Restaurant Review: Maketto

Want some Asian fried chicken with those $300 sneakers? The culinary and commercial pleasures of Erik Bruner-Yang’s Maketto.
Double-fried chicken, which gets its crunch from sweet-potato flour and is strewn with green peppercorns, cilantro, chilies, and garlic. Photograph by Scott Suchman.

At first glance, Maketto seems to be a distillation of some of the moment’s more precious trends. Man bracelets for $395? They’re here. Vegan beard-care products? You can nab those, too. A 20-minute wait to get your cappuccino because the guy behind the counter is busy explaining his pour-over technique to two girls in yoga gear? Yep, that happened. But these are mere distractions. The mixed-use, two-story space—a hyper-curated menswear shop from Durkl designer Will Sharp, an upstairs cafe run by the Vigilante Coffee folks, and a restaurant from Erik Bruner-Yang—gets the important things right.

Chiefly, the food. Bruner-Yang is the mind behind the tiny nearby ramen mecca Toki Underground, and wait times for his earthy noodle soups can stretch beyond two hours. Here he’s got a roomier kitchen, a bigger brigade of cooks, and more seats to fill. His menu is composed of big and small Cambodian and Taiwanese plates, all meant for sharing.

There are the puffy, hoisin-swiped pork buns that gained a deserved following at Bruner-Yang’s Union Market stall, alongside a newer vegetarian version stuffed with curry-scented leeks (order ’em both). A scallion pancake is more like a freshly baked flatbread and less like what you’ll see at dim sum restaurants, but nevertheless terrific when liberally slathered with salted butter. To balance all the breadiness, order a plate of fermented vegetables—a sharply tangy mix that might include beets, carrots, sunchokes, and baby turnips. They’re far more exciting than the tiny scoop of underseasoned crudo made from coconut-and-tamarind-marinated snakehead or a listless leafy salad tossed with strawberries and breakfast radishes.

The group table of Maketto’s leafy patio. Photograph by Scott Suchman.

Bruner-Yang’s most obvious talent is in punching up what would otherwise be merely flat, rich comfort food—at Toki, he gives ramen seemingly endless layers of flavor using pickled ginger, soy-sauce-braised pork, and black-garlic-ash oil, among other accoutrements, to add contrast to the chewy noodles and ultra-fatty pork stock.

At Maketto, he pulls a similarly genius move on fried chicken, finishing the organic Amish birds in a heavy dose of Chinese five-spice and Szechuan peppercorns so that each bite is as numbing as it is crunchy, then laying the pieces over hunks of baguette and drenching everything in a caramelized fish sauce. Seriously, watch your back, Bonchon and Pearl Dive—this is a contender for best fried chicken in Washington. So, too, the fried whole fish—sometimes porgy, sometimes dorade—which is set in a pool of addictive coconut-chili jam and tamarind sauce, then showered with salty capers, pickled jalapeños, and plenty of fresh mint.

Chef/co-owner Erik Bruner-Yang, who also owns nearby Toki Underground. Photograph by Scott Suchman.

With the exception of the pork and leek buns, none of these dishes is on the lunch menu, which is too bad because Maketto’s stark white space and palm-fronded patio and terrace feel most magical during the day. But there’s an excellent Cambodian pork sandwich—picture a bánh mì but messier and heftier—piled with grilled pork shoulder, chicken-liver pâté, pickled daikon, and fresh herbs on a soft baguette. And mornings are when you can sample the beautiful pistachio morning buns, croissants, and other sweets from ace baker Erica Skolnik. Just be sure to arrive early—the beard oil and meticulously made coffee will always be there, but Skolnik’s pastries sell out fast.

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