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.