Vapiano is a chain that originated in Germany, and only recently came to the United States. Its first U.S. location is this one on Wilson Boulevard in Arlington’s Ballston neighborhood. There are a few others in the Tri-State area, so I’m guessing it became pretty popular, pretty quickly.
We arrived for our meal a little after 6 p.m. The restaurant was fairly empty, but a light crowd started to pick up around 7. The gimmick of this place is pretty cool — you walk in, get a plastic card, and carry it with you to the bar for dessert and drinks or over to the meal line for pasta, salad, soup, and/or pizza. After you order each item, the chef or bartender just has you scan your card, then hits a few buttons to load the price onto your “account.” On the way out, you hand the card to the person standing at the exit, who scans it and gives you your total for the entire evening. The idea is that you can just wander all around and get whatever you want, whenever you want without having to pay for it separately each time, keep a tab, or go through a cafeteria line with a tray. I have to say it worked pretty well for me — but make sure you don’t lose that card, because each one is worth $50 (even with nothing on it)!
I went straight to the salad line because I saw a Greek salad on the menu and was in the mood for some olives. My friend Annette (a grad school classmate; visiting from Germany) and boyfriend Eric got pasta and a kind of pizza with asiago cheese, respectively. We watched our meals made in front of us (except for the pizza, which takes too long) and went to sit at one of the high elevated tables with bar stools. We chose an area in a corner next to a wall full of herbs growing in flower pots. The atmosphere was casual yet classy, and not too terribly noisy, even when a larger dinner crowd started pouring in. It was nice to be able to hear my dining companions talk, although I don’t know what it would be like when the joint is full.
The Greek salad was really disappointing. It was a large portion, so I just got that and a Coke Zero, but I ate very little of it. There were maybe six or seven olives thrown in, far more capers (which are yum), and not enough feta cheese. These are the things that make a Greek salad a Greek salad, so why skimp on them! The chef does make the salad right in front of you, so I would at least recommend paying closer attention to how much of each thing he is throwing in. But other parts are out of the diner’s control. The dressing tasted like ranch out of a bottle. The lettuce leaves were mostly iceberg with a bit of romaine here and there, but it was all watery and tasteless. I wound up picking through the bowl for “the good parts” and eating all the crust off Eric’s pizza. Then Eric placed an order for a margherita pizza for me. It takes a long while to cook, so I just planned to eat a couple of slices at home to make up for the lack of in-restaurant meal.
Annette and I headed over to the bar to pass the time, which is also where you pick up the desserts, and I grabbed a mosaic bande. This is basically a chocolate mousse cake with a white chocolate topping, which has little geometric chocolate shapes sprinkled across the top — hence the “mosaic” in the name. I also picked up a vodka cranberry to wash it down with. The bartender made the drink very strong, which is fine by me, but just an FYI for anyone else who prefers more cranberry than vodka. The bande cake was okay, but not chocolately enough to suit my tastebuds. That’s my own fault — I saw a slice of nice chocolate mousse or cheesecake or something there, but the “mosaic” on the “bande” won me over.
When the pizza was finally ready, we took it home and I had a couple of slices for my “real” dinner. I had asked for black olives and was again disappointed to find they didn’t even put enough olives on the pizza to have one for each slice. BUT — the pizza itself was DELICIOUS. The sauce was tangy, the cheese nice and chewy, and the crust had a lightly oven-baked flavor. While I didn’t try any of the pasta, Annette seemed pleased with it.
Based on my own experience, I would not recommend this place for the salad. (Although if I’m being honest, who goes to a restaurant just for the salad?) Go there and get a big tasty pizza — but make sure you ask for extra toppings, especially olives. For some reason, I feel like they’re deliberately skimping on those. And, enjoy the atmosphere.