Doi Moi, the Southeast Asian staple on 14th Street NW that’s seen a number of makeovers over the past seven years, reopens tonight with new managing partners that have built the latest revamp around a Vietnamese menu.
Star Restaurant Group, which runs pollo a la brasa bar Chicken and Whiskey down the street, officially took over the reins in January. Shutting down during the COVID-19 crisis gave the new management time to renovate the space, which now has 64 outdoor seats. Returning from the hiatus puts 43 employees to work, including new executive chef Wade Fatt, a former corporate chef for Todd Gray’s companies.
There’s a whopping 30 sauces to choose from, along with 15 marinades. Braised pork riblets are made in a soy and sake marinade, and a pound of mussels arrives with a spicy lime dipping sauce. Traditional Vietnamese mains include suong nuong (grilled pork chop platter), phở bò (beef noodle soup), kho bo (flash-fried beef jerky), and plenty of báhn mì sandwiches.
Fatt plans to serve some soup broths on the side in a tea pot. Customers shouldn’t get too tied to some opening items; a fall menu refresh will drop in just a few weeks. The menu itself was condensed from 50 to 35 dishes.
A former President also makes an appearance on the menu. Obama’s Bún Chả, a grilled pork platter with chilled vermicelli noodles and sour dipping broth, is a nod to the dish he famously ate with Anthony Bourdain during a trip to Hanoi.
At the bar, there’s egg cream slow-drip coffee and iced coconut milk barley tea. Vietnamese coffee soft serve churned on-site (make it a pandan waffle cone).
Bar manager Paul Martinez, who grew up working at his uncle’s Vietnamese restaurant, plays up Southeast Asian flavors across the cocktail list. There’s an apricot-lychee frosé and “Rhum-Kha,” a riff on the sour and savory toup with tom-kha infused rum, ginger-lemongrass syrup, coconut milk, and lime. The price point ($9-$11) is pretty pandemic friendly. Martinez is also bottling unique sugarcane moonshine infusions behind the bar with kumquat, guava, and pineapple.
Fresh fruit helps build bright superfood drinks ($6-$8) like a “Green Lantern” juice (Gala apples, spinach, ginger, lemon) and “You Had Me At Mango” smoothie (mango, papaya, pineapple, kumquat, yogurt, toasted coconut).
“We really wanted to take a fresh and healthy approach,” says Star co-founder Kris Carr.
The group is still waiting on some furniture deliveries and window dressings to arrive. Hours are 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
“[We know] it’s crazy to be opening in a pandemic,” Star co-founder Des Reilly says. “We are really embracing the fact we will be imperfect when we open.”
The months-long hiatus offered the gift of time, letting the partners go all out on a tropical design. Along with a dedicated takeout window, patio seating along 14th Street NW adds 28 seats. A 36-seat covered portion gives off garden party vibes, decked out with ceiling fans, hanging plants and flowers, and neon furniture.
“People are going to have a mini ‘WTF’ moment when they walk into the restaurant,” says Reilly. “It’s a total infusion of color inspired by Vietnamese street markets.”
The white space provided a prime canvas to go all out with floor-to-ceiling bursts of green, blue, and orange tones. Respected interiors firm Design Case (Maydan, Immigrant Street Food) handled the refresh.
Jason Kuller remains a partner at Doi Moi, but handing off the operations to his Chicken and Whiskey neighbors helps free up some of his time.
“He told us he’s five years in and he’s tired. As much as Doi Moi has done it could be so much better,” says Reilly. “It’s almost as if the restaurant was half built and not fully fleshed out.”
Haidar Karoum, now the chef-owner at Chloe, opened Doi Moi with a range of Vietnamese and Thai influences. More recently, chef Johanna Hellrigl implemented a broader Southeast Asian approach before she decamped. She now oversees the “Sorta South American” menu at Mercy Me in the West End.
Diners will have hard a hard time remembering the basement’s most recent life as novelty pop-up bar Destination Wedding. It originally made a splash as 2 Birds 1 Stone, and at one point hosted a pop-up for Hanumanh when the Lao bar was making repairs in Shaw.
Reilly says the design is going for a more relaxed vibe he describes as “sexy, sumptuous, dark, and more sedated.” He plans to blast 1960s and 70s rock and soul music below. The den will soon get its own cocktail list, but for now the menu is the same from top to bottom.