When Tim Ma was in the kitchen at Maple Ave Restaurant in Vienna, diners couldn't get enough of the six-person tasting table dinners he'd hold. Now he's planning on reviving the "more refined plates" he served in that setting but on a much larger scale.
When it opens in November, his new Shaw restaurant, Freehand, will feature "flashes of what we've done well in the past, flashes of what we're interested in doing right now" and new ideas.
Ma describes Freehand, located in the Shay apartment building on Eighth Street NW, as a "French Asian bistro," though "our cooking kind of just goes everywhere." Unlike those former dinners at Maple Ave, dishes at Freehand will be a la carte.
Ma expects to frequently change the menu, ideally at least weekly. He and "right hand" Nyi Nyi Myint are working on developing the offerings, but a sample menu Ma shared includes dishes such as ratatouille terrine, beef heart tartare and his signature crème fraîche wings. One of his favorite ingredients, duck, will likely be a regular feature, too; the duck confit at Ma's Water & Wall in Ballston is a top-seller. (A duck has even been incorporated into Freehand's logo.)
Freehand will seat 60 diners, including 12 at the bar. That number, Ma said, will make it easier to execute the type of food he's envisioning; by comparison, Water & Wall can serve 90.
Ma and wife and co-owner Joey Hernandez are working with Grizform Design Architects on the interior, which will feature a sort-of open kitchen -- "I don't want to be stared at," the chef said -- and soft tones of blue and gold.
The new restaurant will be part of a larger transition for Ma and Hernandez. The couple have already stepped away from the operation of Maple Ave and will eventually be phased out as owners. "I was starting to see the limits of what I could do on my own," Ma said of the decision. At Water & Wall, Ma plans to promote someone else who has worked there to chef de cuisine.
Meanwhile, Ma and Hernandez have also teamed up with Michael Amouri of Caffe Amouri for another new project in Vienna. Chase the Submarine on Church Street will be a combination sandwich and butcher shop. It's expected to open in September.
"I'm not trying to be an empire," Ma said. But, he said, fairly or not, Virginia still has a reputation for being a small pond dining-wise. He wants to give Washington a go.
"I think D.C. was a challenge to myself," Ma said. "Let's get into the city and see what we can accomplish."
Freehand, 1924 Eighth St. NW. Opening November 2015.