The former Lone Star Steakhouse building had been empty for several years when Virginia restaurateurs Keith and Cheryl Early renovated the building last fall, nearly tripling its size.
The buttery yellow Bungalow Lakehouse is perched on the edge of one of those tidy little suburban lakes, far enough from the street that the traffic noise is muted. There’s a small, comfy bar off the lobby, a billiard room with televisions and its own bar in the back, a cigar bar, outside terrace seating for warmer weather, and clubby, mahogany-paneled dining areas.
The Earlys — who own two other, smaller Bungalow restaurants in the area — recruited executive chef Jason Maddens from Washington’s acclaimed French bistro Central Michel Richard to kick the food in Sterling up several notches.
If you order the right things off Maddens’s large, overly ambitious menu, you’ll come away wishing the Lakehouse was in your neighborhood. My friend Alex ordered the creamy cauliflower curry soup, the tender braised beef short ribs and, when we went for brunch, the smoky pastrami hash, and told me, “I love this place.”
I had the limp fried calamari, the walnut-crusted salmon and the arugula salad, the latter two of which were too sweet, and I thought: It’s not worth the drive.
Ignore the menu section called Snacks for the Table. We tried multiple times to find something that didn’t taste bland and dumbed-down. The eggplant tapenade was watery, the wild mushroom and foie gras rillettes didn’t taste remotely like either, and the country pâtéwas tasteless and too cold. Ditto the chicken liver mousse.
Even otherwise-happy Alex agreed he would skip that section.
Among the appetizers, the gummy brandade fritters that are supposedly made from salt cod tasted mostly of potato. The fried calamari would be improved without the accompanying fried green tomato slices, which seemed to dampen the squid’s coating.
The salads we tried needed a better balance. Smoked salmon with roasted beets, candied pistachios and sherry vinaigrette was an unappetizing clash of flavors and mushy texture. The arugula salad went overboard on sweetness. Is it really necessary to have strawberries, candied walnuts, julienned apples and a sweet balsamic dressing?
The one exception was the stellar grilled chicken and lentil salad. With spicy frisee, bits of smoky bacon, pickled pearl onions and a bracing curry vinaigrette, it’s a well-balanced winner.
In general, meat trumps fish on Maddens’s menu — except for the pan-seared Virginia rockfish with potatoes and fennel, and the seared New England sea scallops with cauliflower. (Although I’d flick away those unnecessary dried cranberries from the scallops.)