As a teenager growing up in Northern Virginia, most of my friends lived in Suburban Maryland. I had to accept the fact that it was farther for them to come visit me than vice versa. Then I became one of those people, living in Maryland and feeling like Virginia is inconvenient. It isn’t about the distance, it is more of a mind set.
Then I discovered Maple Ave Restaurant in Vienna, Virginia. To quote myself in a recent blog post, “I can’t help but think about the missed opportunities I’ve had to dine at Maple Ave Restaurant. I don’t hesitate to travel to Tyson’s Corner for shopping, and it’s just minutes away from the restaurant. I am chagrined by my lack of awareness of this gem of a place. I’m paying attention now, Maple Ave Restaurant. Don’t be surprised if you see me again soon.”
I am anxious to try Chef Tim Ma’s follow up venture, Water & Wall. Opened in November 2013, Water & Wall builds on the success of Maple Ave, with a more sophisticated design and larger space. It maintains what makes Maple Ave so appealing, a blend of creative, locally sourced, powerfully flavored dishes, representing a variety of cuisines.
Water & Wall is named for the intersection where Ma and his wife lived in New York, while he studied at the French Culinary Institute. The feel is casual, but the design cleverly evokes the feel of flowing water amid hard surface walls.
Water & Wall has me at first sip. I am not one to rave about cocktails. But “Jebidah’s Brew” with Belle Isle Moonshine, honey shrub, tiki bitters, and truffle oil is outstanding. Anyone who like myself, who finds the taste and smell of truffle oil intoxicating, should not miss this drink.
The menu at Water & Wall is not overwhelming in size, but still I find it difficult to select dishes. A first course of seared diver scallops with yuzu, dashi, cucumber-daikon noodles and crispy shiitake ultimately wins out over soft shell crab with cornmeal tempura, spinach, old bay aioli, and pickled ramps. Fortunately, one of my food-savvy companions orders the crab, so I have the pleasure of tasting both. The scallops showcase the chef’s finesse with delicate flavors and contrasting textures. Soft shell crab are beautifully prepared, with the pickled ramps adding a touch of flair.
One of the things I like best about Water & Wall, which is carried over from Maple Ave, is the focus on fresh ingredients and fully developed flavors. The food is innovative but not over-wrought. Considering that I dined at the cutting-edge Minibar just two days earlier, I am ready to settle in for a more comfortable and moderately priced dining experience.
Harissa marinated lamb top sirloin is a fantastic second course, and at $22 is a steal. The sous vide lamb is impeccable- tender and tasty with asparagus, cous cous and preserved lemon yogurt.
One of my dining companions, who I fondly refer to as Chef S., extols the virtues of the generously-sized and expertly executed duck confit (priced at $24). As a mutual fan of Maple Ave, and a first-timer here, he praises Chef Ma’s ability to demonstrate his great reverence for food in both locations.
Carrot cake ice cream sandwich with cream cheese ice cream and ginger caramel sauce, makes for a satisfying ending to our meal.
We depart Water & Wall, marveling at the vibrant cuisine, attentive service, and a reminder that we don’t always have to spend a fortune for great food. We’re thankful we crossed the river to discover the merits of Tim Ma’s latest hot spot. It seems we’ve finally broken through our psychological wall separating Maryland and Virginia.
Tom Sietsema’s Washington Post review “Where Creative Meets Delicious”
Washingtonian 100 Very Best Restaurants 2015, #54
My Related Reviews