Six months after making a stunning and sudden exit at the Wharf, chef Kevin Tien has secured a surprise new D.C. home for his critically acclaimed restaurant Moon Rabbit.
Moon Rabbit 2.0 is scheduled to reopen in early January in the iconic Penn Quarter address where Co Co. Sala long sat (927-929 F Street NW), Tien exclusively tells Eater.
The comeback location for his Vietnamese fine-dining gem, about a 30-minute walk north from the original, marks a full-circle moment for the 2023 James Beard Award semifinalist for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic. Tien’s first breakout culinary gig was a 2016 poke pop-up right across the street in the National Union Building.
Tien debuted Moon Rabbit at the foot of the Southwest Waterfront’s luxe InterContinental in fall 2020, and a failed fight with IHG Hotels & Resorts to unionize his staff ultimately resulted in its swift closure this spring. Tien went on to win Chef of the Year at this summer’s Rammy Awards.
Now with his own lease in Penn Quarter, “it’s not a concept for another company – I get to fully own and operate it,” says Tien, co-founder of Chefs Stopping AAPI Hate. Over 20 Moon Rabbit employees, from front-of-house to kitchen staff, are coming back on board to join him in Penn Quarter.
In a testament to Moon Rabbit’s popularity amongst locals, Tien was flooded with offers from real estate brokers right after closing doors at the Wharf.
“I walked through 20 spaces in 30 days, all over D.C.,” he says.
The citywide search took him to potential locations in Adams Morgan, Navy Yard, up 14th Street NW, all over Northeast, and “another available space” on the Wharf.
“We didn’t want to rush it,” he says. “We wanted it to feel right and make sure the space we found was something to really continue to tell the next story of Moon Rabbit.”
And with a new location will come an all-new lineup of Vietnamese dishes accented with his signature modern touches; the menu will be “totally different,” he says.
After dimly lit, chocolate-centric standby Co Co. Sala ended its 10-year run in 2018, short-lived British restaurant Scotts moved in with a sleek, color-soaked overhaul. The dining room’s adjoining, library-like scotch club will function as Moon Rabbit’s handsome new bar.
The 3,500-square-foot space surrounded with built-in bookshelves “is in great shape and beautiful,” says Tien, who’s designing Moon Rabbit from the ground up with all-new furniture being shipped from Turkey. The hands-on remodel reminds him of his early culinary days of assembling his nationally regarded Himitsu in Petworth from scratch.
“We hung up wallpaper and did electrical and plumbing. We’re kind of going through that again. It’ll feel very much like a Kevin Tien experience,” he says.
Its Penn Quarter digs are also much more intimate and cozy than that at the Wharf, with room for about half as many (100) patrons. The open kitchen also appealed to Tien, who didn’t have one at the Wharf.
“Dining out is not cheap, so if you’re going to do it you should be able to build a connection with guests. Now I can do that,” says Tien.
The Lafayette, Louisiana, native with Vietnamese heritage plans to sprinkle in personal nods to the inspiration behind his food, including framed family photos of his grandma and baby eating.
Tien temporarily revived Moon Rabbit this summer at Northeast’s new Bryant St Market with a pared-down menu of its hit dishes. That pop-up project, primarily a way to keep his staff employed, will soon phase out while the team gears up to open the real deal.
“If you’re really craving [my] crawfish pasta, if you don’t get it by mid-December you’ll never taste it again,” he says.