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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. Continue reading

Mike Isabella’s Kapnos: Even Better than Graffiato?

15 Jul

We had the pleasure of stopping by opening night of Mike Isabella’s Kapnos (2201 14th Street, NW) on opening night, July 5th.  Even ten days later, we are still savoring the taste of perhaps the best dinner we have had all year.  While Isabella’s first restaurant, Graffiato, may have been a more anticipated opening in the media, Kapnos is already giving Graffiato a run for its money (and this is coming from huge fans of Graffiato).

Kapnos is located on the corner of 14th and W Streets, a block north of U Street on the first floor of a new apartment complex.  The restaurant features a beautiful open kitchen that enables the diner to enjoy a full view of the show that goes into the preparation of their dinner.  On opening night, Isabella himself helmed the kitchen and inspected every dish prior to it being sent out to the table.

We started dinner with one of Isabella’s kegged lemonades, a specialty of the house according to our waiter.  While the second round had more fizz than the first round, both were a refreshing break from the hot and humid D.C. night that we had just come in from outside.  In addition to the three versions of kegged lemonade, Kapnos has an extensive wine list and an in house sommelier (something our waiter pointed out several times) as well as many different cocktails.

Like his other two restaurants, the menu at Kapnos is divided up into categories of tapas.  To sample the menu fully, we tried at least one from each category (a tasting menu is also available for a reasonable $65 a person).  To begin our feast, we started with two of the spreads: a standard tzatziki and the melitzanosalata.  The tzatziki was good, but the melitzanosalata, a smokey combination of eggplant, feta, and red peppers stole the show.  Next we moved on to the “barely raw mezze” where we chose the bronzino.  The Mediterranean fish was cured in a cucumber dill sauce and topped with two small slivers of the fish’s skin that had been lightly fried and tasted almost like slightly crunchier popcorn.

Smoky Beets at Kapnos

Smoky Beets at Kapnos

To pretend to be healthy, we tripled up on the vegetable section by ordering the asparagus, the beets, and the potatoes (the greek fries “vegetable” dish was not available opening night).  In this section, the asparagus, lightly grilled with lemon rind and served with a generous helping of sundried tomatoes and feta, was transformed from a good but sometimes overused and forgettable summer vegetable into a stellar dish that we hope to replicate at home sometime soon.  The smoky beets featured an interesting contrast between the spice of the green peppercorn crisp and the citrusy yogurt they were served with.  While beets may be over featured on menus across town currently, you definitely don’t want to miss out on this delicious and unique preparation at Kapnos. Continue reading