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Votes

Upscale and Downhome

El Manantial and Potbelly Sandwich Works are two of the area's newest establishments.

One restaurant is the culmination of a lifelong dream, the other is another step in a calculated introduction. For a nickel short of $27, one restaurant offers a dish called "a filete de lenguado al horno." The other can serve up peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for $3.59, plus tax. One restaurant is owned and operated by a large El Salvadoran family serving European and Mediterranean specialties. The other mid-west based franchise restaurant is great for families who like Chicago-style deli sandwiches. One restaurant's exotic name conjures up romantic images of South American waterfalls. The other has "potbelly" in its title. While they share a distinction for being two of Reston's newest north side culinary treats and both are opened seven days a week, the similarities for "El Manantial" and "Potbelly Sandwich Works" end there.

<b>FOR HUMBERTO FUENTES</b>, opening El Manantial, Reston's newest upscale Mediterranean restaurant was truly a family affair, or as he likes to call it, "a family partnership." Humberto is the general manager. His brother, Enrique, is the head chef. His sister, Marina, is the pastry chef. Enrique has recruited siblings, cousins and even his mother to help out in the new restaurant all helping to establish his restaurant's "family-run" credentials.

Located where Saint Basil once stood at 12050 North Shore Dr., Fuentes is also moving into a shopping center that saw a much-maligned Burger King close earlier this year. Basil owner, Sherry Mostaghim, closed its doors, citing the down-turn in the economy and the collapse of Northern Virginia's dot-com bubble. Such warning signs do not worry the ever-positive Fuentes who took over the property on Sept. 30 and re-opened barely a week later on Oct. 7. "I don't understand why the previous owner left," Fuentes said. "From everything I can tell, they were doing just fine. I can't figure it out, but we're very happy to take their place."

He admitted that business has been slow, but he said he is confident that when word gets out, his 145-seat dining room will be buzzing. "This place, Reston, has so much potential," he said. "I didn't know it too well when I first got here, but now I find that I like it very much."

With extensive experience in upscale Washington, D.C. restaurants like Taberna del Alabardoro, Cafe la Ruche and La Brasserie, Fuentes and his family, for the first time, have come together to start their own restaurant. While Humberto has been in the restaurant business since he immigrated to the United States 29 years ago, this is the first restaurant he has in the suburbs. Starting as a waiter, Fuentes moved his way up the management ladder from captain to maitre to owner.

According to Fuentes, the only complaint he has received has been about the dinner menu prices. Fuentes said he is slowly learning the difference of running a restaurant in the heart of Washington versus heart of Reston. "I have been told it may be a little bit pricey," he said. "We're going to change that, not to worry."

As for the food, El Manantial, has an array of Mediterranean appetizers, salads, brick oven pizzas, seafood dishes to choose from. So what does the boss prefer? "Anything out of our charcoal and wood-fired oven. It is a fantastic oven," he said. "I also recommend the scallops with spinach cream sauce and the grilled veal chops."

For more information or to make reservations, call El Manantial at 703-742-7835.

<b>ON TUESDAY</b>, the Chicago-import, Potbelly Sandwich Works, opened its doors for the first time in its new Reston home at 12150 Sunset Hills Road. Part of a small, but rapidly growing chain of deli-style restaurants, the Reston Potbelly becomes the fifth metropolitan area location.

Potbelly began in 1977 as a small family-run antique store in Chicago. The owners began making and selling sandwiches for the antique-furniture shopping customers. According to Mike Walters, a district manager, the store soon had lines forming out the doors until the original owners decided to sell. In 1996, Bryant Keil bought the now-famous Lincoln Avenue store. Currently, there are 17 Chicago-area restaurants. The Washington-metro area was Keil's first stop in his attempt to branch out from his Chicago base. "In the years since he bought it, Bryant has grown the company immensely," Walters said. "Now we want to take it to another level."

Far from your typical "get-in, get-out" lunch time deli, Potbelly, with its antique decorated interior, encourages its customers to enjoy lunch. "We play live music everyday at lunch," said Jimmy Chavez, the Reston store's general manager. "We have a warm homey feeling and we want you to listen to the music, relax. We don't want you to be hurried. We'd rather you took a nice relaxing 45-minute lunch before heading back to work."

Walters said his priority for all of his restaurants is simple. "Customer service," he said, flatly. "We go through rigorous interviews to make sure our staff has a lot of personality, knows how to have fun, adds some excitement to the atmosphere and, above all else, pays attention to the customer."

The Reston location is the second in Northern Virginia and the company will open a third in Crystal City shortly. Walters said Potbelly's low price menu, all sandwiches are under $4, is a perfect tonic to the struggling economy. "Now more than ever, people are looking for a deal as much as they can," he said. "With Potbelly, they have found that deal."

Menu favorites, according to Walters and Chavez, range from the traditional turkey breast sandwich to something called the "Wreck," a sandwich piled with salami, roast beef, turkey, ham and Swiss cheese. "Oh, and don't forget the peppers," Chavez added. "Whatever you do, you can't forget the peppers."

For more information, call Potbelly Sandwich Works at 571-203-0750 or visit www.potbelly.com.