Rising chef finds home for comforting Japanese cuisine in Maxwell Park

Maxwell Park Wine Bar has been one of DC’s most popular drinking destinations since it opened its first location in Shaw four years ago, but the neighborhood establishment has struggled to determine which food s ‘tune permanently with its wines under the radar listed on cheeky thematic menus. This summer, the bar brought in an executive chef to take the cuisine in a whole new direction – comforting Japanese cuisine.

Masako Morishita brings up many memories of his native Japan with items like a McDonald’s-inspired teriyaki burger, savory cabbage pancakes and the same sardine recipe his mother makes overseas.

Award-winning sommelier / owner Brent Kroll’s local bar previously served small snacks and rotating menus from titular DC chefs like Oyster Oyster’s Rob Rubba and Food Network champion Adam Greenberg, but Morishita marks Maxwell’s first executive chef hiring. .

Maxwell Park’s new executive chef, Masako Morishita.
Rey Lopez / Eater DC

After leading his Japanese pop-up Otabe for the past few years, the up-and-coming DC chef is finding solid ground in a kitchen with his new Maxwell gig, which began just after July 4.

Maxwell’s original location in Shaw, which won a 2019 Local Restaurant Association award for “Wine of the Year Program,” added a 1,000 square foot outpost at Navy Yard in early 2020. Morishita’s menu is only available at Navy Yard at this time. and coming to Shaw starting next week.

“We were looking for someone to plant their feet and sink in – someone on the rise who we think will be the next big thing,” says Kroll, a Proof and Iron Gate alumnus.

A month later, Morishita is already tinkering with new dish ideas to keep customers guessing. “We have a lot of regulars who come here every day or three times a week looking for something new,” she says. “I am constantly changing the menu to make it interesting and fun. I love to cook, so this is my dream job for me.

One of the early bestsellers was inspired by one of his favorite fast food dishes in Japan: a McDonald’s teriyaki burger that the chain doesn’t serve in the United States.

“I miss it so much. I wanted to create something similar,” she says. Her take on the burger, delivered between a Martin potato bun and pierced with a glowing neon toothpick for a twist. fancy, is covered with a sauce made from gluten-free tamari, garlic, ginger, sake and sweet rice wine.

A self-proclaimed “tamari sommelier,” Morishita finds uses for the fermented soy product on her menu. She even did a tamari tasting at Japanese brand San-J’s facility in Richmond, Virginia. Tamari is similar to soy sauce and comes from a byproduct of miso. Classically, it’s made only with soy (and no wheat), which makes it more similar in flavor to Chinese-style soy sauce.

“It has a richer flavor than regular soy sauce. San-J is the best [brand] tome. I use it in everything, ”says Morishita.

A sparkling bowl of scallop crudo looks a bit more refined, dressed in pickled plum and yuzu kosho (chili paste) for a fiery finish. She suggests using a spoon to scoop up a broth that she prepares with tamari, sake and sweet rice wine. Micro shiso and edible flowers from the local Fresh Impact farm complete the dish.

A bright burrata salad that screams summer includes strawberries macerated with tamari and sugar, a tomato sliced ​​in a style similar to origami, and a seaweed (kombu) sauce that has been marinated in rice vinegar and maple syrup. The last component reappears in the form of a broth poured next to the table.

“Dashi, this is my thing,” she said. “I try to use it as much as possible.”

A summer burrata salad at Maxwell Park

A refreshing sweet and savory burrata salad for the summer is served with a drizzle of tamari, garlic and balsamic vinaigrette.
Rey Lopez / Eater DC

A can of grilled sardines spiced with parsley, garlic and chili is a replica of the appetizer her mother makes thousands of miles away in Kobe, Japan, at a small restaurant and bar that has been owned by the family for nearly 90 years old. His mother and grandmother are both chefs and taught him the art of Japanese cuisine while growing up.

Instead of using a traditional okonomiyaki sauce for her Japanese pancake, she zigzags in for a homemade black garlic aioli. Prosciutto, otafuku (a type of flour), Kewpie mayonnaise, togarashi, and bonito flakes complete the tasty entry. The okonomiyaki blown Kroll when he invited Morishita for a tasting trial after tasting her food at a pop-up event at Elle – the famous Mt. Pleasant cafe where her husband, Brad Deboy, is the chef – more early this year.

“If she had one dish that would stop me dead, that was it.” It’s delicious and quite filling, ”says Kroll. “I was like ‘don’t change what you’re doing.'”

Her taco rice bowl is an ode to the order she used to receive when she traveled to Okinawa for work. A stacked pile of wagyu ground beef, salsa, lettuce, cheese, Kewpie mayonnaise and hot sauce is a testament to American influences on Japanese island cuisine, due to its proximity to a military base, she says. .

Maxwell’s wines change all the time, so instead of listing specific pairings next to his dishes, guests are encouraged to chat directly with the sommeliers.

“I consider myself to be a janitor. You can’t go to a lot of wine bars and put that on the server, but you can do it here with whoever is waiting for you, ”says Kroll.

Maxwell’s extensive temperature-controlled wine list includes around 50 options by the glass and up to 500 bottles at any given time.

A can of grilled sardines, presented on a wooden board with pieces of toast, is inspired by the same dish his family cooks at their longtime restaurant in Japan.
Rey Lopez / Eater DC

Amid the changes in the kitchen, Maxwell Park also made some big changes to the front of the house. Kroll says sommeliers Daniel Runnerstrom and Niki Lang have moved on to other careers during the pandemic. Kroll has found a new partner in Matt Dulle, who recently worked as director of beverages for Lazy Bear, a San Francisco restaurant with two Michelin stars. Prior to that, he was the first head sommelier at Healdsburg, the luxurious SingleThread from California, who also played on Japanese influences in his farm-focused menu.

Sommelier and owner of Maxwell Park, Brent Kroll.
Austin Stonebraker Photography / Maxwell Park

“I have the impression that the knowledge of wine does not need to be relegated to the world of gastronomy. It may just be fun, so I was happy to come here, put on a t-shirt, play some great music, and lose my voice. We are on the same wavelength, ”says Dulle.

Dulle and Kroll first met through a mutual master sommelier friend at an educational conference in Sonoma a few years ago. When COVID-19 started causing a lot of turnover, Kroll asked if he knew anyone in his network of star sommeliers looking for work.

“It was literally the perfect day for him to text me,” he says, adding that DC’s energy and love for wine made the decision appealing. “There is a little more heart here and a sense of urgency.”

Sommelier Matt Dulle has just joined the fold of Maxwell Park as a partner.
Austin Stonebraker Photography / Maxwell Park

Maxwell’s new Navy Yard sommelier, JT Garczynski, is also from California, most recently at Compline Wine Bar in Napa.
Austin Stonebraker Photography / Maxwell Park

Maxwell’s new menu complements a wine list that’s also known to be fun and accessible, with rotating themes featuring various varietals from month to month. The August edition is “Bubbles and Boy Bands” with Justin Timberlake as the signature pop star, and this week is specifically devoted to thefts of dry, sparkling lambrusco accompanied by cold cuts.

This fall, look for ‘Royal Tannenbaums’ for reds rich in tannins.

After the pandemic, Maxwell is sticking to his walk-in model, but he’s taking pre-opening reservations for personalized tastings at $ 70 per person. Look for light cosmetic upgrades and a remodeled patio with fans, heaters, and awning in Shaw by year-end. Kroll says he and his new partner Dulle have a common love for New York’s “shoebox” wine bars, which Maxwell was designed to do.

“Maxwell is supposed to be a small business – I get offers for Tysons and Bethesda, I turn left and right. I want there to be two and that’s it, ”says Kroll.

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