Early Look: Water & Wall (Photos)

A second restaurant from the crew behind Maple Ave debuts in Arlington.

Water & Wall from chef Tim Ma closes in Arlington. Photograph by Andrew Propp.
Conspire with your fellow diners in what Ma calls “New York Mafia-style” booths.

Washington is getting its fare share of New York imports, from an outpost of Daniel Boulud’s DBGB to a Southeast Asian spot from the Fatty Crew Hospitality Group. And now there’s Water & Wall, chef Tim Ma’s newly opened restaurant that mixes Big Apple inspirations with a homegrown neighborhood vibe.

The Arlington eatery’s name nods to the intersection of Water and Wall streets in the Financial District, where Ma and wife/business partner Joey Hernandez lived while he attended the French Culinary Institute. Ma, then an engineer, didn’t aspire to the work-hard, play-hard lifestyle of twentysomething New York City line cooks, and the couple spent time in the apartment planning their Washington venture. Both seem to have a touch of the New York. Maple Ave Restaurant, their first, seems more Brooklyn than Vienna, with fewer than 30 seats and a diverse menu that lists roasted bone marrow alongside Burmese chicken salad. The new spot is a considerable expansion, with 40-odd tables, plus what Ma describes as a few “New York Mafia-style” booths. The design from Studio Ideya also reflects the couple’s former Manhattan home; designer Sucha Khamsuwan even visited the eponymous intersection for inspiration.

A cocktail program with house-made bitters and juices is in the works.

Influence for the menu ventures far beyond the mid-Atlantic. Southern-style shrimp and grits with venison sausage share space with classic French duck confit and, again, that Burmese chicken salad. The last is less random than it sounds; executive chef Nyi Nyi Myint is Burmese, and mixes Asian influences into a number of dishes, including a lemongrass-scented bouillabaisse and crispy pork belly with green-papaya-and-mango salad.

For all the ambitious cooking, the restaurant’s roll-out is fairly restrained. The focus now remains on dinner service, particularly the savory side. Dessert arrive in the form of specials (there’s no official menu), like a pecan pie bar with vanilla-Jack Daniels pudding and chocolate sauce. A cocktail program is also in the works, with an emphasis on house-made bitters, juices, et al. Once the essential elements are running smoothly, Ma says they’ll open for a Maple Ave-esque Saturday and Sunday brunch, and then lunch. Call it a New York state of mind with Beltway pacing.

(Left) Pan-seared steelhead trout nods to Ma’s French training with sunchokes and lemon-fish nage. (Right) Burmese chef Nyi Nyi Myint mixes Asian influences into a number of dishes, like crispy pork belly with green papaya salad.
A sauce of Thai basil, chilies, lemongrass, and cilantro brighten up a bistro-style hanger steak.
Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.