The 14th St. district in the Logan Circle neighborhood of Washington is one of the fastest rising parts of the city in terms of new shops and restaurants. Doi Moi, a restaurant in Logan Circle, serves Southeast Asian cuisine, particularly from Thailand and Vietnam. Doi Moi is on a busy corner among many other restaurants and shops that have recently landed in this bustling district. The decor is modern — fairly simple with light colors and a clean look.
According to the restaurant’s website, the Vietnamese phrase “doi moi” translates as “new changes,” and was used to describe the open-door cultural and trading policies placed on Vietnam in 1986. Today, the name aptly applies to the rejuvenation of the Logan Circle neighborhood, as well as the restoration of the building in which Doi Moi is situated.
My group of three went on a Friday night when the restaurant was packed. It took us longer to get there than we had expected, so even though one of the three arrived on time to hold our 7 p.m. reservation, the table had unfortunately been given away by the time my friend and I arrived 15 minutes late. We instead resorted to sitting at the bar, which was a bit disappointing. Nevertheless, the food and service of Doi Moi made up for that experience.
At the recommendation of our waiter, we decided to start off by splitting a few starters so each of us could sample as many different dishes as possible. Each of us chosing one, we settled on the gui chai (steamed garlic chive and mushroom dumplings, $11), muc rang muoi (fried salt and pepper squid, $11) and phla hoi chell (sliced raw scallops, $15).
Each of us tried one of the dumplings which came with a sweet soy-vinegar dipping sauce. They were tasty overall, but rather tricky to eat, being too large to eat in one bite and falling apart into a messy pile. The sauce was a fairly typical soy dipping sauce although it mostly drowned out the mushroom and garlic flavor. The dumplings tasted good both with the sauce on their own.
The squid was the largest of the three starters, giving us a nice little mound of calamari pieces. It came doused in spices: black pepper, ginger, chilies, cilantro, scallions, garlic and lime. We generously squeezed our limes dry over all of them, achieving the best flavor. The calamari was very nicely fried — neither too greasy nor too chewy. The dish was quite spicy (as the menu had indicated) so the citrus of the lime and cool cilantro flavors were the best complements to the spice and seafood flavors. Dipping a few of the squid pieces into the dumpling’s salty soy sauce also provided a nice flavor variation.
Finally, the sliced raw scallops, served with chilies, lime, lemongrass, crispy garlic and cilantro, were probably the highlight of the meal. They were somewhat spicy from the chilies, but the lemongrass and lime flavors were the dominant notes. Nevertheless, the thin slices of fresh scallops probably would have been delicious without any flavor. Raw fish can be a risk, as over-aged or chilled varieties simply don’t taste good. However, at Doi Moi, the kitchen executed well, serving us tasty samples of the scallops, garnishing to add even more to their appeal.
Without any consultation, all three of us ordered the gaeng ped yang (duck breast in fragrant red curry, $16) for our main course.
Luckily, we all made a good choice. The dish was several slices of duck breast topped with lime leaf, served alongside pineapple, and chayote (a tropical member of the gourd family) in a bowl of curry sauce. Like the rest of the meat, the duck meat itself tasted fresh, was cooked very smoothly and probably would have been delicious on its own.
Nevertheless, the curry, pineapple and chayote complemented the meat. The curry was very spicy and would not be a good choice for those sensitive to hot flavors. However, the less flavorful chayote pieces balanced the spice and the sweet pineapple provided welcome relief while simultaneously complementing the saltier duck meat flavor.
Luckily, one of my friends decided to order a bowl of white rice on the side, which I would recommend. The rice helped to somewhat mitigate the spice of the curry, and also was tasty with the remaining curry sauce in the bottom of the bowl once we had finished the duck.
The main course was not particularly large, but the three appetizers had been slightly larger than my group expected. Since we had already spent quite a bit of money on this fairly pricey dinner, we decided not to order dessert. Some of the appetizing options available included chestnut custard with caramelized coconut, and coconut milk with white chocolate bark and egg noodles.
Getting off campus is always nice and 14th St. is clearly a rising part of town. Most dishes are spicy, but not overwhelmingly so, and this flavor can be avoided as the menu clearly displays which are mild and which are very hot. The restaurant is on the expensive side, but not outrageously so. If ever in that area, Doi Moi is a nice venue for a consistently good Southeast Asian meal.