2017 Events December 31st, 2016Kyirisan
Worth the Wait
by Nevin Martell | Photography by Greg Powers | DC magazine | June 3, 2016
Chef Tim Ma has wanted to open a restaurant in DC for more than a decade. But before he could do that, he had to become a star in Northern Virginia first. He and his wife, Joey, who handles front-of-the-house duties, made their debut with Maple Ave. in Vienna, Va., seven years ago. Though the tiny space had just nine tables, the eclectic cuisine with Asian, American and European influences was a huge hit (the duo sold the restaurant last year). So the Mas upped the ante, moved closer to the District and opened the well-received Water & Wall just across the river in Arlington in 2013.
Finally, this spring, the couple’s longtime vision came true with Kyirisan, which makes its home in the hotter-than-hot north end of Shaw. Their District debut is a stone-cold stunner. Larger booths at the center of the room boast deep blue banquettes, while tables for two to four guests frame the room. Triangular golden sconces with air plants adorn the walls, while slender gold light fixtures seem to float above diners. A small winged porcelain pig sits near the support column that runs up the center of the space: It’s an inside joke between the husband-and-wife team, who always joked, “If pigs fly, we’ll own a restaurant.”
The chef wanted the cuisine at Kyirisan to have no boundaries, so expect the unexpected with plenty of Asian accents throughout. To help organize the offerings, the menu is divided into three categories: in the ground, on the ground and under the water. Servers typically recommend a couple of dishes per person.
Longtime Ma devotees will notice a couple of familiar favorites. His rightfully praised-to-high-heaven crème frâiche wings are in attendance—a little creamy, slightly spicy and packed with umami—thoughtfully served with wet naps. And his well-loved seared scallops are here, arriving on coconut risotto with basil ice cream. As the scoop melts, it creates a savory-sweet rice pudding that’s impossible to resist.
Other offerings are brand new. Some of the simplest are the most flavorful. An exploding star arrangement of mussels arrives with a trio of baguette ovals perfect for sopping up the last bits of the saffron-accented coconut broth punctuated by bits of chorizo-inspired sausage. Silky cubes of crispy tofu sit in a sauce spiced with black peppercorns, cilantro, hoisin and garlic. And the creamy cacio y pepe is enriched with shaved black truffles, finely grated Manchego cheese, plenty of black pepper and some Szechuan peppercorns.
Ma has a deft touch with ingredients. Slices of otherwise unassuming Japanese eggplant are dressed with a red curry that surprises your palate with a peppery after-burn. Seared duck liver is circled with duck-blood caramel, a component that will cause raised eyebrows when people notice it on the menu. Never fear, it tastes nearly identical to regular caramel, adding a nice touch of sweetness to offset the richness of the centerpiece protein.
Guests are encouraged to show their appreciation for their meal. If you like your food, you can buy the kitchen a round of beers. If you love it, you can purchase a round of scotch instead. While you’re at it, order yourself a gin and tonic featuring house-made tonic. Or consider one of the light patio punches, which servers assure diners aren’t that strong, so you can imbibe a couple without suffering a hangover.
Hoist these low-impact cocktails to toast the high-impact Kyirisan—a bold move that was worth the risk. Ma’s cooking surprises, excites and stays ever playful. It’s nice he finally set up an outpost within the Beltway, because DC diners deserve to regularly enjoy his artful fare.
1924 8th St. NW · 202.525.2942
Tue.-Sat., 5:30-10pm; closed Sun. and Mon.
Shared plates, $9-$24; desserts, $9
The desserts at Kyirisan are indeed memorable. A square of custard cheesecake recalls New York City’s creamiest slices, arriving with a paintbrush stroke of Nutella-like ganache and hazelnut butter. Insiders know the raspberry cobbler here is more like a riff on shortcake, as a sweet biscuit gets packed with fruit compote and paired with mascarpone ice cream.
Want more Ma? The chef fired up Chase the Submarine (132 Church St., Vienna, Va., 703.865.7829) late last fall. The haute hangout serves exquisite sandwiches and coffee, and it also serves as a butchery. Several hoagies are worth the drive, including options packed with pineapple-braised pork, Peruvian-style chicken and smoked-Angus brisket.
“Soy sauce, chili paste and cream fraiche? Love the kick in them… More please!!!”
Chef Tim Ma opened Kyirisan, his first restaurant in D.C. proper, just last month at 1924 8th St. NW. The new dining destination inside the Shay building in Shaw is heavy on Asian flavors fused with French techniques and includes a few favorite dishes from his Virginia restaurants.
Surprisingly, Kyirisan only has five Yelp reviews so far, with an overall rating of four stars. Yet there’s plenty of chatter elsewhere thank to social media and bloggers in the know. Read on for the early word on Kyirisan:
The Fantastic Service News: Yelper rebecca h. says service was “fantastic,” and Facebook user Shonna Edwards Burgoyne thinks it was “amazing.” Blogger Hungry Travelist writes, “I was also happy with the service. Everyone was friendly and polite from the hostess to our server, and Chef Ma’s wife Joey Ma was doing the rounds in the dining room making sure everything was running smoothly.” [Hungry Travelist, Yelp, FB]
The Like a Church Chapel News: Washington City Paper says “the dining room is relatively small and decorated simply, with slanted ceilings that make the space look a few stained glass windows away from a church chapel.” Zagat writes, “It’s the design of the moment: gold-toned light fixtures and triangular sculptures lining the walls; luxurious banquettes in a smoky navy hue; plenty of wood paneling; a marble island in the middle with a large notch where the chef can preside over tasting table experiences for small groups.” [WCP, Zagat]
The Can’t-Miss Fluke Crudo News: Facebook user Margaret Perry says, “Be sure to try the fluke, folks.” DCist writes, “Other can’t miss dish? A raw fluke crudo that shows the kitchen’s light touch, drawing out the fish’s delicate flavors with pistachio and lime and fennel.” [FB, DCist]
The Middling Filipino Scrapple News: Blogger Hungry Travelist says, “The Filipino scrapple which comes with pieces of pork and pig ear, a fried egg, and potatoes. We did not particularly care for this dish and ate only a couple of bites.” But Instagrammer @masterpuppeteer says it’s ‘DELICIOUS.” [Instagram, Hungry Travelist]
The Serious Chicken Wings News: Facebook user Shonna Edwards Burgoyne says chef Tim Ma’s famous creme fraiche wings were a personal favorite. Instagrammer @jwdiff says “Don’t usually care for wings, but those are some serious wings!! Soy sauce, chili paste and cream fraiche? Love the kick in them… More please!!!” [FB, Instagram]
The Adventurous Scallop and Coconut Risotto News: DCist writes, “The scallop and coconut risotto with basil ice cream…is adventurous and playful—and one of the few dishes we insist on ordering again on a second visit.” Blogger Hungry Travelist says, “The scallops were cooked perfectly, and the combination of the basil ice cream and coconut risotto made for an interesting mix of hot and cold. “Instagram user @thinkncreate says the dish is “Genius!” [DCist, Hungry Travelist, Instagram]
The Nostalgic Pickled Quail News: DCist says, “A pickled quail and prawn combo with Chinese hot pot sauce brings memories of childhood jaunts to Chinese restaurants and dim sum meals past” It was also a favorite of Instagrammer @keystone88. [DCist, Instagram]
The Outstanding but Spicy Deep Fried Tofu News: The deep fried tofu is emerging as a favorite dish among diners. Yelper J D. writes, “The tofu was fried just right and it reminded me of fried tofu you’d get from Taiwan or Japan. The sauce was delicious. Scallion and carrots on top added some colors and texture to it.” The GW Hatchet says, “The tofu was soft and chewy, but the breading outside added a crispy texture. Because tofu is flavorless, the black pepper sauce was the only thing I could taste in this dish and it was a bit spicy – I was constantly reaching for my water.” Instagrammer @rkduggins calls it “outstanding.” [Yelp, GW Hatchet, Instagram]
The Do Not Skip Dessert News: DCist urges diners to save room for dessert. GW Hatchet also says, “Do not skip dessert. I decided on the custard cheesecake… and I was not disappointed. The presentation was so beautiful, I almost didn’t want to eat it. There was a swipe of hazelnut ganache on one side, and the cheesecake was situated in a pool of hazelnut butter… The cheesecake was perfectly light and fluffy, just as a cheesecake should be. It wasn’t overwhelmingly sweet and was delightfully creamy.” Blogger Hungry Travelist also recommends the matcha pavlova with raspberry mint sauce and black sesame puree, which has also been a favorite so far. [DCist, GW Hatchet, Hungry Travelist]
By: Tom Sietsema
Photos By: Dayna Smith
The latest restaurant from Tim Ma bridges his Chinese ancestry and his French training. Yet some of the most intriguing eating at the new Kyirisan in Shaw originates from the chef’s cohorts, a group whose backgrounds are Burmese, Chinese, Filipino, Korean and American (South Carolinian, to be precise).
The “scrapple” at Kyirisan in Shaw is based on a Filipino pork dish. (Dayna Smith/For the Washington Post)
Consider, for instance, a “scrapple” based on the sour Filipino pork dish called sisig, which Ma first tasted at a staff meal prepared by an employee at Water & Wall, his Arlington eatery. Kyirisan’s refined version of the entree brings together braised pig ear, pickled green papaya, Thai chilies and fingerling potatoes, all topped with a fried egg. The combination of tang, heat and runny yolk is a jungle of fun.
Kyirisan’s selections fall under menu headings that share the source of their primary ingredients: “In the Ground” (fried tofu with black pepper sauce), “On the Ground” (beef heart tartare served with a mayonnaise spiked with the pungent Korean condiment gochujang) and “Under the Water.” That last category nets fine halibut propped up on fingers of seared kohlrabi. Beneath the duo: a swab of hoisin sauce that gets its effervescence from Sprite, another idea adopted from a kitchen colleague.
Do the bowls and plates look familiar? Like every other hot dining destination of late, Kyirisan stages its food on pottery designed by Cloud Terre in Arlington. Nutty buckwheat pasta — filled with roasted cauliflower, set on a creamy onion sauce and finished with cool ricotta — practically disappears into its oyster-gray bowl.
Kyirisan’s cauliflower-filled buckwheat tortellini arrive in bowls made by Cloud Terre, an Arlington company whose pottery is used by several local restaurants. (Dayna Smith/For the Washington Post)
The interior, on the other hand, won’t be mistaken for any other in the neighborhood.
“We wanted something different,” says Ma, whose wife, Joey Ma, might be the smile greeting you at the door. “We didn’t know what we wanted.” GrizForm Design Architects in the District came to their rescue with yellow brass triangles protruding from the walls, woven denim-blue booths and a ceiling with multiple angles. “We had the pleasure of eating at Tim’s other restaurants,” including Chase the Submarine in Vienna, “and enjoy how he folded ingredients and flavors together,” explains designer Griz Dwight. Antique screens from a former Chinese restaurant owned by Ma’s uncle grace a hall near the restrooms.
Chef Tim Ma and his wife, Joey Ma, in the kitchen at Kyirisan in Shaw. (Dayna Smith/For the Washington Post)
The restaurant’s unique interior was designed by GrizForm Design Architects. (Dayna Smith/For the Washington Post)
Stick around for the last course. Dessert features a luscious custard cheesecake, baked in a water bath and sure to satisfy a nut lover. It deploys hazelnuts in three ways: as butter, as a powder and as a ganache beneath the cheesecake.
Kyirisan accepts reservations, but only if made on the date you hope to dine there. Asking customers to call during the day and talk to a live person, says Ma, personalizes the interaction. Take that, OpenTable.
The pending Tim Ma restaurant in Shaw formerly known as Freehand has a new name: Kyirisan.
We don’t blame Ma and his wife and co-owner Joey Hernandez for coming up with something so unique. After announcing that the couple’s first project in the District (they also own Ballston’s Water & Wall) would be named Freehand, they were threatened with a legal challenge from a hospitality group that operates several hostels with the same name.
This time, their trademark application is in, and Ma is confident the new moniker will stick.
“We wanted to give the restaurant a name that meant something to us,” Ma said, and that kept coming down to their three kids, ages 5, 3 and 9 months. “We somehow wanted to incorporate them into the name.”
Kyirisan is derived from the Chinese words “kun” (pronounced like “quinn”) and the phonetic spellings of “one,” “two” and “three,” or “yi,” “er” and “san.” Ma said the significance of “kun” is that it is the name assigned to his children’s generation, the last in a line of 20 chosen by “some Ma guy” way back when. To form the restaurant name, Ma and Hernandez combined the “k” from “kun” with the Chinese numbers. (It’s pronounced like kyr-i-sahn.)