100 Very Best Restaurants 2015: No. 54 Water & Wall

Water & Wall's tender braised beef cheeks are set atop sweet-potato purée and rapini. Photograph by Scott Suchman.

It’s a sad fact: Most restaurants don’t improve, and this bistro—the more serious sister to the quirkily lovable Maple Ave Restaurant—stumbled when it opened a little more than a year ago. Chef/owner Tim Ma appeared to be groping after an identity. But Water & Wall has since proven to be that rare and wonderful thing: the place that gets better as it goes.

The space lacks the character of his first place, but the softening touches in the room, which occupies the ground floor of an office building, help. It helps more that Ma has found his purpose in the kitchen, blending his classical French training, love of Asian flavors, and fascination with Southern culture into an appealing mix.

On a recent visit, the chef’s opening act—a plate of seared scallops with yuzu and dashi broth, and a soothingly rich oyster stew—was dazzling. The bigger surprise was that dessert, an afterthought for many chefs, was its equal, thanks to a stunning chocolate/peanut-butter tart. The wine list features a number of good Virginia bottles—don’t miss a supple red blend from Rappahannock Cellars.

Don’t miss:

  • Chicken-liver-mousse crostini
  • Fried calamari with sudachi (a Japanese citrus) aïoli
  • Duck confit with maple gastrique
  • Lamb shank with mint chutney
  • Steelhead trout with white-bean purée
  • Chocolate bread pudding

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Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Logan Circle.

Anna Spiegel
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.