No matter where I travel on this Thai-Vietnamese menu in this coolly modern dining room on 14th Street, I’m inclined to pen a mental postcard to fellow chowhounds. “The view is beautiful!” I imagine myself writing as I take in sliced raw scallops, served in a fanned shell on shaved ice and trumpeting lemon grass and chilies. “Wish you were here.” I’d add a line about the whole fried sea bream that swims to the table with steamed rice and a lively ginger dipping sauce. The all-white corner restaurant combines two favorite cuisines of chef Haidar Karoum, who grew up eating Thai and Vietnamese food in Northern Virginia and who has previously charmed Washington with the Spanish-accented Estadio and the wine-themed Proof. Doi Moi can be a blast. But not always. The kitchen’s ground duck liver salad with toasted rice and ground chilies, eaten with cabbage leaf scoops, is no match for the torch song performed at Little Serow. But that just leaves more room for nubby pork dumplings or stir-fried beef lemon grass bedded on vermicelli. Adam Bernbach designed the cocktail list, which drives me to drink. A favorite pitstop is his Straw Hat. A shade of chardonnay, the libation mixes pisco and Scotch and makes any meal more intoxicating.
2013 Fall Dining Guide
By Tom Sietsema
October 10, 2013
Part Thai, part Vietnamese, Doi Moi is pure pleasure. Restaurateur Mark Kuller (Proof, Estadio) and chef Haidar Karoum took a shopping trip to Southeast Asia last year, looking for ideas for their latest and possibly greatest place to graze thus far. They returned with colorful trinkets for the all-white dining room and flavors that some foodists compare to the 3½-star Little Serow "without the wait."
Take the "spicy" fried cashews at its word; your eyes will pop at the chili heat, but your hands are apt to dip back for more. Halibut with green peppercorns and galangal makes a racy yet refined "jungle" curry. Stir-fried lemon grass beef with slippery vermicelli noodles -- Watch out, Eden Center! -- swells with flavor, thanks to fried garlic, scallion oil and fragrant herbs in the mix. And I can't wait to address my next cold with a bowl of this kitchen's glorious, mushroom-thick chicken noodle soup, shot through with lemon grass and gently sweet with coconut. Too hot for comfort? Rice is the insider's antidote to any fire in the food.
While beer might be the obvious quaff, the list of wines is one of the strongest this diner has seen in an Asian restaurant.
Doi Moi refers both to Vietnam's economic reforms in the 1980s and 14th Street's present-day surge of energy. Pulse check? This place rocks.