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Reservations Recommended

Restaurant Review ~ Doi Moi / 1800 14th St., NW

Any DC foodie knows that 14th Street in the U Street/Logan Circle area is the go-to place for the young and hungry. So many new places have launched service with unique and tempting menus that making choices becomes a challenge. But one of these eateries has gained a fair amount of press, making it immensely popular and crowded, even mid-afternoon on a lazy Saturday.

Billing itself as innovative, as in “new changes” or “doi moi.” Doi Moi and its menu are really a blend of traditional and contemporary takes on both Thai and Vietnamese cooking. Also, apparently, the dishes reflect the cooking styles learned by its executive chef, Haidar Karoum, a number of years back at the now-closed Asia Nora restaurant. But for the intensely dedicated foodie who wants the authentic flavors of Thailand and Viet Nam, Doi Moi’s food is more about show and glamour than about traditional flavors.

Case in point: the Thai-inspired duck breast in fragrant red curry. The duck meat is tender, cooked to perfection and served on a bed of cubed pineapple and hearts of palm, but the curry itself was thin, almost watery, lacking the richness of thick coconut milk. And, despite the menu description, it lacked the kaffir lime leaf and Thai basil nuances. Besides, any accompanying rice —- served free at a typical Thai restaurant —- costs a bit extra here.

Given the innovative approach to cooking, however, the kitchen does come up with some rather successful if unusual dishes. Take, for example, the Thai classic, tod mun pla, or fish cakes. Typically, these are made from pounding a freshwater fish, then mixing the result with assorted seasoning, including kaffir lime leaves and red curry paste. This results in a chewy and flavorful appetizer for dipping into a sweetened cucumber sauce. Doi Moi’s version comes from the shaping into a large patty of shredded halibut that is then fried and served with a scattering of sliced VERY HOT chilies and a sweetened chili sauce that offsets the fire. In all fairness, management should mark this dish as “phet” or spicy; note that many of its dishes are so marked.

Another innovative take on a classic is the Thai crispy spring rolls, here stuffed with a mixture of pork, shrimp, and noodles. But these are so long and slender, like a delicate cigar, that the stuffing must be limited.

Perhaps the star of the meal made its entrance on a pile of stir-fried veggies. There, perched atop them sat a very, very crispy soft-shell crab, dipped into a crusting coating before being stir-fried. The coating turned the crab off-white, creating a visual mystery.

As a side, look through the limited offerings, and consider the stir-fried morning glory with garlic or the more familiar-sounding stir-fried Chinese broccoli with chilies. But for folks who love corn no matter how they find it, the Thai shaved corn with lime is both familiar and not loaded with chili heat. Delicious…

The dessert menu is limited to five choices, including soft-serve ice cream. But if the dessert selections are curtailed, the wine choices are really, really extensive. Chances are excellent that any wine connoisseur will find the perfect match for any Southeast Asian dish on the menu. Note: for the best seat in the house and for an up-close view of the busy kitchen, opt to sit at the upstairs bar. Great in-house theater!

Doi Moi / Mon.-Thu. 5–10pm; Fri. & Sat. to 11pm; Sun. to 9:30 pm. Entrée prices: $14-$32. 202-733-5131; www.doimoidc.com.

 

 

Alexandra Greeley is a food writer, editor, and restaurant reviewer. She has authored books on Asian and Mexican cuisines published by Simon & Schuster, Doubleday, and Macmillan. Other credits include restaurant reviews and food articles for national and regional publications, as well as former editor of the Vegetarian Times and former food editor/writer for the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. Click here to visit her website.