House-made rigatoni with crushed tomato sauce, spiced duck sausage, and ricotta at Ellie Bird in Falls Church, Virginia
House-made rigatoni with crushed tomato sauce, spiced duck sausage, and ricotta Credit: Nevin Martell

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For Yuan and Carey Tang, opening Ellie Bird in Falls Church is a homecoming. The couple behind award-winning tasting menu restaurant Rooster & Owl both grew up in the Virginia suburb. Their second restaurant, nested in the new Founder Row’s development, is down the way from Yuan’s family, within walking distance of Carey’s parents’ home, and on the same street where they both had their first jobs in hospitality: her at Applebee’s, him at Red Lobster (both restaurants’ locations have since closed).

Ellie Bird is intended to be a cool, casual, family-friendly little sister to their first restaurant, which is why they named it after their younger daughter, 2-year-old Ellie. This has created a little drama in the Tang household as their elder daughter, 4-year-old Nori, now expects them to name a restaurant after her.

The 3,200-square-foot space with 70 seats (if all goes well, a 40-seat enclosed pergola will debut out front this summer) was designed by 3877, which also handled the looks and feels of Cranes, The Gatsby, and Cracked Eggery. Words on the Pinterest vision board for the project included levity, light, and fun, which translated into a palette of dusty blue, yellow, and pink. The name was fully embraced, with birdcage-style booths lit up with lamps resembling modernist peacocks, and lots of birdy touches in the aviary area.

Pumpernickel toast with with honeyed chevre, edamame hummus, roasted maitakes, and mizuna at Ellie Bird in Falls Church, Virginia
Pumpernickel toast with honeyed chevre, edamame hummus, roasted maitakes, and mizuna Credit: Nevin Martell

Eschewing the tasting menu format of Rooster & Owl, the a la carte offerings are divided into appetizers, entrees, and sides, all coming out of the open kitchen overseen by chef de cuisine Ismael Otarola. Do yourself a favor and begin with the bread basket, featuring the pineapple buns Yuan made famous at Rooster & Owl, plus focaccia created by executive sous chef Tori Pajak that you can—and should—smear with grilled scallion butter. Another great way to kick off your meal: toasted house-made pumpernickel crowned with honeyed chevre, edamame hummus, roasted maitakes, and mizuna. It’s an earthy mouthful with joyful hints of sweetness.

The bread basket with whipped scallion butter at Ellie Bird in Falls Church
Bread basket with whipped scallion butter Credit: Nevin Martell

When it comes to mains, fennel seed-flecked house-made rigatoni is tender yet toothsome, tumbled with crushed tomato sauce, spiced duck sausage, honey herbed ricotta, and a glimmer of basil oil. Braised and glazed with fish sauce gastrique, lacquered lamb shank practically sparkles with a scattering of golden crispy shallots. Sitting on a bed of cauliflower tabbouleh, tangy-sweet apricot chutney offsets the meat’s supreme unctuousness.

Braised lamb shank at Ellie Bird in Falls Church, Virginia
Braised lamb shank Credit: Nevin Martell

Smaller diners aren’t overlooked. The little birdie’s (kid’s) menu includes buttered, Parmesan-amped penne with optional asparagus; cornflake-crusted chicken “tendies” with honey mustard for dipping; a “char-cuter-rie platter with crackers, fruit, crudité, cheese, and ham; and personal naan pizza with cheese or pepperoni. Speaking of littles, the website features awwwh-inspiring photos of the staff as youngsters.

Devil’s food cake with chai buttercream at Ellie Bird in Falls Church, Virginia
Devil’s food cake with chai buttercream Credit: Nevin Martell

Desserts are handled by pastry chef Rachel Sherriffe, an alum of the Michelin two-star Jean-Georges in New York City who also handles the sweets at Rooster & Owl. Her creations hew classic, but with upscale twists. Think decadent devil’s food cake cocooned in chai buttercream; a nostalgia-inducing sundae built on frozen cheesecake bites, cream cheese ice cream, and graham cracker ice cream, and finished off with candied pecan praline sauce and peaks of vanilla whipped cream; a Virginia-on-my-mind play on baked Alaska with torched-to-order meringue concealing peanut ice cream and peanut butter cake interspersed with slathers of raspberry jam; and cream cheese frosted, graham cracker-powered hummingbird cake with coconut sorbet and chili caramel poached pineapple.

Drinks are handled by beverage director Chris Sang and wine director Greg Morgan. Cocktails include a pisco sour tanged up with hibiscus and the Kid’s Choice Awards, a carryover from Rooster & Owl made with gin, pandan, mango, and coconut milk that’s the color of Nickelodeon slime (there’s a nonalcoholic version, too, dubbed the Nick at Nite).

This summer, there are plans to operate an ice cream cart out front and to launch a fried chicken-focused ghost kitchen operation, which Carey half-jokes she wants to call Side Chick. Brunch is also on the horizon. Menu contenders include pineapple bun sliders with Spam, guacamole, and scrambled eggs; smoked brisket with fried eggs and salsa verde; and mochi waffles topped with whipped cream and caramelized bananas.

Despite still getting Ellie Bird fine tuned and fully operational, the Tangs are already thinking of opening a third restaurant in two to three years. Their vision is a high-end tasting menu in D.C. even more refined and luxe than Rooster & Owl.

Nori surely has her fingers crossed mom and dad will name it after her. It sounds like the kind of place I’d want to eat, so my fingers are crossed, too.

Ellie Bird, 125 Founder’s Ave., Falls Church (703) 454-8894.