Sneak Peek: Water & Wall in Arlington

By Olga Boikess  |  October 25, 2013
Credit: Jody Brady

Tim Ma’s Maple Ave Restaurant in Vienna, VA, was opened on a credit card, and is now a bright star on the foodie radar screen. Ergo, scoring one of the nine tables in its dining room can be a challenge. So it’s good news that he and his team are about to open another, bigger venue for his distinctive, modern American, globally influenced fare - this time in Arlington’s Virginia Square. It’s called Water & Wall, named for the intersection of the NYC streets where he and his wife/co-restaurateur Joey Hernandez lived when they first cooked up their restaurant plans.

We talked with them about their strategy for Water & Wall, and they walked us through the airy, big-windowed space that’s still a work in progress.

Zagat: Why did you choose this location?

Tim Ma: Virginia Square is like the suburb of Clarendon and Ballston. We didn’t want to be in the middle of a crowd in those locations, we wanted to stand out on our own.

Zagat: Will the menu be similar to Maple Ave Restaurant?

Tim Ma: Some popular dishes like shrimp and grits, the mussels, and a pork dish will be on both menus. But this restaurant will definitely have its own identify. I will be switching up some preparations (like the bone marrow dish), adding more to the plate (relishes, vegetable) and introducing new dishes (like sweetbreads with deep-fried skate cheeks). One exciting thing about the bigger space is that I can offer a six-course tasting menu five nights a week.

Zagat: You spent time at Momofuku restaurants in NYC. How has it influenced you?

Tim Ma: I was an extern there while I was still in culinary school, so I was given jobs like making ravioli. In fact, I never even saw the finished dish I was working on. I did learn to behave as a cook - to be clean, efficient and precise in what you do. Mostly I developed dishes by teaching myself to cook while running Maple Ave Restaurant with my sous chef, Nyi Nyi Myint. However, David Chang has had a huge effect on the culinary world. He’s taught us to cook what you think is cool. Put together the unexpected, but make no compromises in technique.

Zagat: Are you sourcing locally?

Tim Ma: We’ve always been responsible, but we don’t make a big thing about it - it’s what we do. We get our pork from Polyface Farms and our other meats from a similar source. Our produce comes from Tuscarora Farms.

Zagat: This restaurant has a bar area, can you tell us about the drinks?

Joey:  Nick Seo, our general manager, can tell you about that.

Nick: We're going to start simply with a few speakeasy-inspired cocktails based on gin and bourbon, like a basil gin and tonic. The wine list will be simple too - eight whites and eight reds from locales, like Argentina, Spain, and the U.S. We’re looking for easy-drinking wines that are interesting and different. We’ll have two taps for craft beers, too.

Zagat: Tell us about the space.

Tim Ma: I asked Studio Ideya’s Sucha Khamsuwan to handle the design, and I didn’t get in the way. He’ll tell you about it and show you around.

Zagat: When do you plan to open the restaurant?

Tim Ma: November 1 is the target. Cedric Maupillier [Mintwood Place] and I are cooking a benefit dinner for Arcadia Farm here on November 4. We need to be ready for that.

See the slides below for some of the highlights of our tour.

  • Credit: Jody Brady

    The design is intended to bring a big-city sensibility to the atmosphere in subtle ways. The flooring has a concrete (sidewalk) look with diagonal black stripes that draw the eye to the interior, and rich colors and interesting textures are used throughout the space. There will be chain-mail curtains on both sides of the entrance - this high top table will be behind one of the curtains that defines the bar area. The striped walls are hand painted in copper and silver tones.

  • Credit: Jody Brady

    A white banquette hugs a cleverly textured brick wall.

  • Credit: Jody Brady

    The eye-catching, mushroom-shaped lampshades suspended from the exposed ceiling are handmade and have intriguing wicker accents

  • Credit: Jody Brady

    Bare black wood tables set a relaxed, sophisticated tone while showcasing the food on the plate.

  • Credit: Jody Brady

    Big wraparound windows will flood the space with light during lunch (and offer people-watching perks). At night you'll see lots of candles. There’s a nook in the back with several roomy, purple leather booths that look perfect for getting together with friends and family.

  • A seared-scallop preparation - an example of the colorful plates that will take the spotlight.