Sea Pearl

American, Seafood
$$$$ ($15-$24)

Editorial Review

Tom Sietsema wrote about Sea Pearl for a First Bite column in December 2008.

In a part of Falls Church better known for fast food than for fine dining, Sly Liao is doing his part to rectify the situation. In October, the chef and his wife opened Sea Pearl, a sleek dining room with seating for 240 and an American menu that runs from lamb burgers and charred tuna to linguine with shrimp and steak spiked with Sichuan chili sauce.

True to its name, the restaurant plays up an aquatic theme. Mother-of-pearl shells from the Philippines play the role of curtains, helping to break up the expanse. Part of one wall is cut to suggest waves, and Sea Pearl's low ceiling appears to be higher than it is, thanks to "bubbles" fashioned from white material stretched across rings as wide as 10 feet. Such design details distract from the reality: The view from the windows is mostly highway.

Born in Kolkata, India, to Chinese parents, Liao comes to the project from Sequoia in Georgetown, where he cooked for 14 years. A recent dinner in his new venue found colorful spring rolls, bursting with shrimp and crab but also grease; hanger steak bested by its delicate onion rings and racy salsa verde; and zippy tilapia on a thick bed of root vegetables. The service? The staff couldn't have been sweeter or more attentive.

Weeknight happy hours run from 5 to 8, and every evening flags a decent deal. (We'll be back some Monday to save $3 on a $10 or $12 martini.)

Liao's wife, Ly Lai, is linked to Sea Pearl's neighbor across the street, the recently opened Four Sisters. She's Sister No. 1, the eldest of the four in her family. But her work hours are reserved for Sea Pearl, which she helps manage.

We had to ask the chef: Is it a good thing or a bad thing to be so close to the white-hot Vietnamese restaurant? Four Sisters, says a diplomatic Liao, "draws a lot of people" to his corner of the emerging Merrifield Town Center. He sees his place as a balance to the Asian equation, and an easy commute: "We live two blocks away!"

Entrees, $11-$24.

(Dec. 10, 2008)