October 17, 2013 | by Jonathan Howard
Perfection on a plate
Doi Moi, dining, restaurant, gay news, Washington Blade

Doi Moi (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Occasionally a restaurant delivers exactly what you need. The stars align and in that moment, what you’re encountering is almost indescribable.

I walked into Doi Moi (1800 14th Street N.W.) expecting phenomenal things from restaurateur Mark Kuller head chef Haider Karoum — the team behind Estadio and one of D.C’s top restaurants, Proof. I was ready for good, but delightfully got great instead.

This 5000-square-foot restaurant spans two buildings including a historical portion that used to house Whitman-Walker Health. Since Doi Moi does not accept reservations after 6:30, we walked up to the hostess stand and were told that the wait would be upwards of one hour, as expected. I was taking in the beautifully modern space with crisp white walls, warm wood floors and splashes of color brought in by Asian tchotckes. Meanwhile, my husband and a friend were making better use of their time and spotted three open stools at the bar. Since we could enjoy the full menu at the bar while getting a behind-the-scenes look at the restaurant, we took the stools and were greeted by two enthusiastic and informed bartenders. Throughout the meal they offered recommendations, as well as inside secrets about the food and drinks.

When we were handed the menus and our servers continued to excitedly speak of their favorite dishes, I realized our meal was going to be special. With many of the dishes marked as Phet (spicy) and Phet Mak (really spicy), it was evident the flavor profiles were going to be bold. However, it wasn’t just spicy, every dish had perfectly balanced and dynamic flavors.

Dishes like the Phla Hoi Chell of sliced raw scallops; chilies, lime, lemongrass, garlic and cilantro gave these delicate slices of scallop a powerful but fresh flavor. This delicate yet bold juxtaposition was beautiful. The Sai Ouah was Housemade Northern Thai sausage, which we paired with sticky rice. The sausage was intricate and even though it was marked Phet, the heat from the chilies did not overpower the dish because the cabbage and cucumber provided a cool balance. Dish after dish blew the three of us away. The Chiang Mai Chicken and noodle curry with fragrant coconut, egg noodles, chili oil, crispy noodles and much more was an absolutely divine dish. The Bun Bo Xao with beef, cucumbers, daikon, fragrant herbs and fried garlic may have been a basic stir-fry, but it was so well seasoned and prepared, it seemed almost groundbreaking.

The impeccably prepared meats were also phenomenal. Simple plates like the Bo Nuong Xa, beef skewers marinated in lemongrass and garlic were tender, juicy and flavorful. The Gaeng Ped Yang is a fragrant red curry with duck breast prepared with a sweet coconut milk base, pineapple and cherry tomatoes. The duck in this dish was astonishingly good, probably the best duck I’ve ever had. We also ordered the blue crab fried rice (with extra crab at the advice of our bartenders), whose rich fresh flavors exploded as they entered the mouth. The extra crab made this dish a standout. And after all these savory dishes, there are still others I’m yearning to try, guaranteeing multiple visits back.

Kuller and Khorum absolutely blew me away. Sitting at the bar gave us an unfiltered experience and revealed that not only is the food amazing, but the people who work there really love it as well. Interesting and dynamic flavor profiles partnered with fresh and exquisitely prepared proteins make for a don’t-miss dining experience. Doi Moi not only lived up to my astronomically high expectations, but also delivered one of the best meals I’ve ever had in Washington.

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