Restaurateurs Yuan and Carey Tang have made a name for themselves in D.C. since 2019 with their critically acclaimed American tasting room Rooster & Owl. For the couple’s breakout project across state lines, things are much more casual.
Ellie Bird hatched this month in Falls Church, Virginia with a menu full of New American comfort foods and Asian twists. Ellie Bird is deeply personal for the couple, who both grew up right down the street from its location in a mixed-use development (125 Founder’s Avenue, Falls Church, Virginia). Yuan’s first-ever restaurant job was at the Falls Church Red Lobster and Carey’s was at the neighborhood Applebee’s.
Unlike their prix fixe-only place on 14th Street NW, the new sibling offers an la carte menu split into sections like “to start” and “plates for sharing,” plus entrees, sides, and desserts.
“The idea is if you get one thing from every section, you would be a happy diner,” says Carey, who serves as managing partner.
Rooster and Owl’s famous warm pineapple buns — a delicious intersection of a Parker House roll and a pineapple bun — make an appearance in the bread basket, along with focaccia and grilled scallion butter. The Vietnamese French onion soup features spice flavors of traditional pho, enhanced during wintertime with oxtails, along with a Gruyere topping and sourdough croutons.
“It’s kind of hard to describe New American these days, but we are going for creative, chef driven dishes that are seasonal and unfussy,” says Carey. “It really is all about the flavors our kitchen team grew up with.”
Highlights off the shared plates section include octopus ceviche with passionfruit vinaigrette, avocado, garlic-chili crunch, red onion, and fried plantains. Ricotta gnudi, featuring pillowy homemade dumplings with English peas and carrots, draws inspiration from traditional chicken and dumplings.
Fried oyster larb gai is another creative crossover dish, featuring lettuce wraps with fried oysters and a larb salad with more oysters, Thai curry spices, and puffed black rice.
Familiar menu iterations from Rooster and Owl show up on the entrees section. Yuan’s kimchi bouillabaisse, loaded with grilled Hokkaido scallops, red snapper and littleneck clams; a tender braised lamb shank glazed with apricot chutney, and homemade carrot garganelli pasta with feta crema. Dry-aged ribeye with garlic confit or a whole grilled branzino with jicama slaw round out the mains.
Unique sides include dan dan asparagus, kale with Chinese sausage, or “fancy tater tots” with homemade hot sauce.
Prices range from $12 to $19 for the starters and shared dishes, entrees run $21 to $38, and sides are $8. The dishes from the grill are at the top end of the price range, with ribeye going for $55.
The beverage program features a host of wines by the glass or bottle, including a house-labeled wine from Virginia’s Boxwood Winery, and list of local beers. Colorful cocktails with cute names include a green slime-hued Kids’ Choice Awards, which blends gin, pandan, coconut milk and mango. This is Your Brain on Pisco pairs mezcal with gochujang, grapefruit, and rice wine vinegar. The zero-proof Pineapple Under the Sea is made with blood orange shrub, hibiscus, and soda.
The restaurant, currently open only for dinner service from Tuesday to Sunday, will debut brunch this summer with creative spins on weekend classics like spam-and-egg sliders on pineapple buns and mochi waffles with bananas.
Ellie Bird gets its name from the Tangs’ youngest daughter Ellie, who was born in 2020 during the midst of the pandemic. “We also have a thing for birds and wanted to keep the name part of the flock,” says Carey.
The casual, 70-seat dining room celebrates its namesake with booths under big bird cages and bathroom wallpaper covered in puns like “Toucan play that game” or “Could you please sparrow some change.” Patio seating will enter the fold this summer.
A “Little Birdies” menu for kids includes favorites of the Tangs’ two daughters: chicken tenders with a cornflake crust; penne pasta with butter and cheese; and a “Char-cute-rie” sampling of cheese, ham, vegetables and fruit. “An elevated Lunchable,” says Carey.
“At the end of the day, we’re fun people. What we obsess about here at Ellie Bird is just having fun,” says Carey.