Doi Moi: A Quick Culinary Visit to Southeast Asia

29 Aug

Doi Moi

This week’s grand opening of Doi Moi (1800 14th Street NW) was one of the most anticipated new restaurant openings this year in any part of the District.  Owner Mark Kuller is responsible for two of the best restaurants in the city (Proof and Estadio) and had spent a significant amount of time traveling with his head chef to embed themselves in countries throughout Southeast Asia to research and prepare for their new restaurant that would feature tastes and spices from around the region.  The result is an experience that lets diners savor the richness and spiciness of Vietnamese and Thai dishes without having to travel farther than 14th Street.

When you first walk into Doi Moi and turn to the left, you will immediately realize that the substantial open kitchen is in the middle of the first (of two) dining rooms, giving you a view of the action and allowing you to soak in the aroma of the dishes you are about to enjoy.  Throughout the restaurant is authentic art that the owner brought back from his travels in the region to decorate the restaurant.  If you are unable to get a table due to high demand, try to grab one of the ample bar stools which give you a front row seat to the live cooking show unfolding before your eyes.

Pla Pad Cha (Wild Halibut in Jungle Curry) at Doi Moi

Pla Pad Cha (Wild Halibut in Jungle Curry) at Doi Moi

Like its sister restaurant Estadio, the menu is largely composed of small dishes; however, the rice and noodle dishes are more of an entree size than the rest of the menu.  The dishes are broken up into starters, skewers, salads, soup, curries, “share,” noodles and rice dishes, and vegetables.  Our waiter suggested that each person should order 2-3 dishes.  A starter and two of the larger dishes will certainly not leave you hungry.

Khao Phat Puu (Blue Crab Fried Rice) at Doi Moi

Khao Phat Puu (Blue Crab Fried Rice) at Doi Moi

We started off with the Nua Kem which is described as Thai wok tossed marinated beef with shark sriracha.  The tenderly sauteed beef would have been an enjoyable meal by itself, but the spicy sriracha sauce that was served on the side took it from being a good dish to a memorable one based upon the deep and sophisticate spice of the sauce (certainly not your grocery store sriracha from a squeeze bottle).  Next we moved on to the Pla Pad Cha, described as wild caught halibut in a jungle curry.  We were immediately warned that this was the spiciest dish on the menu.  The warning was justified as a chili pepper based sauce that was accentuated by whole peppercorns neccesitated several quick sips of water.  Yet, the spice was not overwhelming and was in fact pleasantly complementary to the light, flaky halibut that had been perfectly seared to give it a nice crust on both the bottom and the top.  Our third dish was the Khao Phat Puu, described as blue crab fried rice.  The dish was unassuming in appearance but certainly not in taste.  It arrived looking like a standard fried rice dish that one might expect at a neighborhood Thai restaurant–a dish that is a go to favorite but easily forgettable after the meal.  The Khao Phat Puu may have looked like standard fried rice, but it went way beyond because of the delicate fresh blue crab that was sprinkled throughout the rice to give the dish a slight essence of the ocean that paired nicely with the overall spice of the white pepper in the rice.

Salt Cured Key Lime Soda and Gin Cocktail at Doi Moi

Salt Cured Key Lime Soda and Gin Cocktail at Doi Moi

Like his other two restaurants, the drink menu at Kuller’s Doi Moi is an essential part of your dining experience.  Flip over the menu to discover an extensive wine selection as well as several creative cocktails.  The salt cured key lime soda and gin cocktail was a complementary balance of salt and sweet, perfect for a humid summer evening.

New restaurants continue to open on 14th Street every week and feature a wide variety of cuisines. However, the quick trip around the globe sampling the deep flavors of Southeast Asia that Doi Moi gives you is definitely one of the first experiences that you must check out.


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