1351 H Street NE, Washington, DC 20002 (http://maketto1351.com/)
** and 1/2 (Good/Very Good)
“It’s growing on me.” That was the constant tenant I had over the course of my meal at Maketto, Chef Erik Bruner-Yang’s ode to Taiwanese and Cambodian cooking. It was a sentiment that was shared by my dining group (full disclosure: which this time around, did not include my wife). The four of us entered into the restaurant with high levels of anticipation: rumors of to-die-for pork buns and fried chicken have run rampant around the DMV since Maketto opened in April 2015.
Entering the restaurant – right in the middle of the ever-popular H Street NE – is a little disorienting at first. The front door led to either a stairwell up toward a market offering coffee, pastries, and books…or into an open retail area with clothing and accessories. Just a few steps further, and you find the main dining areas: tables in the bar area, flowing into a courtyard with dining options during warmer weather, and high top tables adjacent to the open air kitchen. With constant in-and-out between the kitchen, courtyard, and bar, it can get a bit chilly at times.
Our server is knowledgeable and attentive, explaining the menu, which contains smaller and larger format dishes designed to be shared. The group ordered plenty for the table,
with varying results. The savory Pork Steamed Bao had the soft, pillowy exterior you look for in a bao, and a flavorful braised pork interior. Adding a little seasoned hoisin sauce for dipping made for a perfect little appetizer. The Scallion Bread – slightly crispy on the outside, with plenty of sweet onion flavor was good, but not great. It differed slightly from the traditional scallion pancake one gets at a Chinese restaurant; a little bit doughy at times. While both the bao and the bread had excellent flavor, I got little to nothing out of the Coconut Milk Scallop Uni Crudo. Eaten together, the scallop, uni, peanut, cucumber, radish and shiso that comprised the dish, tasted mostly of shiso. I managed to get the texture of the scallop, but none of the unctuousness from the uni, and no punch from the coconut milk-based sauce. Out of all the dishes, this was the one that the group wished we had another shot at.
As our meal continues, things start to pick up. Though the concept is a little odd, Crispy Dumplings with Braised Beef, has a nice contrast of textures, with the crunch of Gruyere dumplings (which almost doubled as fried gnocchi), and the tender ground beef. The beef had a nice heat level, and I picked up notes of cumin and possibly star anise to help round out the flavors. The elements worked well together, but I think the expectation of a dumpling or potsticker caused the dish to fall somewhat flat. The same cannot be said for the Wok Fried Noodles, which were (a) vegan and (b) probably my favorite dish of the evening. Excellent seasoning, delicious chow fun noodles, and a classic stir fry preparation made for a winning dish. It’s something that I would have been happy to eat all on my own.
Oh, the Maketto Fried Chicken and Bread. It is, without a doubt, the dish that I was most
excited to try. It is also the dish that continued to grow on me throughout the meal. The Maketto kitchen uses a chicken cutlet and seasons it was five-spice powder, before dredging and frying it to a perfect crisp. Then a syrupy sauce – sweet, sour, and spicy, working in relative harmony – is poured over top. Though there were times when I felt the sauce hit notes a little too sour, or a little too sweet, as I continued to eat, the dish seemed to become tastier. It’s a preparation that makes for an addictive take on a classic, and something to look forward to returning for.
While the dinner featured some true highs [and one real low], it’s best to skip the desserts. On our recent trip, there were only two offerings: chocolate peanut butter profiteroles and coconut cream pie. We opted for the latter, but found the pie crust to be rock hard, and the filling to be mostly whipped cream.
Bottom line: though there were some inconsistencies in the meal, as long as Chef Bruner-Yang continues to implement new and delicious interpretations on classic dishes, Maketto will remain a power player in the ever-expanding H Street NE corridor.
Atmosphere: The restaurant is broken up into three sections: the entrance houses a small retail shop; the top floor is a market featuring fresh brewed coffee, as well as dining tables; and the main dining space is split between the bar area and the kitchen area. The kitchen area, where we were sat, was all high top seating at wooden stools, and narrow spaces. However, the real problem was the cold: a swinging door that led directly to outdoor courtyard connected the two dining spaces…and also let the winter air in constantly. Most of the patrons, like the general H Street NE neighborhood, skewed young and hip. The staff was attentive, but neither friendly or cool. Like many new restaurants popping up, diners are informed the dishes did not have a set order; rather they would arrive in the order they were completed.
Noise: Wooden chairs, open counters, high ceilings, and hard floors make for very little sound dampening. Add that to limited space for the tables and dining areas directly adjacent to the bar or kitchen, and you get a lively meal.
Recommended Dishes: Pork Steamed Buns, Wok Fried Noodles (Vegan), Maketto Fried Chicken and Bread
Reservations: Highly Recommended. Where Chef Erik Bruner-Yang goes, the lines seem the follow. Between his original restaurant, Toki Underground, and the newer Maketto, it’s best practice to get a reservation for the limited seating.
$$$ – $50 to 100 for dinner for two
Note: This review originally ran on February 6, 2016 on our old site and was re-published on WordPress.