Virginia Square restaurant Water & Wall, located at 3811 N. Fairfax Drive, is offering a “pop-up” Chinese menu for lunch until Aug. 29.
The “Uncle Paul’s Kitchen” menu, named for Water & Wall co-owner Tim Ma’s uncle, debuted almost three weeks ago at the restaurant, Ma said. It includes Chinese-inspired dishes, like Kung Pao Pork Belly, and more traditional Chinese fare, like “Uncle Paul’s Zha Jiang,” with prices ranging from $6 to $10.
The Zha Jiang is like a Chinese ragu, which Ma said the Chinese community jokingly calls “Marco Polo noodles, because Marco Polo came to China and took the recipe back, and that’s where Italian pasta comes from.”
The dishes from Uncle Paul’s Kitchen are smaller than regular entrees, reminiscent of dim sum, which allow customers to order two or three at a time. The lunch menu is available daily from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
“We are essentially running two restaurants here,” Ma said. “We have the kitchen divided for the Chinese stuff and then the rest of the storage space and refrigeration is for the regular restaurant stuff.”
Water & Wall opened eight months ago for dinner, and served only its French-inspired dishes. In mid-June, Ma, his parents, their “old school Chinese” air conditioner repairman, and some Chinese cooks were having a Chinese dinner and had the idea for the pop-up menu, Ma said.
“We were joking around, saying ‘Well this is more like a Chinese restaurant than an American or French place,’” Ma said.
From the idea’s inception, it took Ma two weeks to create the menu, which drew from dishes that his uncle served at his traditional Shandong restaurant “Paul Ma’s Kitchen,” in New York in the 1980s, Ma said.
“He had incredible success there with these homemade recipes,” Ma said. “It was like impossible to get a reservation there.”
The food Paul Ma cooked for his nephew, while living with him at Tim’s Virginia home, also inspired Ma’s lunch menu for Water & Wall.
“He continues to tell me things that I should tweak and things that I should add,” Ma said.
Ma also owns a restaurant serving American food in Vienna called Maple Ave Restaurant. For now, Ma is not sure whether Water & Wall will debut its planned lunch menu of French fusion dishes at the end of the month, or create something else closer to the pop-up menu’s choices.
“This has been really well received thus far,” Ma said. “We have a better response with the dishes my uncle created back in the day.”