Chef Roberto Donna has officially arrived in the Town of Vienna.
As promised, Roberto’s Ristorante Italiano opened its doors at 144 Church Street NW last Tuesday (Feb. 8), and owner Nancy Sabbagh, wife of the once-troubled star chef, says the first week of business has been a success.
“We’ve gotten such amazing support from past patrons,” Sabbagh told Tysons Reporter today (Monday), while preparing for what she anticipates to be a busy Valentine’s Day.
that the new restaurant has already gotten customers from as far away as D.C. and Bethesda, Maryland.
Inspired by the couple’s experiences traveling in Italy, the menu posted in the restaurant’s front window primarily features seafood and pasta dishes, along with desserts and espresso.
Online ordering isn’t available yet, but the website indicates it will be coming soon. While not required, Sabbagh recommends that customers reserve a table, since the dining room is limited in size, and she wants to be able to give adequate attention to each patron.
Reservations can be made online or by calling 703-223-5336.
Roberto’s is currently open from 5-9 p.m. on Mondays through Thursdays and from 5-10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Sabbagh says they decided to close the restaurant on Sundays to give staff “a uniform day off.”
Donna rose to acclaim with the popular D.C. restaurant Galileo in the 1980s but ran into legal troubles with the shuttered Bebo Trattoria in Crystal City. Aside from a stint at Al Dente D.C., Roberto’s is his first full restaurant since an ill-fated attempt at a comeback in 2011.
Hat tip to Liz Sues on Twitter for the alert about Roberto’s opening.
A popular empanadas food truck has launched a dining space in Tysons Galleria.
Empanadas De Mendoza owners Gabi and Tyler Steelman opened up the new brick-and-mortar venue on the third floor of the mall on Thursday (Dec. 16). The restaurant offers meat and vegetarian options for the handheld pastries with light, flaky crusts.
The move brings the couple full circle to when they started selling their empanadas out of a food truck to Tysons offices over five years ago, eventually expanding their operations throughout Northern Virginia.
The made-to-order empanadas (from the Spanish word empanar, meaning “to bread”) feature a variety of fillings: traditional and spicy beef, honey barbecue pork, pineapple chicken, spinach ricotta, and three cheese. Churros and sides are available, along with pastry desserts known as alfajores, featuring coconut shavings.
Gabi Steelman said Saturday (Dec. 18) that they’ve had customers trickling in, many of them regulars who follow the business’ social media channels, and an electronic menu said January dates are coming soon.
Gabi Steelman started the business in 2013 at a local farmers market in Fairfax out of a desire to share her culture and how much empanadas mean family, friends, and fun in her hometown of Mendoza, Argentina.
She soon married Tyler Steelman, and the couple quit their full-time jobs to pursue Empanadas De Mendoza.
In 2020, the couple got a storefront with a production kitchen in Lorton, where they also host parties, and a second food truck.
The new store’s special hours for the rest of this month are today (Dec. 23) and next Tuesday through Thursday (Dec. 28-30) from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Sushi Koji is now open and serving up roll platters alongside bowls of ramen and udon noodles.
Run by former Sushi Taro chef Hyung Joon Lee and his wife, Grace Park, the Japanese restaurant had a soft opening at 262 Cedar Lane on Thursday (Dec. 16). It is the first of three eateries slated to move into Vienna’s Cedar Park Shopping Center this winter.
“We were so excited to open and see many people try out our food,” Park said by email. “We are getting a lot of positive comments about the food and new types of dishes they haven’t seen before. It has been packed since the first day of opening which was unexpected and also so exciting/heart pounding.”
Park says the opening has been a success so far, even though Sushi Koji is facing the same hiring challenges that have been affecting the food service industry nationwide during the COVID-19 pandemic.
With some of the hired employees still undergoing training and getting accustomed to their roles, the staffing shortage is expected to become a bigger issue once the restaurant gets cleared to serve alcohol, which could happen as soon as this week, according to Park.
Sushi Koji has been waiting for a license to allow wine and beer service on its premises since Nov. 3, according to the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority. A mixed-beverage license has been pending since Nov. 9.
Park says they are particularly looking for additional wait staff and chefs or cooks.
While the restaurant initially opened just for dine-in customers, Park confirmed that patrons can now get takeout and deliveries as well.
The current hours of operation are:
- Monday-Thursday: 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 5-9:30 p.m.
- Friday: 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 5-10:30 p.m.
- Saturday: noon-10:30 p.m.
- Sunday: noon-9:30 p.m.
Sushi Koji anticipates having a more official grand opening at some point, but a date for that hasn’t been scheduled yet.
“Since we are still training staff and looking for more staff, we won’t have the grand opening anytime soon until they are fully trained,” Park said. “We want to make sure we give good service and people leave happy.”
Cha Tea House has arrived at Tysons Corner Center, intent on sharing a love not just of Pakistan’s food, but also its people and culture.
Located between &Pizza and Cava Mezze Grill, the cafe will welcome customers for the first time with a soft opening at 10 a.m. today (Friday). This is Cha Tea House’s first brick-and-mortar location after it started in October 2020 as a food truck in Springfield.
“Excited and anxious,” co-owner Sofhia Qamar said yesterday (Thursday) when asked how she felt about the impending opening. “We think we’re ready, but you’re never actually ready until you’re in business and operating.”
Some passersby had already popped in, perhaps drawn by the colorful signage and chairs on the eatery’s outdoor patio. Qamar says it’s been hard turning those visitors away, so she’s eager to be able to tell people that they’re now open and serving.
In addition to tea and coffee, the menu features burgers, chicken sandwiches, and burrito rolls wrapped in paratha, a traditional South Asian flatbread, along with various sides like samosas.
The snack and dessert offerings are more extensive than what Cha Tea House is able to provide at its Springfield location. Some items, like a paan milkshake, are being reintroduced after proving popular there but too challenging to make in a food truck.
Once the initial frenzy of opening a new tea shop subsides, the team plans to expand the menu further with salads, rice bowls, and other dishes, adding one new item each month, Qamar says.
Though a brick-and-mortar cafe can’t replicate the roadside dhabas that inspired Cha Tea House as closely as a food truck, Qamar and her fellow owners incorporated touches of their parents’ native Pakistan throughout the space.
A hall lined by flower boxes suggests “an outdoor vibe,” as Qamar put it, even though it’s inside, and the walls are decorated with paintings done by Pakistani artists and shipped over to the U.S. There is also a Cha Market in the back that will sell mugs, water bottles, and other products handcrafted by artists in Pakistan.
“We really want to kind of educate people about how amazing Pakistan is and how rich the culture is,” said Qamar, who was born in the U.S. to parents who immigrated from Pakistan. “We’re really proud of it, and we want to share that pride with other people and let them enjoy it as well.”
Cha Tea House is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Mondays through Thursdays, 10 a.m. to midnight on Fridays, 9 a.m. to midnight on Saturdays, and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sundays.
The cafe is preparing to hold a bigger grand opening in January that Qamar says will include musical performances. After that, there will be musicians and other kinds of entertainment every weekend.
“We’re just really happy to be part of Tysons,” she said. “It’s a very up-and-coming area. It’s always been an up-and-coming area, but [we want] to bring a bit more diversity and introduce Pakistani food to a very, I think, adventurous group at Tysons.”
Fairfax County Public Schools Reduces Student Quarantine Period — “With FCPS now offering drive-through diagnostic testing at six sites across the county, in addition to the many alternative ways to access COVID-19 testing, FCPS is now providing the option for students who have been exposed to COVID-19 to return to school and in-person activities after seven days.” [FCPS]
Longtime McLean Restaurant Reopens — After 20 years on Old Dominion Drive, the Italian restaurant Pulcinella reopened yesterday (Tuesday) in a new location at 1310 Chain Bridge Road. The shopping center is also expecting to add the Persian-Mediterranean restaurant Divan and a Lidl that will replace the closed Safeway next year. [Patch]
See Construction on Phase II of The Mile — Developer KETTLER has made progress on Brentford at The Mile since breaking ground on the 411-unit apartment building in October 2020. Expected to finish next year, this is the second phase of the 45-acre mixed-use development emerging northwest of Tysons Galleria, with plans for a third phase already in the works. [Tysons Partnership/Twitter]
No Plans to Mandate COVID-19 Vaccine in Schools — “A petition to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for school employees and all eligible students failed this week when the Virginia Department of Health opted to take no action on the request. In a decision posted Monday, the agency stated that it lacked the ‘clear statutory authority’ to mandate the shots for employees.” [Virginia Mercury/Inside NoVA]
(Updated at 9:05 a.m.) Inova Comes to McLean for Blood Drive — The McLean Volunteer Fire Department has teamed up with Inova Blood Donor Services for a blood drive in its lower parking lot at 1455 Laughlin Avenue. Staff will set up the bloodmobile before noon, and the drive will officially run from 1-5:30 p.m. [McLean VFD/Facebook]
FCPS Leads Public School Student Exodus — “For the second straight year, enrollment in Virginia public schools has dropped, with 46,000 fewer students enrolled since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to data from the Virginia Department of Education, the largest school district in the commonwealth, Fairfax County, saw the largest enrollment dip — more than 10,000 students, or a 5.4% difference between fall 2019 and fall 2021.” [WTOP]
Merrifield Wendy’s to Give Away Free Food — “The first 100 customers at the newly remodeled Wendy’s restaurant in Gate House Plaza in Merrifield on Dec. 4 will get a chance to win free food for a year. Wend American Group…is in the final stages of completing the remodeling of its Wendy’s restaurant at 3040 Gate House Plaza, near the intersection of Gallows Road and Route 50.” [Patch]
FCPS Appoints New Chief Equity Officer — Dr. Nardos King will take over as Fairfax County Public Schools’ interim chief equity officer on Dec. 6, replacing Dr. Lisa Williams until a new superintendent makes a permanent hire. Williams, who has overseen the division’s equity and diversity work since July 2019, is leaving for personal reasons not related to work, FCPS told Tysons Reporter. [FCPS]
Vienna Police Doubles Fundraising Goal for Prostate Cancer Awareness — “The last picture of the no shave November! 30 days ago our officers put down their razors until we reach our $3K goal. Today we can happily report that their efforts generated $6,594 in donations for @ZEROCancer THANK YOU to everyone that donate! Time to shave!” [Vienna Police Department/Twitter]
(Updated at 6 p.m.) After a 20-year hiatus, The Italian Oven has returned to Old Dominion Drive in McLean.
The Italian restaurant officially opened on Monday (June 21) at 6852 Old Dominion Drive, moving back into a spot it had first occupied in 1985.
The Esposito family has been serving authentic Italian cuisine in Northern Virginia for over 40 years. Although the restaurant has operated under multiple names, the main attraction has been their wood-burning oven shipped from Italy, which reaches 800 degrees and cooks pizzas in about two and a half minutes.
Salvatore “Sal” Esposito, the former owner of the original Italian Oven, was a “pioneer of installing wood-burning ovens in Arlington, Fairfax, McLean, and Georgetown,” according to his son, Robert, who will own and manage the eatery’s latest incarnation.
A native of Naples, Italy, Sal Esposito was trained in the hospitality industry in Germany and England before coming to America.
His uncle, Franco, was a chef trained in Long Island, New York, and the first member of the Esposito family to open a restaurant in the U.S., starting with a small hole-in-the-wall in Arlington. They had lines out the door after the first few months of business.
Health complications led Sal to retire early in 2000, leaving the restaurant in the hands of five managers. Eventually, Moe Jebali became the sole owner and renamed the restaurant Pulcinella.
Now, Pulcinella is moving to a new location, and Robert Esposito has decided to buy his father’s old restaurant and refurbish it to reopen The Italian Oven.
A graduate of Langley High School, Robert is also deaf and has strong ties to the deaf community in McLean, according to his father. He is committed to making The Italian Oven a welcoming environment for members of the deaf community.
There are still remnants of the old Italian Oven. A mural depicting a scene from Italy is still intact in the lower dining room, and the original wood-burning oven is still cooking as well. Certain pictures and menu items remain the same too, all waiting for guests to come back and enjoy.
“The people of McLean have been coming through the door saying, ‘Welcome back. We love you and welcome back,'” Sal said.
Questions and concerns about the restaurant can be directed to 703-570-4975.