Pastry Xpo

$$$$ ($14 and under)

Editorial Review

With the addition of this pleasant pastry shop and espresso bar, things are looking up in a part of Northern Virginia known more for its concentration of Asian grocery stores than for its fine foods.

Owner and pastry chef Toni Srour has been the creative force behind Maurice Pastries, a 15-year-old wholesale operation whose desserts are served at the Omni Shoreham and other major hotels in the Washington area. He and his wife, Samar, decided the time was right in January to open their own storefront.

"We got so many requests from clients and friends," Toni says. "It was hard for them to buy our stuff."

Come in looking for breakfast and the phrase "embarrassment of riches" comes to mind. It's a long walk back to order the Illy coffees, Mighty Leaf teas, and "shakeratos" and "blendinos" ($3 to $4.50), which are the Srours' versions of crushed-ice-and-flavored-coffee drinks.

The route takes you past pristine cases filled with house-made chocolates, marzipan confections and exquisite and reasonably priced cakes, bars and cookies. The next time I'm invited to dinner in the Virginia 'burbs, I'll stop here first to pick up a treat for the table.

The selection of scones, turnovers and croissants ($1.95 to $2.45) looks delicate and fresh. For something different, though, it's hard to beat the thyme herb croissants ($2.25), a house specialty.

"I took the recipe from my dad, who was a baker in Lebanon," Toni says. The croissants are lightly filled with a mixture of sesame seeds, ground sumac and ground thyme. "Some customers find the flavor strong," he says. "It's not a breakfast item for them. Yet."

The display of lunch offerings might seem modest in comparison, but the same fine baker's hand and careful composition are evident. We liked the salami pizza, which is closer in size and character to a danish and can be heated upon request; its flaky pastry and combination of bechamel sauce and Swiss cheese hold a slice of tomato and one of three salami choices on top (calabrese, capicola or pepper; $3.25). The petite mushroom fontina tart ($4.99) has a tender, savory egg filling. Small-baguette sandwiches ($4.25-$4.99) change daily.

The sleeper hit on the menu is Samar's ultra-smooth lentil soup (12 ounces, $2.99). It tastes creamy and rich, yet it is made with no dairy: only caramelized onions, red lentils, olive oil, salt, pepper and cumin.

"I'm a good cook, too," Samar says. "People taste it once and come back for it every day."

For her, it's icing on the cake.

-- Bonnie S. Benwick (July 9, 2008)