On a balmy afternoon, the sun beats down on the courtyard between the two buildings that make up the restaurant, cafe and retail marketplace on H Street NE, founded by chef Erik Bruner-Yang and Will Sharp of Durkl sportswear. With its long, communal table and youngish clientele, the place has the feeling of a college quad, so much so that two separate groups begin to wax nostalgic about the University of Virginia and its Charlottesville environs.
If only dorm food had been this exciting. Served on cafeteria-style steel trays, order after order of Bruner-Yang's leek buns, pork bao, Cambodian sandwich and Cambodian noodle soup are run out of the open kitchen at the rear of the courtyard.
Everyone seems perfectly content to linger. Unlike an evening foray here, or at Bruner-Yang's down-the-street paean to ramen, Toki Underground, there are no long waits. Just meander in, grab a seat. Stay awhile.
Pale skin being what it is this early in the warm season, a move inside to the cool cafe is a way to extend the lunch hour into something even more self-indulgent.
But first, a detour to the outdoor vending machine, which dispenses everything from hot tamarind candy ($4) and chocolate pocky ($2) to phone charging cables ($6) and lucky cats ($10). Oh, and did we mention the condoms ($2) and Advil ($2)? Maybe later, maybe later.
In the cafe, coffee is brewing and fat pastries are the alluring siren song that threaten to wreck any attempt at calorie moderation.
"Would you like a pastry puff bite?" a staffer asks.
Why, yes. Yes, I would.
For a seat with a view, park yourself at the row of seats that looks down on Maketto's entrance. Watch passersby do a double-take as they pass this new addition to the neighborhood. Feel the vibrations that travel through the floor as workers and patrons patter up and down the steps between the cafe and the retail shop.
Sunlight streams in through the floor-to-ceiling windows, which, in concert with the white walls dotted with aspirational goods -- $20 magazines, natty knapsacks -- suffuses the space with a celestial glow.
Nestled below the stairwell downstairs is a floating display of colorful (and not all insanely priced!) sneakers. Laid out under glass like taxidermied butterflies are such goods as hats and T-shirts. And . . . permanent markers? "For leaving your mark on the city," one employee says mysteriously.
Here, in the light of day, our stomach full and the office seemingly a world away, he almost makes it sound possible.
Maketto, 1351 H Street NE. 202-838-9972. maketto1351.com. 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Thursday, 7 a .m. to midnight Friday and Saturday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday.