Saturday, July 5, 2014

Doi Moi

Doi Moi (pronounced "doy moy') is a new Thai and Vietnamese street food restaurant along the bustling 14th Street NW neighborhood.  Brought to us from Chef Haidar Karoum and restaurateur Mark Kuller, the team behind Proof and Estadio, as well as Adam Bernbach, the bar manager for both of those restaurants, there have been rave reviews of this modern hotspot.  Closest Metro is U Street.

Doi Moi refers to a period of economic and social reform in Vietnam in 1986.  Kuller said he chose the name because "it embodies many elements of this project — the progressing renewal and reconstruction of 14th Street, the renovation of this beautiful historic building, the open door nature of great hospitality, and the new change that captures my personal and continuing transition from corporate tax attorney to restaurateur."

November 2013: We went for dinner on a busy Friday night, and were seated inside the bright Apple Store looking dining room.  White walls, white lights, white tables, white chairs, everything was bright white.  The large open kitchen with bar seating surrounding, occupied the middle of the restaurant.  Our server, Sam, quickly explained the Asian street food concept of the menu, which is in the same vein as Maketto with spicier emulations of Little Serow.  We were hungry and everything on the menu sounded great, so we picked six items to share - a few more than the four that Sam suggested we start with.  To accompany our meal, I ordered a glass of Dr. Loosen Riesling and Keith ordered a Salt-cured Key Lime Soda & Gin.  My wine was effervescent and crisp, but I was seduced by Keith's salty gin concoction and later ordered one for my self.  Keith later switched to a "33" Lager from Vietnam, this time mistakenly presented without any ice.  Keith didn't mind as the beer itself was chilled.

Items on the menu were marked with "Phet" to denote its spiciness.  Those marked with "Phet Mak" meant it was really spicy.  Keith enjoys spicy food and I was feeling adventurous, so we kind of ordered blindly.  The first dish that came out was Phla Hoi Chell.  These sliced raw scallops were traditionally spicy and flavored with lots of chilies, lime, lemongrass, crispy garlic, and cilantro.  The scallops were tender and this was a refreshing dish to awaken the palate.

Next, Keith enjoyed Thai wok-tossed marinated beef called Nua Kem that was served with shark sriracha.  The beef was slightly sweet and satisfied this meat-lover.  It would have been great with a side of rice, but Keith just ate the whole plate by itself.

A dish that would be more pleasing to vegetarians was the mild pan fried garlic, chive, and mushroom dumplings called Gui Chai.  These little morsels could have had a bit more filling, but tasted fine with the side of sweet soy-black vinegar dipping sauce.

After a short pause, we tackled the super spicy Naem Khao Tod - a salad of crispy curried rice with sour pork sausage, shallots, saw leaf herb, young ginger, and roasted peanuts.  This dish immediately set my tongue on fire, numbed my lips, and caused me to tear up.  Yet, it was addictive and I kept scooping bits into my mouth with the cool and crunchy pieces of cabbage.  Keith was shocked with how I kept going back to this dish for more.  He didn't understand how I was handling the heat - neither did I.  It was like I was under a spell.

We also shared a Vietnamese chicken noodle soup called Bun Cari that was medium spicy from the coconut curry broth with lemongrass, vermicelli noodles, maitake mushrooms, scallions, cilantro, and finished with a squirt of lime.  While the soup was comforting, it was awkward to share out of the same bowl and we left quite a mess on the table.

Lastly, we shared a more hearty dish that was highly recommended called Cha Ca La Vong.  It was a buttery sablefish with dill and tumeric, served on top a bed of vermicelli noodles, scallions, peanuts, crispy garlic, nouc cham, chilies, and fragrant herbs.  This dish was expertly prepared and very fulfilling.

To round out the spicy meal, I was also told to try the soft serve ice cream.  Flavors change frequently, and tonight's feature included Thai Ice Tea.  The generous swirl of sweet creamy tasted exactly like the orange-colored drink and was the perfect finish to our meal.

Overall, the food at Doi Moi was impressive.  The shared small plates concept can be overplayed, but works for this Asian street food menu.  Doi Moi's portions are a bit larger than you'd get at a tapas restaurant, so it is a great deal for groups.  I was also very impressed with the cocktail I had, and would like to see even more creative options available.  Next time, we will have to check out the newly opened sister bar, 2 Birds 1 Stone, located in the basement of Doi Moi.

July 2014:  It was 4th of July weekend, and Keith thought it might be less crowded with everyone out of town for the holiday.  So he wanted to go out for dinner.  The original restaurant we wanted to try was unexpectedly closed for the weekend, so we ended up walking to Doi Moi.  The restaurant was not as crowded as our first visit, and we were seated right away.

I immediately looked over the new summer-themed tiki cocktail menu.  Keith chose the Mai Tai, while I chose the Piña Colada. This tropical drink was recently featured in Food & Wine for being "made right."  According tot he article, to make his version, bar director Adam Bernbach "mixes fresh pineapple juice, coconut milk, lime juice (the extra acidity really makes a difference, he says) and sugar, in a siphon. “The CO2 does two things,” Bernbach says. “One, it latches onto the fat in the coconut milk to create a lush body. Two, there's this pins-and-needles acid in pineapple. The CO2 accentuates it.” Once the juices are poured out of the siphon, bartenders add dark rum and strain the cocktail into a glass filled with crushed ice."  Sure enough, this drink was delicious.  The crushed ice kept the drink cold throughout my entire meal without watering it down too much.  The seductive mix of pineapple and coconut helped soothe my burning mouth, too, after all the spicy dishes.

To start, we shared the grilled house made sour Isaan sausage known as Sai Grok. These links were served with ginger, chilies, shallot, peanuts, cabbage, cucumber, and pickled garlic, and were a deconstructed version of the Naem Khao Tod we had on our first visit.

Keith tried the Bò Nướng Xã, a lemongrass and garlic marinated hanger steak.  Keith enjoyed these flavorful skewers.

Next, we shared Gai Tod or fried lemongrass-coconut chicken wings.  The chicken was boneless and served with an addictive green chili-cilantro emulsion.  The chicken reminded me of kara'age, but with more seasoning.  The chicken was piping hot and very tasty.

Keith really wanted to order the green papaya saladSớm Tâm.  This spicy salad of sliced green papaya, tomatoes, snake beans, dried shrimp, peanuts, lime, tamarind, and chilies killed my tongue with it's phet-spice level.  The tomatoes added a hint of sweetness to balance with the sour and spicy flavors.  It was another addictive dish that Keith devoured with some sticky rice.

My mouth was pretty wrecked from the last dish, but I enjoyed the Gaeng Kheiyu Hoi Chell - seared scallops in green curry with young eggplant, heart of palm, red pepper, and Thai basil.  The young eggplant were like hard peas, but the hearts of palm created a nice earthy sauce to accompany the sweet scallops.

For another vegetable side, we ordered simple Stir Fried Chinese Broccoli with chilies and oyster sauce.  The portion was pretty generous, and the broccoli was nice and crunchy.

Lastly, we shared a lovely Grilled Rockfish in Banana Leaf with lime, lemongrass, and a spicy tomato dipping sauce.  The fish meat was tender and I could really taste the smoky grilled flavors.

In the end, we realized we had ordered too many dishes again, and were uncomfortably stuffed.  I guess that is a good nod to the chef though, knowing that we enjoyed all the main food, instead of filling up on drinks or dessert.  Doi Moi is still a great spot for groups, and I was happy to see some new dishes on the menu, along with some of the classic favorites. 

UPDATE: This restaurant was awarded Bib Gourmand in October 2016.

Total Rating: 4.38
Food: 4.5, Price: 4, Service: 4.5, Ambience: 4, Accessibility: 5
What Micky Eats...

What I ate:
Phla Hoi Chell (Sliced Raw Scallops)-"Phet'
chilies, lime, lemongrass, crispy garlic, cilantro

 Gui Chai (Pan Fried Garlic Chive & Mushroom Dumplings)
with sweet soy-black vinegar dipping sauce

Naem Khao Tod (Crispy Curried Rice Salad with Sour Pork Sausage) - "Phet Mak"
shallots, saw leaf herb, young ginger, roasted peanuts

Bun Cari (Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup) - "Phet”
lemongrass, coconut, vermicelli noodles, curry, maitake mushrooms, scallions, cilantro, lime

Cha Ca La Vong (Sablefish with Dill & Tumeric)
vermicelli noodles, scallions, dill, peanuts, crispy garlic, nouc cham, chilies, fragrant herbs

Thai Ice Tea Soft Serve Ice Cream
Sai Grok (Grilled House Made Sour Isaan Sausage ) - "Phet"
ginger, chilies, shallot, peanuts, cabbage, cucumber, pickled garlic

Gai Tod (Fried Lemongrass-Coconut Chicken Wings)
green chili-cilantro emulsion

Sớm Tâm (Green Papaya Salad) - "Phet"
snake beans, dried shrimp, peanuts, lime, tomatoes, tamarind, chilies

Gaeng Kheiyu Hoi Chell (Seared Scallops in Green Curry ) - "Phet"
young eggplant, heart of palm, red pepper, Thai basil

Stir Fried Chinese Broccoli
with Chilies & Oyster Sauce

Grilled Rockfish in Banana Leaf
with lime, lemongrass, and spicy tomato dipping sauce

Plus Keith ate:
Nua Kem (Thai Wok Tossed Marinated Beef) -"Phet"
served with shark sriracha
Bò Nướng Xã (Lemongrass & Garlic Marinated Hanger Steak)  

 Doi Moi on Urbanspoon

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