Wednesday, October 27, 2004

The fare and atmosphere at the Flying Buffalo in Falls Church stretches — as its name suggests — the imagination of what a single restaurant can achieve.

The food ranges from Coca-Cola barbecue chicken wings to Wiener schnitzel and the interior includes a children’s play area, pool tables and a mannequin in a Bavarian folk dress. The stereo plays ‘80s tunes a la Van Halen and Scorpions.

So what exactly is the Flying Buffalo, a year-old restaurant, trying to be?

“When my wife and I opened this place we wanted a family-friendly bar — a place where parents can have a beer while their children play,” says German-born Sven Gierlinger, a father of three youngsters. “It’s not very common … We found a niche.”

The restaurant — of course — also features a good children’s menu with five $3.95 dishes.

Another feature Mr. Gierlinger (a former food and beverage manager for the Ritz-Carlton hotels) wanted to achieve was a restaurant “removed from luxury, inviting to people from all walks of life,” he says. “Some days I have maintenance guys sitting at one table and a group of businessmen in suits at another.”

So what do they all come for?

Well, the best sellers are the wings, of which there are a dozen different kinds. Only fresh chicken is used, which helps explain why the wings are so very juicy and tender. Seasonings include traditional, teriyaki, Coca-Cola barbecue, Cajun, Jamaican jerk and Bavarian hot mustard-beer.

But the indecisive need not worry. The wings are all very tasty, well-seasoned and filling. If you desire a fiery flavor, pick the hot or habanero alternatives. Mild and medium are almost too kind. They may be ordered by the hundred.

Among the dips, the cilantro cream was our favorite.

The sides — there are 13 — include french fries, baked beans, coleslaw, yuca fries, baked potato, Bavarian potato salad and cucumber salad.

The french fries were a disappointment. They were dry and seemed to suffer from freezer burn, and the coleslaw was too mayonnaisy. Considering everything else is so fatty, the slaw would have done better dressed with a light vinaigrette.

Yes, this is no dining experience for the weight watcher, although the menu does have a few low-fat dishes. In fact, a roll of Tums might not be a bad thing to bring along.

The best sides were the Bavarian potato salad, which had a nice vinegar flavor to it, and the wonderfully light cucumber salad.

The menu also features 16 soups and appetizers, including beer-battered onion rings, which were nice; potato skins, also good; and tasty pupusas — stuffed tortillas.

The burger menu includes a popular buffalo burger and a vegetarian option, which features a soy patty.

Fish dishes include a teriyaki salmon and a buffalo catfish, pan-fried catfish breaded in cornflakes and sprinkled with traditional Buffalo wing sauce.

Mr. Gierlinger intended to focus the fare on the Western Hemisphere, including the Caribbean and Latin America, but when October rolled around last year, he couldn’t resist putting a few German dishes, and beer, on the menu.

They went over well and have remained. They include Wiener schnitzel and Bavarian potato salad and such tasty beers as Spaten and Franziskaner Hefe Weisse.

During Oktoberfest, Spaten is available on tap and served in 1-liter glasses, about 34 ounces. At $9.50, it’s a big seller during the fall season.

Desserts, made in-house, include a delicious peach cobbler served warm with vanilla ice cream — so yummy on a cold fall evening. The apple strudel (a special that evening), however, was bland: phyllo dough with a couple of apple slices?

And then there is the carrot cake, a delicious monster of a dessert. It’s so large, it’s almost a meal in itself. The cake is moist and perfectly seasoned and the icing is a cream cheese and white chocolate delight.

Overall the portions are very large at the Flying Buffalo, something no one has ever questioned in the past, Mr. Gierlinger says. The space, too, is capacious and airy, seating 120 people.

With 10 television screens, including one 65-incher, video games, pool tables, a dart board and the kids’ area, complete with a chalkboard and mini- dining room sets, there is plenty to do when taking a break from wing platters or liter Spatens.

The service was speedy and friendly.

The Flying Buffalo is a really nice neighborhood bar. While the chicken wings and beer on tap are very good, people are not likely to travel mile upon mile for its fare and ambience.

Still, the Gierlingers have achieved their goal: Local families, businessmen and sports enthusiasts will find a great place to soak up the Spaten, play pool and wing it.

RESTAURANT: The Flying Buffalo, 7305 Arlington Blvd., Falls Church; 703/876-9671

HOURS: 11:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday

PRICES: Starters $2.50 to $8.50; main courses $5.50 to $67.50 (for 100 wings); desserts $3.95 to $4.50

CREDIT CARDS: All major cards

PARKING: Parking lot

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

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