He’s been doing fine dining in Merrifield since before there was a Mosaic District. Now Sea Pearl founder Sly Liao is ready for his next challenge: netting a new clientele with bubble tea and Asian street food at Boba and Bites.
“The dining scene has changed since then,” Liao says of the shift in the hospitality landscape since he opened his Asian-inspired, modern American restaurant in late 2008. The new cafe, which is taking shape right behind his flagship restaurant (and next to a Panera), is all about quick service and exotic treats — while still adhering to Liao’s culinary standards.
“It’s still quality food in a fast-casual setting,” he says. That means the sweet and savory jianbing will be produced with organic grains including millet, and can be filled with free range chicken, five spice-flavored duck, braised pork belly, or honey-ginger tofu. Same goes for the flatbread-based rou jia mo — “Probably the first sandwiches created in the world,” he says of the Chinese “burger” — and traditional bao buns. There’s also an assortment of ready-made salad bowls, as well as sides (think: grilled corn dressed with Sriracha aioli).
Liquid refreshment comes in the form of bubble teas with bursting tapioca pearls, and slushies studded with luscious fruits, beans, and gummy toppings. The sweet he’s most excited about sharing with customers: Japanese taiyaki.
While he’s a fan of the funky fish-shaped waffle, which is typically filled with bean paste and/or vanilla cream, Liao says he plans to layer soft serve ice cream — tentative flavors include black sesame, matcha, vanilla, and chocolate — into the mouth of the waffle and then fill the tail with sweet beans and cream.
“It’s geared for the younger generation,” he says of the photogenic treat.
There’s still some construction going on at the site, but Liao expects to have the new venture ready within a few weeks. Boba and Bites is projected to operate from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.