Argia’s, Falls Church, VA

It’s always tons of fun to write a less than flattering review about a restaurant you like, run by people you like.

This is a prime example of why it’s important to remember that these aren’t reviews of “restaurants” so much as they are reviews of “meals.” Yes, I caught Argia’s on a very off night when the chef had left for a rare vacation – and I know it was an off night because I’ve had these same dishes before and they’ve been very good.

But I’m in detached-reporting mode of late, and I try to write honestly and openly about my meals, regardless of any friendships. This is why my reviews are rarely mentioned on restaurants’ websites, but at least you can trust them to be honest. (I should add that my son did a one-day mini-stage here last summer, and chef Amy Suyehiro had him making a pretty darned good pizza by the time it was over, too.)

As I waited for my frenetic friend at the bar, it was still happy hour, and that meant half-priced beers by the bottle (until 7 PM) and a Lagunitas Pils ($2.50). After happy hour ended, I noticed a beer I’d never seen before, so couldn’t resist cross tasting a P.I.L.S. ($5), an Italian Pilsner that I detested because it’s aged in Slavonian Oak Barrels which imparts a nasty override on the palate. (These beer prices are approximate.)

Argia’s wine list seems to have gotten better over the years, and I suspect it’s because co-owner Adam Roth’s brother James is the proprietor of the fine little gourmet wine shop, Red, White, & Bleu, just a block across Route 7 (you should find this store if you haven’t already).

We started with a bottle of 2008 Coltibuono Cetamura Chianti ($31) which was good value for the dollar. There’s a less-expensive Chianti on the list (Terra di Poppiano), but I’ve never been a big fan of that house, so three dollars more it was, and it was money well-spent.

Onward. Portions at Argia’s are available as solo or famiglia, and I’ve always felt the family-sized portions represent better value. The Caesar Classica (famiglia, $13.95) is dressed fairly heavily here, but it never comes across as anything short of refreshing because the chopped romaine is always fresh with a crispy snap.

I saw that Amy wasn’t here, so I went for the slam-dunk no-brainer Spaghetti & Meatballs (solo, $14.95) which has been excellent every time I’ve gotten it. Not so on this evening, I’m afraid, as the homemade spaghetti managed to be both overcooked (soggy) and undercooked (stuck together). It was drowning in sauce, and the meatballs were ferociously salty. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Linguine Campagnola (solo, $14.95) with homemade whole-wheat linguini, tossed with pine nuts, spinach, goat cheese, and roasted garlic purée was distressingly bland, even after everything was mixed together. However, it was saved by a few shakes of salt (or by taking a bite of a meatball).

Okay, so, an off night at the pasta station. It happens.

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