Ellie Bird’s eclectic menu offers a pho French onion soup and kimchi bouillabaisse.
Ellie Bird’s bird cage-like booths. Photograph by Andrew Noh.
Carey and Yuan Tang, the couple behind 14th Street restaurant Rooster & Owl, scrambled to switch from a refined tasting menu to takeout comfort foods in the early days of the pandemic. But what started as a survival move ended up being inspiration for a whole new restaurant. Their latest spot, Ellie Bird, opens in West Falls Church today with a more casual, a la carte, family-friendly New American menu. The name, meanwhile, is a nod to their daughter Ellie, also born during the early pandemic.
“She’s calm and cool and really patient. And the two really lend themselves together,” Carey says. “We imagined Ellie Bird to be like the little sister of Rooster & Owl: more casual, calmer, very comfortable. That’s how Ellie’s personality is.”
The seasonal menu features a lot of classic American comfort dishes but with cheffy global twists. French onion soup, for example, gets a Vietnamese pho spin. The dish features traditional touches like a sourdough crouton and melty gruyere cheese, but also a spiced broth with braised oxtails. Meanwhile, chicken and dumplings is transformed into ricotta gnudi with a pot pie filling, topped with crispy chicken skin. Bouillabaisse with snapper, Hokkaido scallops, and clams is crossed with kimchi stew.
A larger kitchen also means more space for making pastas, such as rigatoni with duck sausage or carrot garganelli with feta crema and spiced pumpernickel crumb. In addition to the appetizers and entrees, the menu also features a section of larger format “sharing is caring” dishes: a bone-in, dry-aged ribeye or a whole grilled branzino with jicama slaw and avocado salsa.
One familiar item from Rooster & Owl will be its popular pineapple buns. You can find them in a bread basket with focaccia and grilled scallion butter, or as a side on the kid’s menu. That “little birdies” menu also features a handful of dishes approved by the Tangs’ two- and four-year-olds: cornflake-crusted chicken tenders with fries, butter-and-cheese housemade penne pasta (with optional asparagus), and a “char-cute-rie” board with seasonal fruit, veggie, Virginia ham, and cheese.
Not actually for kids is the “Kid’s Choice Awards”—a slime-green-colored gin cocktail with pandan and coconut milk—although you can get a non-alcoholic version dubbed “Nick at Night.” Like the food, cocktails are classics but with unexpected ingredients like gochujang or salted cucumber cordial. Other drink options include a handful of local beers and a Virginia red wine bottled exclusively for the restaurant by Boxwood Winery. Yuan says the also went “overboard with the coffee”—he’s particularly excited about nitro cold brew— because they couldn’t do a lot of coffee with space limitations at Rooster & Owl.
Still to come later this spring: brunch. Down the line, Ellie Bird plans to also introduce a ghost kitchen-style takeout operation with a different menu that’s better suited for to-go. In the meantime, diners can grab a seat in Ellie Bird’s brightly colored 70-seat dining room, filled with avian touches like bird cage-like booths as well as a chef’s counter. (Yuan may bring some chef friends in for special counter tastings in the future.) A 40-seat patio will debut this summer.
Ellie Bird. 125 Founder’s Ave, Falls Church.
Jessica Sidman covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene. Before joining Washingtonian in July 2016, she was Food Editor and Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She is a Colorado native and University of Pennsylvania grad.