Since Doi Moi opened in 2013, the menu has ping-ponged all over Southeast Asia under a shuffle of chefs. After a five-month hiatus, the 14th Street restaurant will return on Wednesday, August 26, with a new focus on Vietnamese fare to go along with a colorful new look and new operators.
Star Restaurant Group—the team behind neighboring Chicken & Whiskey and National Harbor’s Walrus Oyster & Ale House—struck a deal last year to take over operations from lawyer and comedian Jason Kuller, whose brother Mark Kuller (Proof, Estadio) founded the restaurant and passed away of pancreatic cancer in 2014. While Jason Kuller remains an owner, “he doesn’t want anymore headaches from the restaurant,” says SRG managing principal Des Reilly. “He wants us to have the headaches, which we’re happy to take.”
Reilly and his partners Stuart Damon and Kris Carr are “wiping the slate clean,” starting with the look of the place. DesignCase, the firm behind the aesthetic of Maydan and Chloe, is adding blasts of color to the once sleek white space. “Think Vietnamese street market exploding with rich greens and blues and orange colors. We’ll have hanging fruit baskets… beautiful bright furniture,” Reilly says. “It’s going to be very dramatic… really sort of chaotic in a fun way.”
The south-facing windows will open up to a covered patio with a “garden party vibe” and a bar straddling the indoors and outdoors. The restaurant has received a permit to expand its patio by 30 seats along 14th Street.
Helming the kitchen is chef Wade Fatt, a former corporate chef for Equinox owner Todd Gray. His experience with Vietnamese food stems from his catering days.
The restaurant will open for dinner to start (takeout, patio, and dine-in), and then expand to a slightly paired down lunch menu a couple weeks later. Some old Doi Moi favorites such as flash-fried beef jerky and a whole fried fish remain on the menu. Newer highlights include “street plates” (spring rolls, roasted bone marrow), traditional favorites (beef pho), banh mi, steamed buns, ratatouille curry, and a grilled pork chop platter. See the full menu below.
The tropical look is matched with tropical fruit smoothies and fresh-pressed juices—all of which come with an optional shot of booze on the side. Bar Manager Paul Martinez, who helped open Chicken & Whiskey, incorporates lots of fruit-infused spirits into the cocktails ($9 to $11) as well. One drink plays off the flavors of Thai tom kha soup by infusing rum with coconut milk, lime, and chilies, then adding coconut milk and ginger-lemongrass syrup. Meanwhile, daiquiris will highlight seasonal flavors like dragonfruit or watermelon-Thai basil. Other non-alcoholic options include iced coconut milk barley tea and egg cream slow-drip coffee (topped with whipped condensed milk and egg yolk).
What was previously home to cocktail bars 2 Birds 1 Stone and Destination Wedding will become an extension of Doi Moi. It won’t have a separate entrance anymore, but it will have its own vibe, which Reilly describes as a “sexy, moody, low-light den of iniquity” with ’60s and ’70s soul music. It will also have its own drink menu with tropical riffs on classics—a dragonfruit cosmo, a banana old-fashioned, a coconut negroni.
While opening in the middle of a pandemic is far from ideal, the timing of the renovation allowed the team to adjust some of their plans to better suit the moment. For example, now there will be a to-go window on 14th Street. Also: the dining room is spaced for social distancing—without the depressing half-empty feeling.
“The thing that’s made me sad about stepping into some of my restaurants right now is sitting next to tables that are empty that have yellow caution tape on them saying you can’t sit there,” says Martinez. “Being able to sit down and be around beautiful lush colors and having a sense of normalcy is going to be very beautiful thing.”
Doi Moi. 1800 14th St., NW.