Every May, Taste of Arlington takes over the streets of Ballston for a day-long celebration of fabulous food, great music, and all-around fun. One highlight of the festival is the Best of the Best awards, which is voted on by industry experts and recognizes the restaurant with the best appetizer, entrée, and dessert. In preparation for this year’s event, On Tap talked to the 2011 Best of the Best.
Best Appetizer: Lebanese Taverna
Grace Abi-Najm Shea, Owner
OT: What was your winning appetizer?
Grace Abi-Najm: A traditional fried dough with a saffron syrup served in little cones to give it a little fun atmosphere for the day!
OT: What is Lebanese Taverna’s signature dish?
GAN: Our hummus – we were one of the first in the Washington area to serve hummus. We make our from dry chickpeas, soak them overnight and cook them for hours before we even start to make it. It’s creamier and fluffier than an other hummus I’ve ever had. That, served with our fresh bread — it’s puffy and crunchy and we have a whole wheat option.
OT: What are the restaurant’s three favorite ingredients?
GAN: We have something we call the Holy Trinity – garlic, lemon and olive oil. It’s quintessential Lebanese. We use it on everything from salads to marinades and even dipping sauces.
OT: Where do you like to eat when you go out?
GAN: There are so many food options in Arlington. Liberty Tavern, Pho 75, Thai Thai, Asian Kitchen for sushi, Crisp and Juicy, and my new favorite, Leo Nora Bakery.
Lebanese Taverna: 5900 Washington Blvd. Arlington, VA; 703-241-8681; www.lebanesetaverna.com/restaurant_arlington.html
Best Entrée: Pinzimini
Graham Fontes, Executive Chef
OT: What was your winning entrée?
Graham Fontes: Chianti-braised short rib, trumpet mushroom and scallion risotto, served with natural jus. We recommend serving it with a glass of full-bodied chianti.
OT: What is Pinzimini’s signature dish?
GF: Same! I’ve been making it over 5-6 years, and it’s absolutely one of my favorites.
OT: Your three favorite ingredients?
GF: My favorite is grass-fed beef, and I really like good olive oil and good sea salt.
OT: Where do you eat when you go out?
GF: Hole-in-the-wall places, off the beaten path — there are so many different cuisines in Arlington. I really like Mexican food, El Salvadorian food. There is some amazing Korean food nearby as well.
OT: How do you see Pinzimini fitting into the overall restaurant scene in Arlington?
GF: We’re a restaurant that focuses on local products and incorporating them into amazing dishes. And then in our area, we have a younger crowd that appreciates restaurants that are doing the right thing for the environment. The restaurant works on reducing its carbon footprint, and actively participates in composting.
Pinzimini: 801 N. Glebe Rd. Arlington, VA; 703-537-4200; www.pinzimini.com
Best Dessert:Toby’s Homemade Ice Cream
Toby Bantug, Owner
OT: What was your winning dessert?
Toby Bantug: The ice cream flavors we scooped at 2011 Taste of Arlington were Mango Sorbet, Vanilla Bean, and Chocolate Brownie.
OT: How do you come up with new flavors?
TB: By eating! I’m always trying new foods, new flavor profiles, and new desserts (whether ice cream or not). Every time I travel I constantly seek out and visit local, independent ice cream shops. I also get a lot of great suggestions from my wife, Monina.
OT: Most unusual ingredients you’ve ever used?
TB: Beer and hot sauce. They each make great ice cream.
OT: Where do you like to eat when you go out?
TB: With two small children, family-friendly restaurants such as District Taco and Pie-tanza are at the top of our list, but we also love to eat at Thai by Thai, Elevation Burger, and Bonchon Chicken.
OT: How do you see Toby’s fitting into the overall dessert scene in Arlington?
TB: We don’t give in to fads, we aren’t trendy. We give people what they want – pure, simple flavor!
Toby’s Homemade Ice Cream: 5849 Washington Blvd. Arlington, VA; 703-536-7000; www.tobysicecream.com
Taste of Arlington 2012
This is the 25th year of northern Virginia’s leading street festival is celebrating local restaurant goodness. Almost 50 restaurants will be featured at this year’s Taste of Arlington, and the 15,000+ attendees will be serenaded by local music groups while they nibble.
Attendees will be doing good by eating well, since proceeds benefit the Arlington Community Foundation, the Virginia Hospital Center and Phoenix Houses of the Mid-Atlantic. There will also be art, crafts, and children’s activities. The festival is free, but tickets are required to taste. (See also, page 60.)
You can win free tickets by entering the “Where is Joe Hadeed?” contest. Joe, CEO of Hadeed Carpet, will be pictured three times a week in a Taste restaurant. Facebook fans of Hadeed Carpet and Twitter followers (#WheresJoeHadeed) can submit their restaurant guesses starting 10 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays until the event to win two tickets.
Taste of Arlington: Wilson Blvd. in front of Ballston Common Mall, May 20, noon to 5 p.m.; advance tickets are available at www.tasteofarlington.com/tickets.php
Arlington Hoists a Mug to American Craft Beer Week
By Noreen Burns
Top off your mug one last time during American Craft Beer Week by attending the Taste of Arlington on May 20. Complementing fine food from the city’s restaurants will be a worldwide selection of beer styles from regional breweries (Flying Dog in Frederick, Md.), national breweries (Spoetzl in Shiner, Texas, Breckendridge in Denver, Colo., Saranac and Ommegang from New York, Magic Hat in South Burlington, Vt.) and international breweries (Franziskaner in Munich, Newcastle from the UK). All of last year’s breweries will be back, and joining the roster of craft brewers for 2012 are Brooklyn Brewery and New Belgium.
The craft beer tent will be set up at the corner of Randolph and Wilson Streets. “We would like to have two tents,” says Jaie Neubauer, craft division manager for Premium Distributors of Virginia, but added that the license only allows for a single location. Premium reps will man a booth to talk up the beers. Full pours will cost two tickets; one ticket will get you a four-ounce sampling, perfect for tasting a plethora of the country’s finest such as New Belgium Fat Tire and Magic Hat Elder Betty.Last call will be at 4 p.m., an hour before the festival closes.
Remember to bring along a designated driver, or travel by Metro: the Ballston station on the Orange line will get you within a block of the festival.