Ray’s the Steaks

Yelp page
Food Decor Service Cost
19 18 16 $25

July 31st, 2009
If you live in this area, you pretty much have to go to Ray’s the Steaks and Ray’s Hellburger. It’s just the thing to do. Ray’s moved this year to a new location when it moved it’s Hellburger into the Steaks location. Ray’s now takes reservations as well.

We didn’t have a reservation, but walked in and didn’t have to wait. We were seated at a table right next to the back-side of the hosting table (sitting next to the hosts that were standing and talking to customers, pulling out menus, answering the phone, etc) and asked to be moved. We were then moved to a table next to a supply station, a stop in-between the kitchen and the tables where people go to get glasses and silverware rolls. The hostess asked if this was fine and I said “Well, they’re both bad, but I guess we can sit here.” In my opinion, you just shouldn’t put tables in places people don’t want to sit. It’s okay to have one or two less tables, the diners will appreciate it in the end (see: SEI Restaurant). I also didn’t really know who our server was. We were being served by the hostess and two different waitresses at the same time, and they didn’t seem to communicate with each other on what stage in our meal we were at. The hostess then came to us after about 5-10 minutes and asked if we wanted to move. At this point, we were all settled in (despite the constant bumping-into I was receiving by every waiter that walked by), so declined. After we placed our orders, another waitress came by and asked us for our drink orders. We told her we had already placed our order and munched on the bread and cashews. The spicy cashews were great, but the bread was thick, dense, and dry. Not to mention pretty much flavorless. The bread went mostly uneaten and was taken away when our food came.

So, yeah, the steak is cheap, but is it good? Honestly, I didn’t order the steak here. I don’t like steak, so I got the scallops. The appetizer portion for $9.95 was the size of an entree at any other restaurant and the scallops were the biggest I’ve ever seen. The scallops came served with onions (which didn’t go with the dish at all) that were mostly inedible, and a mango chutney (which tasted like jelly and was good in moderation). The scallops themselves were good. They were almost 100% grit-free despite their size, but did have a bit of rubbery mouth-feel at times. I tried the Diablo steak served medium, and it too was alright. Nothing to right home about, and also served with the horrendous onions and with large chunks of garlic on top. Each steak entree comes with a side of mashed potatoes and creamed spinach. The mashed potatoes had pockets where I could taste butter, and the potatoes themselves had a slightly grainy texture at times. They didn’t taste like instant potatoes, but reminded me of them. This was the first time I’d had creamed spinach, and it didn’t make me a fan. It was interesting to taste, but too watery for me. Both were alright enough, but there was just too much of them. We don’t need this much food, period! I ordered a small side of Macaroni & Cheese for $3.50 and it too was too large. After two bites, it went uneaten. The only thing worse than having a craving for macaroni and cheese is trying to fill that craving with an awful excuse for the dish. The macaroni lacked flavor all together, and tasted like pasta water. I could see some cheese in it, but there was absolutely no cheese taste. I’ve had better macaroni from frozen dinners.

These sides, paired with the size of the entree instantly made me realize, yet again, why America has an obesity issue. I chose the appetizer size of the scallops and a small size of the side, yet could not finish either. The steak and sides were taken as leftovers and eaten over a span of three days.

My boyfriend was “resting” part-way through his steak, placing his silverware down on the table, and I was still eating my scallops, fork and knife in hand, when a waitress came up to us and offered to box his food. I couldn’t believe the constant pressure we were getting to finish quickly, it was obvious that they were trying to turn tables quickly. When we were finished, they cleared the table, boxed my boyfriend’s food and sides, but left my dirty plate on the table until we left. Little things like this, in service, really irk me. It can really put a damper on the whole experience.

I did like the little mini-desserts we received though–chocolate peanut butter squares. It tasted fresh because the peanut butter was refrigerator-cold and the chocolate was very warm. The contrast was interesting to me, though some might not like it.

The decor in Ray’s is nicer than it’s previous location. It looks like a clean seafood/steakhouse inside, with wood and white and windows. It did seem like a starker version of a downtown restaurant, with no personalization at all. I guess you pay for the cheap prices, not personality though. I’m glad that I went to this restaurant, but I shall not be visiting again.


From Zagat

“A better deal does not exist” than at this Arlington “living legend” near the Courthouse metro that’s rated the Top Steakhouse in the DC Survey for “incredible” house-butchered beef (plus “affordable wines” and sides “at no extra charge”) that puts the “expensive chains to shame”; carnivores patiently endure the “rushed” service, “stark” space and “maddening no-reservations policy”, ’cause “that’s the shtick”; N.B. it may be moving to roomier quarters.

Courthouse | 1725 Wilson Blvd. (Quinn & Rhodes St) | 703-841-7297
Food: 27, Decor: 10, Service: 19, Cost: $44

Layalina Restaurant

Food Decor Service Cost
17 17 22 $25

August 4th, 2009
So I made the mistake of reading a review that said “…can’t understand why anyone would eat at Aladdin’s in Ballston when this place is right down the street” and assumed this referred to walking distance. Yes, I walked from the Ballston metro to this location. Not exactly “close” nor “walkable”.

I went here for a friend’s birthday celebration, and was surprised that they were able to accommodate our party of 8 so well. The service was friendly, very friendly. They visited us at the right times and joked with us a bit, as if we had been coming here forever. I never noticed a lack of service and all dishes were timed well, even for a large party. We all split the “Sultan’s Feast” which consists of twelve different dishes (Hommos with Shawarma, Baba Ghannoug, Macarona Bel Laban, Layalina Chicken Arayis, Soujok, Grape Leaves, Beet M’tabal, Kizbareyeh, Manaeesh Bel Zaatar, Malfoof Salad, Lubieh Bil Zeit, and Kabis). This was supposed to feed four people, but it fed all 9 of us comfortably (with people ordering their own additional meze if they so desired).

I had been very interested in this place since it’s fairly close to where I live and it has high marks in the Zagat guide (ridiculously high marks) for decor and food. I don’t know what went wrong, but I deducted 10 points each for their 27/30 food and 23/30 decor. The food is just average, in fact I’ve had better food at Lebanese Taverna and Zaytinya for about the same price. The decor is supposed to be “transporting”, and transported me to some weird kitsch shop in the boonies where they sell antiques. The memorabilia that lined the walls actually went to the point to interfere with the efficiency of the restaurant, taking up a great deal of floor space. Some of the memorabilia was charming, like the small (read:huge) mountain in the corner of the room that we were seated next to. But that was all it needed, it didn’t need to have every inch of un-painted wall covered with something. I wouldn’t usually fixate on something so minute, but it was a point highlighted in previous reviews! The booths are made out of cushions that bring to mind those three-cushioned fold out sofa beds/chairs that we all had in the 90s, wrapped in poncho-like material. They were soft and comfy enough (if not set a little too low for my tastes), but the back cushions kept attacking us throughout the dinner, persisting to lean against us repeatedly until we were forced to either hold them back with purses or lean firmly against them.

You should go here for the expansive menu. Those that like Lebanese food won’t be disappointed. There were 34 different vegetarian dishes alone, and about 7 of them were hommos! The bread they served us was dry, hard, and tasteless, but it only served as a way to eat the various dips and dishes, so that was fine. I was not at any point “wowed” by a dish, but I was never disgusted, turned off, or disappointed with a dish. It was all just “meh”.

The barren, bright green store front did not do much to help, but the fact that he let us split our check 6 ways was amazing. My friend got a piece of baklava with a candle in it and we all sang Happy Birthday to her. I’m glad I went, but I’m not sure I’ll ever go back (despite what Zagat and others say!)

From Zagat

Located in a Ballston strip mall, this Middle Eastern “gem” may “lack curb appeal, but inside it’s a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach”: the “exotic”, artifact-strewn dining room is “quite transporting”, while the “wide selection” of “delicious” entrees and meze – featuring “fresh ingredients and lovely spices” – “taste exactly how they should”; what’s more, the “gracious owners” and “welcoming” staff ensure you’ll “walk in the door and feel at home.”

Food: 27, Decor: 23, Service: 22, Cost: $30
Ballston | 5216 Wilson Blvd. (N. Emerson & N. Greenbrier) | 703-525-1170

Best Buns Bread Co.

Food Decor Service Cost
18 16 17 $5

Best Buns is the bakery that provides all of the Great American Restaurants with their delicious bread. That alone should be a reason to go here. The bakery is located next to the wonderful Carlyle restaurant in Shirlington. I always go there for a cupcake, and undoubtebly get the chocolate cupcake with cream cheese frosting. In the picture attached, I put a fork next to the cupcake for size reference. This thing is huge. I don’t care who you are, you’ll need to split this with someone. That, or get it to go and eat it gradually by yourself (not saying that I’ve done this myself of course…). The cake is dense, moist, and fluffy all at the same time. The icing is piled on perfectly and has a wondorous balance between the tart sourness of the cream cheese and the oodles of sugar I’m sure they put in there.

The staff is helpful and patient, quick to make recommendations, and patient when patrons can’t seem to make up their mind on what delicious baked good to order (again, not saying this has happened to me…).  Seating in here is sparse, consisting of one wall lined with a high bar and stools, so we usually get the ‘cake to go and either eat it next door at Carlyle’s bar or one of the great outdoor spots in Shirlington.

Chocolate with Cream Cheese Frosting

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Chateau Gateau

Food Decor Service Cost
14 17 $4

May 30th, 2009
Chateau Gateau only sells their cupcakes at the Old Town Farmer’s Market or via catering. Because they are just a simple table admist many other tables, the decor score here is N/A. I say “they”, but CG is just one person: Serina Luangkhot. She’s very nice and quite personable. She says right up, apologetically, what they’re out of (I arrived at the market relatively late. I say “relatively” because the market opens at some ungodly hour like 5 or 6) and also mentioned that she gives tupperware containers with cupcakes to regulars, but she was also out of those.

I had the 3rd Date Magic and Pucker Up. The 3rd Date Magic was a nice change from a traditional cupcake. Unfortunately, the chocolate melted all over me and the cake was a bit dry. The Pucker Up was decent. The lemon curd with lemon zest was better than the rich chocolate/chocolate drizzle combo in the 3rd Date Magic. It might be because the actual chocolate in 3rd Date was too sweet for me (I’m a dark/extra-dark chocolate kinda gal). Overall, the lemon cupcake was sticky-ly sweet, too sweet. I inhaled it in 2 bites or so and was glad I tried it, but didn’t want another.

These cupcakes are a great treat if you’re already at the farmer’s market, and they’re only $2 each. I’d buy another just because Serina is so sweet, but I’d be buying them for the wrong reason. I recommend Buzz Bakery or Lavender Moon if you’re in the area.


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Lavender Moon Cupcakery

Yelp Page
Food Decor Service Cost
20 16 16 $5

May 30th, 2009
I had actually heard some bad things about Lavender Moon, and thought it wasn’t worth going out to Old Town Alexandria to try some. Boy was I wrong. Right across the street from the Farmer’s Market, you know they have to have the freshest ingredients possible. In fact, they only make cupcakes that day and close when they sell out of cupcakes.

Though there were many delicious flavors to choose from the printed menu of the day, we went with S’Mores and Blood Orange Dreamsicle. The S’Mores cupcake was absolute heaven-in-the-mouth. I thought it would be too sweet and too heavy, but it was perfect. The icing on top is actually marshmallow, so it condensed perfectly with the chocolate cake and graham cracker crust.

For the Blood Orange Dreamsicle, I was a little scared at first. I had never had blood orange before, but thought that the medium of cupcake would lend itself well to trying flavorsr. The icing was a bit too sweet, but it went well with the cake. I liked that there wasn’t too much icing like with many other cupcakes I’ve tried.  The cake itself had a nice pronounced orange flavor that wasn’t too subtle yet not too strong. I couldn’t really discern orange from blood orange, and I was expecting much bolder flavors or maybe a filling since it was supposed to be similar to the ice cream bar of the same name.

The decor here is slightly barren but well meaning. The service follows in the same thread. The display case doesn’t have labels as to what each cupcake is and the cupcake flavors don’t have an explaination of ingredients, so I had to ask for clarification for every single cupcake. Instead of going through the display and answering all my questions in one fell swoop, I had to ask the same question over and over again for each cupcake: “What’s this one?”. The cashier answered me monotonously and curtly, as if she was tired of working at a cupcakery. I then repeated the question over and over, receiving the same flat response. I didn’t care since I loved the cupcakes!

Lavender Moon only takes cash and checks, and changes their menu daily to have in-season flavors. Cupcakes are $3, including tax (which is 9%!). The day I went the menu was as follows:

  • Flourless Dark Chocolate, Almonds & Sea Salt
  • Vanilla Bean Lemon Curd
  • Buttermilk Cupcake with Mexican Chocolate Pudding
  • Devils Food Vanilla
  • Cherry White Chocolate
  • Triple Belgian Chocolate
  • Blood Orange Dreamsicle
  • Boston Cream
  • Devils Food Peanut Butter
  • Coconut
  • Coconut Macaroon
  • Smores

I almost got the Mexican Chocolate Pudding and the Boston Cream, but refrained. Though, I did relive my childhood by grabbing a Yoohoo from the refrigerated drinks case for $2. Much sweeter and more concentrated than I remember.