Queenstown, New Zealand. Tia Carrere. The White Stripes.
All things I fell in love with instantly. There haven’t been many moments in my life where my first impression was “I love this place/person/thing.” I’m tough to impress.
In fact, I’m not sure there’s been a casual restaurant that has grabbed my attention and held it like this since I was at Candlenut in Singapore last year. The kind of restaurant that hits me so hard I need to go back the next day.
But Maketto did.
I still remember when Maketto opened just over a year ago—not because I went, but because my brother kept talking about it. The front was a clothing store, the back was a restaurant, upstairs was a cafe. There was a courtyard. You could sit at the chef’s counter. The food was modern Southeast Asian. Every meal sounded like the dishes I dream about when I’m alone.
This trip, I needed to go.
We make our way past the clothes, past the dining room, through the courtyard, into the adjacent building that houses the kitchen. We take our seats at the counter. I smell fish sauce and meat grilling.
The menu is relatively small—11 items—but I would eat any of them. I defer ordering to Logan and Kathryn, since they are the experts, and wait patiently.
Cambodian ground pork curry comes first. Not the most appetizing looking dish in the world, but the smell is unbelievable. That glorious mix of meat, coconut milk, and fish sauce funk isSoutheast Asia to me. The dish tastes like the what I ate in Siem Reap. As always: if a dish can transport me back to a place, it’s a dish I hold near and dear.
A ‘cheffy’ take on cumin lamb hits the table and once again, the smell wafts up and we’re all drooling. The meat is juicy, but still has a nice outer crunch. Mixed wild mushrooms and a Szechuan peppercorn mala oil pump up the earthy flavors, but they’re sliced through by a vibrant dill puree. I’m reaching over to steal the last bite when the waiter puts a plate in front of me…
This is where I decide that I will forever trust chef Erik Bruner-Yang. I make the waiter repeat his description of the dish. I try to quickly come up with a scheme to keep my brother’s hands away from it.
Six golden, crunchy, gruyere-cheese filled dumplings sit in front of me. Pillows of cheese, resting on a bed of Chinese beef chili and fermented greens. It’s everything I’ve wanted in life. I don’t deserve it. I love this dish. I tell Logan we might need another, but he tells me I need to wait. The star dish hasn’t even arrived.
A downside to seeing into the kitchen is knowing what’s coming next, and it is becoming obvious what Maketto’s finisher is: Taiwanese fried chicken.
You don’t understand. In Taiwan, you can get this street ‘snack’ that’s just these comically large pounded out chicken breasts that have been heavily spiced and deep fried until the crunch factor is turned to 10. I’ve been begging Tai Ke St. Louis to do it. I still fantasize about going back to Taipei’s night markets just to eat more.
This dish is up there with the best fried chicken I’ve had—anywhere. The crunch, the five-spice caramel, the crispy shallots…by this point, I’m not even talking. What is there to say? I’ve just fallen in love and I know it won’t be months until I see them again. I’m living in a Richard Linklater film where Julie Delpy is replaced by a modern Asian restaurant.
The chicken comes with grilled bread, which we use to mop up the bowl. We throw in the towel and head home. I wish I had gotten more chicken to go.
Cambodian Ground Pork Curry
Taiwanese Fried Chicken
I just couldn’t stay away. I kept thinking about you all night, Maketto. I had to come back for lunch before my flight.
We grab a matcha-cream filled donut and some coffee in the cafe upstairs for ‘breakfast’, then immediately head downstairs and order lunch. One Cambodian pork shoulder sandwich—a Cambodian variation on the banh mi, basically—one order of curried leek buns, and one order of pork buns.
I leave, and take one last look at the restaurant. I’ll miss you. But I know I’ll see you again.