Image: Spaghetti Squash Ssam.
Last Visited: August 2019
Chef Tim Ma has been putting out consistently good and creative food for quite some time. Starting off at Maple Ave and Water and Wall in Virginia, he then opened Kyirisan off U Street three years ago. Now he has found a place that gives him a stable platform for his genre-bending food.
The food is creative and delicious. It pulls from multiple cuisines around the world, often mixing elements from two or more for each dish. The flavors are primarily Asian, but there are also notable elements from Italy, Latin America, and the Middle East. On a recent visit, the Rigatoni with rabbit was familiar, rich Italian fare, with Levant seasoning. Shishito peppers, commonly found in many different restaurants done simply, here they came with light anchovy aioli and lemon. A large shared plate used spaghetti squash as filling for the lettuce-leaf wraps in a Ssam dish. The choice of add-ons included sauces, crispy garlic, fried shallots, and spices. The squash is just buttery enough that it worked without the fatty meat one normally craves. Outside of the large-format dishes to share, the serving sizes are not large, although they seem a little bigger than when it opened.
Cooking aside there are some notes of caution. The space is large, rolling from patio seating, to bar, to back dining room. Despite being open for several months, it does not seem they have worked out the staffing needs to cover the space. While a small-plates format creates an expectation that dishes will come when ready, it does not mean appetizers should come in the middle of service or that five or more dishes should arrive within a couple minutes of each other.
Although servers seem stretched thin, they are nice and attentive when you get their attention. The setting is slightly discordant for the price point and sophistication of the food. While some places – think The Dabney – mask formality in a casual setting, here the informality acts to underline a casual attitude. American Son is located in the Eaton Hotel, where I’m not sure they need beds because everyone is so woke. The hotel setting is evident in the lingering bar crowd. The back dining area works well to create a different space cut off from the din. The drink list is long, consistent with the needs of a hotel bar. The wine list is good, with some interesting choices, but not as deep.
Despite the notes of caution, and assuming you are not on a tight schedule, the cooking alone makes it worth a trip out of the way.
Other Guidance: The expensive, casual setting accommodates hipsters, scenesters and button-down DCers alike. The menu labels for GF, V and VG, but seems to leave off certain dishes that appear to qualify (that may be because of cross pollination fears more than ingredients). Ask your server. On a visit there was only one GF choice listed, but many more actually available.
Rating: Worth Taking a Walk (upgraded from initial rating of “Worth Trying Out”).
Cuisine: Other Asian
Address: 1201 K St NW, Washington, DC 20005
Reservations: Opentable via Restaurant Site
DonRockwell.com – No thread yet, but the legacy one for Kyirisan remains up.