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New Season - Loehmann's Plaza in Falls Church

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Surprise! The Virginia Sign of the Whale has closed, and has been replaced by New Season which opened on October 10th. In early 2009, I believe Paya Thai offered the area's first induction "hot pot," and New Season is now the first I know of under Vietnamese ownership.

My young dining companion and I were scrounging for a burger last night - we thought about Sweetwater Tavern, Velocity Five, Old Hickory Grill (nah to all three), Ray's Hell-Burger (too far from where we were (downtown Fairfax)), and I remembered I hadn't been to Sign of the Whale in ages - well, why not. Because it's gone, that's why!

Continuing my pattern of robbing poor Matt of his youth, we went into New Season - I'd secretly hoped that since they were billing themselves as part Sports Bar, they might have pub fare, and they sort-of do.

Strawberry Fruit Shake ($4) complete with tiki umbrella

Bottle of Yuengling ($3.50)

Spring Rolls ($4 for 2) with shrimp and pork in cold rice paper

Mini Burger Sliders ($9) with pickles and shoe string fries

Caramel Claypot Catfish ($12) with crushed peppercorns and scallions

Okay, this place just opened, so I'm going to accentuate the positive: The strawberry fruit shake was very good, and so was the rice that came with the catfish (don't take good rice for granted). They're going to have a full selection of Dogfish Head beers on tap which they don't have ready yet. Most importantly, the star of the show is going to be the hotpot which we decided we just didn't want last night.

The staff is eager, gracious, and friendly, and when one gentleman asked me how I liked my catfish, I said it would have been better had it been actually cooked in (as opposed to just transferred into) the clay pot (he agreed, adding that the (very thin, very salty) sauce gets reduced and forms a nice glaze, but the pot itself is just too hot for the customers when it's served). He knows what he's talking about; I hope they correct this error. But again, the induction hot pot is their (forgive the Dogfish Head pun) raison d'ĂȘtre - I walked by a group having one, and it looked really good.



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When my wife said her stylist told her about a hotpot restaurant in Falls Church, I thought she had to be talking about Uncle Liu's. But some googling proved that I was wrong. There in fact is another hot pot joint not too far from Uncle Liu's and I tried it for lunch today. Here's their menu. Every table has a induction cooktop which is awesome in terms of being able to get the broth to a boil quickly. I ordered the vegetarian hotpot with a side order of just fish balls and the spicy broth. The vegetables included - fried tofu, napa cabbage, spinach, watercress, enoki mushrooms, daikon, and some other fungus that I can't identify (two heaping plates full altogether) and then a plate of noodles, which in my case is vermicelli. The broth is flavorful (not as spicy as Uncle Liu's but they have a even spicier broth - Korean). There is a good chance the broth contains MSG though - I think my face is a little numb now. I think this place is more user friendly than Uncle Liu's as you don't need to order everything a la carte. You can go by yourself or with another person and sample alot of different foods with their combos. But if you want the full sichuan experience, you'd still have to go to Uncle Liu's.

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Two questions as to how it compares to Liu: What did they have in the way of dipping sauces and how clean is it? My one complaint about Uncle Liu's is that it is a bit dingy.

Not much in terms of sauce. I was given fish sauce, soy sauce, chopped scallions, chopped hot green chilis, and minced garlic. As you'll recall, with the spicy broth, dipping sauce is almost not necessary. The interior is much nicer than Uncle Liu's (old Sign of the Whale decor really hasn't changed). It's cleaner, the only server was American and did a good job of explaining the hotpot concept to other people - they give you tongs and skimmers (so you don't have to bring your own).

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