extra cheese sauce from the mac ‘n cheese.

IMG_6628The “Husky Chef” program won a 2013 Virginia State Excellence award for “exemplary programs and partnerships that promote excellence in career and technical education.” It is the brain child of FCCPS Food Service Director, Richard Kane, who, along with Food Service Operations Manager Niki Wisemiller, supervises and supports the students throughout their preparation for the competition. Niki Wisemiller believes that, through cooking, the 7th graders learn important math skills and incorporate many other areas of study, such as nutrition, history, and economics. “When they learn in theory,” she said, “it’s abstract for them. But, when they learn in a hands on way, they can incorporate their knowledge much more deeply.”


Julie Walters is a resident of Falls Church and writes children’s books (mostly about food). She’s the daughter of a food editor, the wife of a man who knows his Louisiana cuisine, and the mother of a 5 year old with a ridiculously sophisticated palate. You can reach her at [email protected].

(All photos copyright: Julie Walters)

Tastes of the Little City: Rice Paper

January 12, 2014 by · 6 Comments 

By Julie Walters
Falls Church Times Staff
January 12, 2014

School Homework at Eden Center


Do you think kids would enjoy a school lunch of Vietnamese grilled lemongrass beef with rice vermicelli, sliced cucumber, pickled carrots with daikon, and mint leaves, served in lettuce wraps? With fish sauce for dipping on the side?

Here in Falls Church, we might get the chance to find out.

For this review, I invited Richard Kane, Food Service Director for Falls Church City Public Schools, to join me for lunch at Rice Paper, an excellent, two-year old Eden Center eatery.

Rice Paper is my favorite of all the Eden Center sit-down restaurants. (Although Eden Kitchen, a new restaurant from the owners of Pho Factory in Alexandria, just opened, so we’ll see.) I love everything about Rice Paper. The decor is beautiful and comfortable. Its long, narrow dining room flanked by a patterned, dandelion-color wall with mirror accents on one side, and an exposed brick wall on the other, reminds me of a neighborhood Parisian Bistro. The service is no nonsense, but friendly and helpful. And the food is consistently good, and often great.IMG_6269

Try walking into Rice Paper without being transported by the aromas of Southeast Asia. You know what it is, right? It’s the fish sauce. Fish sauce is the key to Vietnamese cuisine. It’s the centerpiece of the salty, sweet, and sour flavor hallmark of Southeast Asian cooking. I just wish “fish sauce” were named something more kid-friendly like “Magic Sauce,” or “Alien Monster Sauce!” There may be no way to convince uninitiated school-age children to eat “fish sauce.” But, Richard Kane would like to try.

Richard is always on the lookout for fresh, new ideas to include on the school lunch menu. So, since Falls Church has such a cornucopia of ethnic food options, I thought it’d be fun to introduce Richard to Rice Paper after he mentioned that he had never eaten at a Vietnamese restaurant.

Richard’s philosophy on school lunch is clear: prepare and serve fresh, nutritious, and delicious food that exposes children’s palates to a variety of healthy flavors. If we reach them when they’re young, Richard believes, we can build healthy eaters for a lifetime. “We offer samples to introduce students to new foods and it also gives us a chance to cook new things. We work with students as often as we can to teach nutritional value of foods to empower them with the knowledge needed to make informed choices. The USDA is advocating for more fruits and vegetables as a way of fighting childhood obesity. Increasing the variety we offer and incorporating more ethnic foods into our menus will help us achieve this goal. Our school system is very diverse and our students enjoy international cuisine. The possibilities are endless…,” he said.

The possibilities are in fact endless. And so is, as Richard discovered, Rice Paper’s menu.

The menu at Rice Paper is a tome with more than 125 items. It can seem intimidating but, if you take your time, you’ll be rewarded with an education in Vietnamese cuisine. The menu hits all the highlights, and features Bún (Rice Vermicelli bowls), Lâu (Hot Pots), Conge (Rice Porridge), and, of course Pho (Beef Noodle Soups). Many of the dishes are traditional and some are beautifully updated classics. A few are served with social accoutrement, such as make-your-own rice paper wraps and hot pots (a metal pot of flavorful broth surrounded by meat and vegetables at the center of the dining table. Think Vietnamese fondue).IMG_6156

My hands-down favorite Rice Paper dish is the grilled lemongrass beef served with, you guessed it, rice paper. I’ve ordered it on every visit and, each time, it is pull-apart tender and packed with tangy lemongrass and garlic flavor. The beef is served on skewers and is meant to be assembled and eaten wrapped in rice paper or lettuce leaves with the accompanying steamed rice vermicelli, pickled carrots and daikon radish, cucumber, and fresh mint leaves. But first, you have to soften the “doily-like” (as Richard Kane described it) dry rice paper yourself in the warm water served to the table in a specially-made dipping stand. Richard said the experience “was a treat for me because I felt like a kid again playing with my food. It was fun!” (The rice paper wrap dishes begin at number 100 on the menu.)

Another must try at Rice Paper is the Roasted Quail appetizer. Normally, I don’t bother with quail — I usually don’t like to work that hard for small amounts of meat on anything other than steamed crabs. But, this dish is the exception. The quail is roasted in a perfect caramelized sauce that’s so complex, I don’t even care about how hard I have to work to get the measly bits of meat from the tiny bird. The lime juice and pepper sauce complete the gastrique. (By the way, if you’ve noticed a few French influences in the descriptions, you’re paying close attention.)

The traditional dishesIMG_6271 at Rice Paper are also good, but, frankly, I’ve had better Pho. The broken rice dishes (steamed, crushed rice grains), while apparently quite popular, are also a bit hit or miss. If you want to sample an array of traditional foods, try #24, which includes sausage with shrimp paste wrapped in dried bean curd, an unusual egg custard, shredded pork, a grilled pork chop, and a diner-style fried egg on top. My friend and I were glad we tried it, but we probably wouldn’t order it again.

When Richard and I had lunch, he enthusiastically sampled everything we ordered – including the stuff he didn’t usually like that much. (He knows how important it is to be a role model when encouraging kids to try different foods, even if they think they don’t like it.) We even tried the curry vegetables and tofu in coconut milk. Richard remains “unconvinced that tofu can be anything but just okay.”IMG_6248

At lunch time, Rice Paper is always crowded – in a good way. As Richard pointed out, “empty restaurants create a sense of something wrong — like everyone knows this secret about not eating there except for me.” Now, however, Richard Kane is in on the secret of Vietnamese cuisine. I look forward to seeing how Falls Church city schools benefit from his knowledge.

Julie Walters is a resident of Falls Church and writes children’s books (mostly about food). She’s the daughter of a food editor, the wife of a man who knows his Louisiana cuisine, and the mother of a 5 year old with a ridiculously sophisticated palate. You can reach her at [email protected].

(All photos copyright: Julie Walters)

The Details:

6775 Wilson Blvd, Falls Church, VA 22044
Hours of Operation:
Mon – Sun: 10:00 am-10:00 pm
Forms of Payment Accepted:
Cash/Credit Cards
Ample parking available

Tastes of the Little City: La Migueleña

October 28, 2013 by · 5 Comments 

Sopa, not Ropa

By Julie Walters
Falls Church Times Staff
October 28, 2013

With winter approaching, would you like to know what restaurant in Falls Church serves the best soup?

What if I told you that you’ve driven past it hundreds of times where Hillwood hits South Washington? You may not have noticed it, though. The storefront’s modest green awning announces only “La Migueleña Carry Out” and “La Migueleña Mercado Latino.” Plus, it’s easy to miss that there’s a restaurant inside when the sidewalk in front of the business next door is populated by those notorious, provocative half mannequins (the bottom half) in snug jeans. You know where I’m talking about, right?

PantsLa Migueleña is part Latin market, part lunch counter. There is limited seating in the market, but it’s sun drenched and cozy. You can eat at the warm, artful sand-color tile counter and watch the cooks mold the masa de maiz (corn meal) and grill fresh corn tortillas and Pupusas. Or, if you prefer, there are a few comfortable tables between the wall of windows and the racks that display chicharrones and Latin sodas. La Migueleña also does a brisk carry out business (hence the sign), but I like to eat my soup there.

I was alerted to La Migueleña by some friends who, when quizzed about their favorite dishes, emphatically answered, “the soup.”

“What kind of soup?” I asked.

“It doesn’t matter.” they replied.

I understood what they meant immediately.  On my first visit, I asked the woman behind the counter about the soup of the day.

“Es Sopa de Gallina.” she said.

“Oh good! “ I told my son, “They have chicken soup — Sopa de Pollo.”

“No.” the woman corrected me. “Es Sopa de Gallina.”

“Ah,” I hugged my son. “This is going to be awesome!”

If you are a chicken soup connoisseur, you probably already know the difference between making soup with a regular supermarket chicken and making soup with a hen (gallina).  I’ll leave you to discuss matters of chicken age and genus in the comments below but, suffice it to say, my mother-in-law would never make a gumbo in Louisiana from anything other than a hen.  And I personally have never achieved that wonderful gelatinous stock from a regular chicken.  Hens make better chicken soup.  They just do.

IMG_5728Then it got better.

I asked if one order of soup was large enough to share and was shown a veritable trough of a bowl.  We decided yes.

Within seconds, my son and I were slurping from a steaming hot bowl of rich, slightly salty chicken soup, brimming with tender cabbage, carrots, zucchini, and potatoes.  We were busily blowing on our soup to cool it and eat it more quickly when a huge plate of rice, house made corn tortillas, freshly sliced jalepeños, and a quarter roasted, crispy-skinned chicken landed on the counter in front of us.  It looked so delicious that I didn’t bother to tell the woman that we had only ordered the soup.  The chicken was juicy and perfectly seasoned, and the rice was a nice addition to the meal.  The only disappointment was the tortillas.  They were a little tough and I missed a richer corn flavor.  But, we enjoyed watching her make them on the grill in front of us.

It was a fun, comfortable, delicious dinner.  When we paid for our meal at the cash register in the back of the store, we discovered that the plate of chicken and rice comes with the soup.  For $12.00, two adults can easily enjoy one substantial meal (they’ll split it into two portions for you too).plato de pollo

All of my subsequent visits have been just as gratifying. La Migueleña usually has Sopa de Gallina, but sometimes they serve Sopa de Mariscos (seafood soup) or a soup with beef. There are also many other dishes from the cook’s native El Salvador, such as really good Pupusas (grilled tortillas stuffed with cheese, or cheese with black beans), Pollo Guisado (stewed tender chicken with tomatoes, onions, and peppers), and Carne Asado (grilled steak). The menu hangs above the grill and displays pictures of the food along with its name in English and Spanish. Most of dishes are in the $9.00 range and are served with rice, refried black beans (or salad), fresh corn tortillas, and, if you wish, sliced jalepeños. Everything I’ve eaten is wonderful, homey comfort food and authentic El Salvador.pupusa

The staff at La Migueleña is super warm and helpful. Everyone is more than happy to explain the ever changing specials, or show you the food to aid your decision. If you don’t speak Spanish, the owner or his sister are always on hand to help you with whatever you need. La Migueleña serves breakfast until 11:00 a.m. (try the Plato Tipico of eggs, rice, tortillas, and refried beans), and the soup is usually ready before 11:30. One pro tip: If it’s raining and you’re in the mood for soup, make sure you go before noon. They’ll run out of Sopa de Gallina before 1:00 every time.

Check it out and tell me if you think it’s the best soup in Falls Church. If you don’t, I sure hope you’ll tell me what is!

(All photos copyright: Julie Walters)

The Details:

404 S. Washington St
Falls Church, VA 22046

Hours of Operation:

Monday – Saturday: 7:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m., Sunday: 7:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.

Anthony’s Restaurant Closing June 2

May 8, 2013 by · 6 Comments 

By Falls Church Times Staff

May 8, 2013

The restaurant released the following statement this morning:

Dear Patrons and Friends of Anthony’s,

It is with a heavy heart and sincere regret that we inform you that Anthony’s Restaurant will be permanently closing our location at 309 West Broad Street, Falls Church, Virginia. As a result of our lease expiring, our last day of operations will be June 2, 2013.  Although we have yet to find a suitable new location, we continue our search and we hope to find a new home for Anthony’s in Falls Church.  After 41 years of serving our patrons at this location, we would like to say THANK YOU for being a special part of our family and for all the wonderful memories.  We will continue to serve the community at our Manassas location.

Warmest regards,

The Anthony’s Family

FOOD: Virginia’s Signature Grape

By Christianna Sargent
May 3, 2013
Special to the Falls Church Times

Does the word Condrieu [Cohn-dree-uh] ring a bell—the original home to Viognier, which is now Virginia’s signature grape? Condrieu is a French grape growing region that rests in southeastern France along the Rhône River and exclusively produces Viognier. The name itself is derived from the French phrase coin de ruisseau, which translates to “corner of the brook.” Despite the fact that most people are unfamiliar with Condrieu, the wines are worth seeking out and are memorable in their own right. Condrieu represents a full-bodied, exotic style of wine appropriate for spring, summer, and fall seasons that weaves a fascinating story about a grape that is for all practical purposes the anti-Chardonnay.

Condrieu is one of the great white wine regions of France and it stands as the benchmark for Viognier crafted wine, analogous to what Napa Valley is to Cabernet Sauvignon. But Condrieu is little known to the wine-drinking world at large, even though Viognier itself has become popular to grow right here in Virginia and even Australia, Chile and California. What reasoning lies behind this grape obscurity, when the general public tends to demand full-bodied, full-throttle, rich wines that explode with fruit and flavor? The answer lies in simple economics and the fact that Viognier can easily be a lackluster grape if not managed properly and crafted masterfully. Condrieu is pricey, with only a small quantity produced for the entire globe.

Viognier was once almost extinct in the 1960s, but grew in popularity as people’s palates leaned more to the adventuresome side. Virginia wineries jumped on the Viognier train over two decades ago when Horton Vineyards first released their version in 1992. Today, the grape itself is the Commonwealth’s darling grape and tourists hoard from afar to drink some of the best put forth by Horton, Barboursville, Chester Gap, Michael Shaps, Jefferson, Chyrsalis, Veritas, and Pearmund Cellars to name some of the best. Almost half (approximately 40%) of Virginia vineyards grow the Viognier grape. However, this darling vine is not the greatest of love affairs. The grape itself is persnickety and difficult to master. The trick with Viognier is that optimal ripeness must be reached; thereby requiring longer hang-time on the vine. Longer hang-time in Virginia equates to hurricane season, and to worsen matters the grape naturally has low acidity levels and characteristically high alcohol potential. So, if the rains come, like they so often do in September and October, the winemaker risks producing a diluted, flat, high alcohol, vegetal wine. Ouch. Not so appealing.

Grape maturity and ripeness remains key to the balance equation, and obtaining it is like riding a tricycle on a tight-rope wire. Condrieu masters this mythical balance from its top producers like Vernay, Guigal, and Chateau Grillet. But the Gods smiled on Condrieu with hot summers, less rain, perfect geography with steep slopes situated along the river facing due east, and strong winds that keep the grapes dry and free of rot. When Viognier sings, she makes rich, powerful, floral and perfumed juice boasting exotic aromas of peach, apricot, honey, violets, and white flowers. The secret is maintaining lower alcohol levels around 12.5 -13% versus today’s fad of 14.5-15% alcohol wines that warm the belly and burn the throat on the way down.

Truly I tell you that Condrieu, and even Viognier produced elsewhere around the world, is a discovery to please your taste buds, and you can do it right here in Falls Church/Arlington. Explore the Old World versus New World factors at 2941 restaurant where Sommelier Jonathan Schuyler designates an entire section of his wine list to Condrieu and Viognier. For just the domestic juice, visit Eventide in Clarendon, or walk down the street in either direction or you can also taste Viognier at Lyon Hall and Northside Social Wine Bar. For an exquisite food pairing from appetizers to entrees, Tracy O’Grady satiates the palate with her choice selections of Viognier from California, like Darioush in Napa. Last but not least, Tallula trots the globe with their Viognier selections from France, to down under in the land of Oz, back to California, with a final pit stop in Virginia.

While hunting for your next Viognier taste, remember the wine pairs extremely well with scallops, lobster, crab, shrimp, roasted chicken, creamy sauces, Caribbean fare, Indian curries, and exotic spices like cinnamon and cardamom found in Moroccan dishes for example. For simplicity, pair Viognier with cashew nuts or triple-cream cheeses, like Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam. The richness of Viognier also bodes well with Gouda and Gruyere cheese. All in the entire Viognier grape should be more celebrated, as it is a versatile food pair and an excellent alternative to chardonnay.

FOOD: Season Kick Off of the Falls Church Farmers Market Chef

April 12, 2013 by · 4 Comments 

BY Kathleen Nixon
April 12, 2013
Falls Church Times Staff

As the weather has warmed up – considerably – we welcome the earlier hours of the Falls Church Farmers Market and the fifth season of the Farmer’s Market Chef Demonstrations. Last weekend the farmers’ market started opening up earlier, now at 8:00am, with a few vendors from the summer market.  We won’t be seeing the full contingent of summer vendors until later in May but a few will trickle in like Clear Spring Creamery.

The Farmers Market Chef series will kick off on Saturday April 20th with a market and series favorite, Willow Restaurant. The chef series always kicks off around Earth Day to remind us that eating locally and seasonally is another way to be green. The chef series will include other program favorites such as Bertrand Chemel, 2941, Will Artley, Pizzeria Orso and Andrew Dixon, Madfox Brewing Company. A new addition this year will be Lebanese Taverna and we look forward to seeing what they cook up later in the season.

All of the demonstrations occur in the Falls Church Farmers Market utilizing the produce and products available in the farmers’ market. Tastings and recipes are also provided throughout the two hour demonstration.

2013 Farmers Market Chef Demonstrations

April 20 Tracy O’Grady Willow – Restaurant and Nosh

May 18 Will Artley – Pizzeria Orso

June 15 DC Central Kitchen

July 13 Andrew Dixon – Madfox Brewing Company

August 10 Bertrand Chemel 2941

Sept 14  Lebanese Taverna

October 12 Steve Mannino American Tap Room

November 9  Tracy O’Grady Willow

FOOD: Spring Traditions

March 29, 2013 by · 1 Comment 

BY Kathleen Nixon
March 29, 2013
Falls Church Times Staff

Easter is second biggest chocolate selling time behind Christmas. But why do we crave those little chocolate eggs and bunnies at this time of year? The shapes of our chocolate delicacies revert back to the time of the Pagans. Eggs represented fertility and spring was celebrated in the Pagan belief as the festival of Eastre, which is the goddess of springtime. This goddess would make her earthly presence known each year in the form of a rabbit.

Why chocolate? As you may have heard in the 16th century Queen Elizabeth I banned hot cross buns because of her belief that the cross was a symbol of Catholicism. However, she did allow the pastry to be consumed during Easter and it was a big hit. The bakers throughout Europe were thrilled and very successful at selling pastries that the chocolate makers jumped at the chance to capitalize on the popularity.

It is not only the symbols that are a spring tradition; it is the bright and fanciful colors. These symbolize that it is time to shake off the dark grey clouds and coast of winter, and look to eye catching colors of spring.  So when I was invited in by a sign saying “Chocoholics enter here” a few weeks ago, it wasn’t the prospect of chocolate that captivated me it was the bright colors.

Artisan Confections, now in Mosaic, features fanciful chocolates with dazzling colors. You won’t find bunnies and eggs here, but neatly decorated chocolate squares. “Tiny works of art from your local micro-chocolatier” is how they put it. These freshly made masterpieces feature Valrhona chocolate from the south of France. Each work of art is then created adding in unique ingredients such as teas, mint, spices or liquors. The colors will entice, the flavor explosion will saturate your being.

When looking at the wide descriptions of flavors you run from comfort food standby such as Peanut Butter and Jelly, or Salted Caramel with sea salt, but it is the more exotic that will cause you to ponder the selection – Port Wine Fig, Earl Grey Tea or the Arnold Palmer with dark chocolate, lemon and black tea. My favorites? It’s hard to choose. I like the spice of the Ancho Chile or Madagascar Pepper, but the Lavender flower caramel was also too yummy to pass up.

The other spring tradition for me was always watching the Wizard of Oz. Spring break, Easter Sunday and Dorothy Gale that is when I knew spring was here. While it has been a long time since Toto danced across my television screen, I did thoroughly enjoy the new film Oz The Great and Powerful in 3D. There have been many 3D movies out for some time, but this film finally showcases how 3D can truly enhance a story.

Artisan Confections

Mosaic District Fairfax – in the same building as Target

2910 District Avenue Fairfax, VA 22031


Hours: Monday – Saturday 11am-7pm, Sunday 12pm-5pm

FOOD: March is the Cruelest Month

March 22, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

BY Kathleen Nixon
March 22, 2013

March is the cruelest month. This week we had snow, then 70 degree weather and then snow forecasted again for Monday. The Falls Church Farmers Market has been plagued with bad weather several Saturdays in a row according to Howard Herman, Farmers Market Manager. Usually this time of year, we hear from the farmers that they want to bring in early summer goods, but not this year.

What do you find now that is fresh? Kale is coming back and the tender greens are perfect for salads. Last fall, one of the Little City’s favorite chefs Andrew Dixon of Madfox Brewing Company did a kale salad with butternut squash bacon for a Falls Church Farmers Market Chef Demonstration. Fortunately we have a special video of Andrew making the salad for the crowd at the market. The demonstration series will start up in April and shortly thereafter we can welcome back many of the familiar and new farmers’ market vendors.

March is when we start putting things in the ground such as potatoes and peas. Around our house we call it March Madness, not the basketball brackets but the bareness in the garden that drives you crazy that you think you need to put more plants in the yard to fill up all the bare spots. Take heart your garden will fill out in a month or two.

And while you may think warmer weather will never get here, have heart as there will be tomatoes soon! Spring Valley Farm and Orchards just posted on their Facebook page that tomatoes are showing up on the vines in their greenhouses. Other vendors have tomatoes started in their greenhouse as well. And why do we always use tomatoes as the temperature gauge for fresh food rather than look at what is seasonal and local?

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