Vapiano, the reinvention of Italiano

Sept. 17, 2010, 12:18 p.m. | By Melodi Anahtar | 13 years, 9 months ago

New Bethesda restaurant offers a novel concept

In a place like downtown Bethesda, which has one of the most restaurants per capita in the U.S., it is difficult for a new restaurant to stand out from the crowd. But one of the city's newest additions, Vapiano, is guaranteed to get noticed. Its fresh feel, "green" design, reasonably priced food and innovative concept have made the franchise's first Maryland location a hit.

The murals above the stations are featured at each restaurant and provide some form of entertainment to customers waiting in line to get their food. Photo courtesy of Melodi Anahtar.

Vapiano is an Italian themed restaurant that was founded in Germany and quickly expanded overseas, with 100 new locations set to open in the United States in addition to 70 other locations around the world. Vapiano's concept utilizes a "Chip Card" that functions like a one-time restaurant price scanner. The card allows customers to charge items on the card as they make their way through the restaurant and pay on their way out after a satisfying meal.

Upon entering the restaurant, it is hard not to notice the charcoal-colored stone panels, backlit photos covering the walls, trees sprouting from table tops and the custom wallpaper mural above the different food stations. The modern design is catchy enough to attract customers without giving off a "look but don't touch” feel, which maintains an inviting atmosphere and keeps people comfortable.

The Ravioli Ricota E Spinaci is a ravioli with spinach, ricotta filling, and tomato sauce. $10.95 Photo courtesy of Melodi Anahtar.

Vapiano prides itself on being a "fuel stop for grownups” and features a variety of stations where customers stand in line to get pasta, paninis, antipasti and pizza. However, the restaurant is very welcoming to families with children, who keep the restaurant loud and busy. True to the restaurant's European origin and reminiscent of a Club Med resort, most of the tables are communal. There are also private dining tables for families and a lounge with a bar.

Instead of waiting for a host to be seated, customers are handed a "Chip Card" when they walk in and are sent on their way to make their own orders. For something simple, the Rucola pizza with tomato sauce, mozzarella and argula parmesan is a catch. The crust is very soft and the flavor is light, but the dish is still very filling for only $8.95. The pastas tend to pack more zest than the rest of the food. (Try the Tacchino Piccante, made from pasta, chicken breast, orange-chili sauce, bok choy and bell peppers.) Several have a spicy flavor and strong taste, unlike some of the other dishes.

A pasta dish with accompanying bread is just filling enough to leave room for dessert. The desserts offered, such as tiramisu, chocolate mousse and panna cotta, which is cooked cream with vanilla beans and strawberry sauce, all come in cup sizes that are equivalent to a typical scoop of ice cream. The tiramisu is delicious, with heavenly soft cream, a strong coffee flavor and very distinct layers. Moreover, all these desserts are the same price, if not cheaper, than an ice cream cone, at $2.75 each.

The Bruschetta is a great appetizer that is made of roasted Ciabatta bread, tomatoes, garlic, basil and olive oil. $3.95  Photo courtesy of Melodi Anahtar.

The serving size of all menu items is very manageable, a rare find compared to most restaurants that give extremely large plates with overwhelming amounts of food. In addition, the entire menu is very reasonably priced. Every item is less than $11.95 and a typical bill comes out to be around $15 per person if ordering the most expensive dishes.

While Vapiano's layout design is certainly unique, the wait for food is likely to be unbearable on crowded nights. Because the food is made to order at the stations, diners cannot sit back and relax with company until the chef is done cooking. But the wait has its benefits, namely the assurance of a fresh and succulently simple meal. Customers in queue can see exactly which ingredients are used in their dish, like freshly picked herbs from potted plants that adorn the head of each station, making it very easy for aspiring chefs to replicate recipes at home.

Vapiano brings a dining concept that is different for the Montgomery County area, and is sure to be a sensation. As long as customers come with plenty of patience, the restaurant is casual, lively and a perfect place to enjoy a quality meal with family or friends without worrying about the cost.

Vapiano is located at 4900 Hampden Lane in Bethesda. It is open from 11 a.m. - 11 p.m. on Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. - 12 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m. - 10 p.m. on Sunday.

Melodi Anahtar. Melodi Anahtar loves anything having to do with science, music or TV. Her favorite vacation spot is the Dominican Republic and her favorite city is Boston (go Red Sox). She can usually be found wasting time in her room, either watching "Grey's Anatomy" or reading … More »

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