TAV (short for Taverna) Mediterranean Bistro is truly a hidden gem in McLean. The meticulously appointed and ultra-comfortable interior, with its daring assortment of colorful and patterned throw pillows and interesting array of art and fine photography, sets the scene with a cool vibe for happy hour or date night with a mix of Brazilian jazz and chill music providing the background ambience. Every detail of the decor is carefully considered, down to the fresh flowers that grace the restaurant to the refreshing paint colors that adorn the walls of the bathrooms.
Seasoned restauranteur Rana Sersy, the owner and chef of TAV, is an affable and energetic presence, greeting guests like old friends. But behind this friendly face is nonetheless a backbone of determination and perseverance. She clearly pours her heart and soul into every aspect of this inviting venue, passionate about her craft. Her tenacity is palpable; her enthusiasm, contagious.
She is the epitome of a resilient entrepreneur—a businesswoman thriving in a male-dominated field, having been awarded Entrepreneur of the Year from the Greater McLean Chamber of Commerce in 2017 for her former iteration Simply Fresh in the same locale. She realized it was time to expand her vision, while retaining her loyal clientele which continues to enjoy this convivial new place to make memories—– from brunch Saturday and Sunday from 10 to 2 with an enticing Crab Benedict, consisting of two poached eggs, smoked crab meat, and a rich hollandaise sauce to options for private dining.
Her philosophy is fundamentally that we must help one another. She believes in women empowering women. She lives for her community and greatly appreciates how they have continued to support her. And these days that is particularly true. With several of McLean’s favorite restaurants recently closing, Rana’s culinary concept fills a much-needed gap for those epicureans-about-town seeking an elegant yet casual social space with fabulous drinks and impressive cuisine—a fine-dining experience of delectable dishes made with locally-sourced ingredients—This woman-owned restaurant— which just opened in April – exhibits early promise with its eclectic menu and nicely curated cocktail, beer, and wine list, including Almaza beer hailing from Lebanon and and a Signature Mimosa of pomegranate, rosemary and prosecco. Or one could select a simple drink of fresh lemon with mint. Lemon features prominently at the edges of the Mediterranean basin. One evening diner, Erika Yalowitz of Tysons, remarked, “I found the lemon pulp in my Summer Margarita very appealing.”
Originally from Egypt, the owner’s life journey took her to Greece for twelve years, a combination which informs many of the intriguing menu selections, from Koshary—Egyptian rice, lentil, onion, and tomato sauce—to Shrimp Santorini, sautéed shrimp with fava beans, flavored with paprika.
All told, Rana had a keen sense of “the palate held within the nations that bordered the Mediterranean Sea, and desired to bring that special flavor to McLean.”
“The chef has a unique and trendy way to incorporate various flavors that make this menu international and representative of Mediterranean cuisine, kind of a modern Mediterranean fusion,” observes Erika.
You will find the usual suspects, Hummus, made with chickpeas, lemon, and tahini, Spicy Feta Cheese Mousse with smoked paprika, and Tzatziki, Greek yogurt with crispy cucumber and olive oil, each served with pita—or opt for the Trio if you can’t decide. Falafel makes an appearance as well, served with tahini and tomato.
Yet you will also encounter tantalizingly unexpected combinations. Start off with a fresh Citrus Crudo, sashimi-style fish, in our case salmon, with radish slivers punctuated perfectly with slender slices of Thai red chile peppers with a citrus almond dressing.
For the mezze, or appetizers, forest mushrooms, a collection of seasonal mushrooms with fresh dill and cilantro and a creamy lemon sauce were “tasty, with the flavor of garlic, herbs, and spices,” notes Erika. Handmade Burrata Cheese is another tempting option, served with herb oil and chile flakes.
Stuffed seasonal vegetables vary from cabbage to eggplant to zucchini, depending on the freshest available. Informative and congenial Assistant Manager Ramzi Gharbi guided us in the right direction with tonight’s exceptional savory green peppers—which did not disappoint—stuffed with flavorful rice, tomato sauce, herbs, and Greek yogurt.
Salads include roasted red beets with caramelized walnuts, yogurt, and mint and another with local heirloom tomatoes, kalamata olives, red onion, and Manouri cheese, enhanced with a pomegranate vinaigrette.
A stand-out entrée is the boneless whole Mediterranean branzino in a butterfly cut with herb salad sourced from the patio herb garden, drizzled with olive oil, complemented by a light, savory tahini sauce. A crisp Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand balanced nicely with the tender, flaky fish.
Seafood Tagine is a Mediterranean-style stew with calamari, shrimp, monkfish, mussels, and tomatoes, accompanied by grilled bread. “The Seafood Tagine offers the taste of squid and shrimp infused with tomato, herbs, and spices. The toast and potato wedges are ideal to balance the boldness of the sauce,” describes Erika.
Rounding out the menu, the slowly cooked Angus Beef Short Ribs are presented with vegetables, couscous, and spiced jus. And one mustn’t overlook kebabs in such a setting, with a choice of Lamb Kebab Skewers, composed of a lamb kofta kebab, tahini, sumac, and pickled onion with a mint sauce, or Chicken Skewers, charbroiled chicken thighs with Greek coleslaw and tzatziki.
Desserts include a house-made Pistachio Mastiha ice cream, sweetened delicately with honey, accompanied by cream puffs.
“The cream puffs’ cream elevated the flavor of the pistachio. You can really taste the honey and spices in the gelato. The size makes it perfect to share. Every dessert is tempting here!” divulges Erika eagerly.
The romantically glowing outdoor patio area is very welcoming, as is the classy indoor bar. All in all, a visit to TAV Mediterranean Bistro is worth the turn down Elm Street right off of Old Dominion. It was truly like we had been transported to a seaport town in the Mediterranean—without ever leaving McLean.
TAV Mediterranean Bistro
6811 Elm St.
McLean, VA 22101