Friday, July 19, 2013

Maketto: A Residency

Being huge fans of Chef Erik Bruner-Yang and Toki Underground, we've been eagerly waiting for the opening of Maketto on H St NE.  We even considered participating in the fundrise to own the building that the market would be a tenant in - crazy, right?  Maketto is a joint venture between Chef Erik and Will Sharp of DURKL and will offer an indoor-outdoor environment combining fashion and food inspired by international night markets and global street culture.

Initial concept rendering of what Maketto may look like from the street.
Food stalls will feature various delicacies inspired by Asian night markets including Chinese donuts, Shanghai steamed dumplings, barbecue pork buns, and even on-site roasted coffee. Limited edition fashions from DURKL and other curated streetwear brands will also be available.  The market won't open until late 2013, so Chef Erik is currently staging a pop-up preview for three months this summer at Hanoi House over near U St corridor.  There, Chef Erik and chef de cuisine James Wozniuk will cook a $30-per-person, Asian street food-inspired menu as a test project called "Maketto: A Residency."

The menu will change frequently and the space will serve as a test kitchen to let the team iron out various Thai-Cambodian-Vietnamese fusions.  Chef Erik explained to me that the formal sit-down service at the pop-up is very different from the more casual vendor atmosphere that the market will provide.  The new concept will be open six days a week (closed on Sundays) and requires reservations via OpenTable, however they also just started accepting walk-ins for bar seating.

As soon as the announcement came out, we snagged reservations.  We headed out on this thick swampy night and arrived at the swanky Hanoi House restaurant, and were seated in a booth.  I immediately noticed how dark the interior was with the black and red walls.  Both Keith and I even slightly stumbled as we entered in the room because our eyes didn't adjust quick enough to the dark lighting (and since it was so dark inside, none of my pictures came out - boo).  A few cocktails for $10 are available as well as house wine for $8 or a mix of local and imported beers.  Keith ordered the "33" Export from Vietnam, which came served with a glass full of ice, and I just ordered a glass of the house white wine.

Our server explained the meal is a set menu of 8 courses served family-style and would come out in waves.  An important note is that there will be no accommodations for allergies or dietary restrictions for the residency.  So one must take it all or leave it (luckily I have Keith to eat anything that I cannot eat).  An additional dim sum cart would also periodically roll around the room offering extra treats from $2 to $10.  We were presented with three dishes to start along with a big bowl of white rice.  First, Keith tackled the seared Wagyu Beef Lok Lak, which are lettuce wraps with vermicelli noodles, herbs, and fresh vegetables served with a citrusy ginger sauce.  The meat was a generous portion and had nice flavor on its own, yet needed the sauce to overcome the plain lettuce and cucumbers.  The spicy Green Papaya Salad was much more authentic tasting and a great combo of sour and spicy - but not killer spicy like the offerings at Little Serow.  In fact, the salad was one of Keith's favorite dishes of the night.  Next, we shared Crispy Fried Prawn Heads that were salty and presented on a bed of savory paste of fish sauce and tamarind.  The prawn heads had great flavor, but the texture of the shells was a bit off putting to me.  I am also not a fan of soft shell crab for the same reason, but if you like that extra crunch then this dish will blow your mind.

The dim sum cart rolled by and we sampled a grilled Summer Roll filled with vermicelli noodles, shrimp, and Thai basil.  The roll was simple, fresh and perfect for a hot day like today.  We also tried a Steamed Pork Bun that was stuffed with a complex filling of minced pork, vegetables, and either fish or tofu (I couldn't tell what it was, but they were larger white meaty chunks) that was incredibly seasoned.  It reminded me of mandu filling.  The steamed pork bun was one of my favorite items of the night and, for $2 is something I could see being "sold like hot cakes" at the market store.

We had a noticeable gap before our next courses arrived, but the servers kept our water glasses filled and so we passed the time with conversation.  Eventually, out came a big bowl of Sour Shrimp and Pork Soup. The broth was made from fish, pork, and chicken stock to create an intense aroma with added lemongrass and tamarind.  While the layers were evident in preparation of the broth, it was not as deep and intense as the famous ramen broth from Toki Underground.  I did appreciate the chunks of grilled pineapple, which added that extra sweet bite to cool off any hint of spice in the soup.

Squid Stuffed with Sour Pork Sausage
Photo: Chef James Wazniuk via Instagram

We then shared a plate of Chinese Sausage with Morning Glory, Zha Jiang, and Crisp Garlic.  I was not sure what the greens in this dish were exactly, but they were similar to Chinese broccoli or spinach and were quite tasty.  However, the sausage was outshined by the clear standout of our meal: Amok Trey, a Cambodian comfort dish of steamed, curried sea bass.  This dish was so fragrant from the coconut and spices and the fish was amazingly tender.  The fish was placed on a bed of collard greens that soaked up the sauce and was a delight to eat with the rice.  This is where I am most sad that none of my pictures came out due to the low lighting, not because the fish looked pretty and would make an "artsy photo", but simply because it tasted so good that I would want to memorialize the dish with a picture and put my red hearts all over it!  Last of the savory dishes, we shared Squid Stuffed with Sour Pork Sausage and topped with crispy garlic and pickled chili, served in an addictive sweet fish sauce.  Keith liked this dish more than me.  I think I was still fascinated by the amok trey that I couldn't appreciate the squid concoction like it deserved.  However, I did love the sweet fish sauce so much that I practically licked the bowl after dumping all the left over rice in it to soak up the sauce.  To save my grace, the server quickly removed the empty bowl before that could happen.

To close out the meal, we were presented Taiwanese Shaved Ice in a cute glass jar.  The ice is soaked in beet juice and condensed milk for a clean, lightly sweet flavor, and studded with diced pieces of fresh peaches and pineapple and then topped with shreds of mint.  It was the perfect ending to this pop-up preview meal.  When hearing the words "beet juice,"  Keith immediately scrunched his face because he doesn't like beets as much as I do.  But after one taste, he was soon quickly slurping up spoonfuls of the cold icy treat.  I was surprised and teased him that he must like beets after all.

All in all, I was impressed and pleased with the Asian dishes of the Maketto residency pop-up.  Even though the market may not provide as formal experience as what we had tonight, the concept was clear and intrigues me enough to confidently say I will be regular customer at the Maketto store on H St NE when it opens.

Total Rating: 4.13
Food: 4, Price: 4.5, Service: 4, Ambience: 4, Accessibility: 4.5


 Maketto on Urbanspoon

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