Kevin Tien Mixes His Roots on Moon Rabbit Menu

Capitol Cuisine

811

We really enjoyed Moon Rabbit. That’s the name of Executive Chef Kevin Tien’s new “modern Vietnamese restaurant” in the District Wharf’s InterContinental Hotel. On a chilly November evening, we were seated by ourselves at a long table near the lobby. Moon Rabbit’s sharp-edged décor features cool tones of beige and grey, with wooden accents.

At his new enterprise, Tien is rediscovering his Vietnamese roots. (His parents immigrated from Vietnam, and Tien grew up in Lafayette, Louisiana.) He’s been reading Vietnamese cookbooks, exploring dishes while reconnecting with his mother, who was raised in Ho Chi Minh City.

We were tempted by Tien’s garlic-grilled prawns accompanied by muối ớt xanh sữa đặc— a sauce of sweetened condensed milk enlivened with incendiary Thai green chilis. But I settled on twice-fried Pennsylvania quail, marinated in soy sauce and five-spice seasoning. The plump, crispy birds arrived with honey and Szechuan peppercorn-spiked butter and feather-light buttermilk biscuits. “The biscuit recipe is a nod to my Louisiana upbringing,” Tien explained. “I’ve been working on the recipe for a long time,” he said, adding that most ingredients are made in-house: honey, butter, and the five-spice seasoning.

Peter’s moistly delicious branzino (subbing for traditional catfish), was napped with turmeric curry, turnips and baby bok choy. Heartier options are lemongrass pork blade steak with coconut rice and a 16-ounce ribeye served with Caesar salad and pureed potatoes.

Dessert: coconut milk custard with coffee caramel syrup, chocolate pearls and a scattering of salt. From the drink menu, Essay Syrah (South African wine) and Ethiopian beer are perhaps holdovers from the hotel’s previous tenant, Afro/Caribbean Kith/Kin? Moon Rabbit’s dinner for two with a drink apiece came to $78 before tip. Service was excellent. The restaurant’s name, by the way, comes from a mythical lunar-dwelling bunny in Asian folklore.

Located at 801 Wharf St. SW, Moon Rabbit is closed Monday. Call 202-878-8566 or visit www.moonrabbitdc.com.

And…
In the Navy Yard, a ramen shop aptly named Basebowl, has opened at 1201 Half St. SE, near Nationals Park. Operated by Leopold Liao, the 2,400-square-foot eatery occupies the base of West Half, the JBG Smith mixed-use development.

 

Pete McCall samples bubbling cheese fondue at Stable’s lively pop-up. Photo: Celeste McCall.

Atlas Happenings
While the Atlas District was dormant during much of the pandemic, the street is reawakening. A newcomer is KitchenCray, 1301 H St.NE.  Chef-owner J.R. Robinson launched his spinoff (parent restaurant is in Lanham, Maryland) last month. A survivor of Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen, Robinson started Kitchen Cray as a catering business. He now showcases Cajun and Caribbean flavors while honoring his Harlem roots. Expect generous portions of oxtail Benedict, shrimp (or catfish)-and-grits, crab cake BLT, fried chicken with French toast. KitchenCray (“Creative Revolutionary Artistic Youth”) is open Wednesday through Saturday for dinner; Saturday and Sunday brunch. Call 202-396-2729 or visit www.kitchencray.com.

Fond of Fondue
To stave off winter chill, Swiss restaurant Stable (Atlas District) has added fondue to its seasonal menu. To start, the kitchen launched “Little Stable,” a fondue popup, down the street from its permanent address. Seating was in an outdoor courtyard, with heat lamps and blankets. But when we dined there on a mild November evening, we were able to doff our coats. Ambience was festive, with red-checked tablecloths and twinkling lights. After its temporary pop-up, Stable moved back into its regular digs at 1324 H adding fondue to its regular menu.

From “Little Stable’s” abbreviated lineup, we chose Beiper Knolle fondue, traditional cheese fondue with the addition of Beiper Knolle, garlic and black pepper cheese. Tagged at a rather steep $30 per person, the bubbling pot came with homemade bread cubes. You can also go with “traditional,” with two kinds of Swiss cheese, or a charcuterie (air dried beef, ham, mustard, pickles). A crisp green side salad counteracted the rich cheeses.

The drink list offered Gluhwein (hot spiced red wine), hot apple cider, beer, wine Kirschwasser, Schnapps and other potent potables. Service, rendered by Joseph, was pleasant and informative. Our dinner, with a wine apiece, came to $90. Pricy but fun, a welcome diversion in these troubled times. Stable is open nightly (closed Monday), plus weekend brunch. Call 202-733-4604 or visit www.stabledc.com.

Also on H Street, Milk and Honey is a welcoming restaurant serving Southern-style comfort food. Courtesy: Milk & Honey

Honey on the Hill
Milk and Honey (in Smith Commons), is a year-old, warm and welcoming place with a Motown vibe.  For lunch try the tempting shrimp-and-grits, Cajun pasta (cream sauce with choice of protein), or lobster tail-egg-and-cheese biscuits. A popular choice is the crab hash, jumbo lump crab and tomatoes served with cheesy hash browns topped with Cajun cream sauce. I’ve tried the New Orleans-style fried shrimp Po’ Boy sandwich. The accompanying homemade truffle chips are positively addictive.

Milk and Honey cares about the environment: compostable plates, paper drinking straws. Owner/chef is Sammy Davis Jr, a Food Network celeb and “Chopped” winner. Co-owner is Monique Rose. Located at 1245 H St. NE, Milk and Honey serves “all day brunch” and dinner except for Monday, when it’s shuttered. Call 202-396-0038 or visit www.milknhoneycafe.com.

A huge barbecue truck, Big Frank, is parked weekends in front of Valor Brewpub on Barracks Row. Photo: Celeste McCall.

On Barracks Row…
A humongous barbecue truck is parked outside Valor Brewpub, 723 Eighth St. SE, Thursday through Sunday. Dubbed Big Frank, the 20-foot rig is equipped with a 1,500-pound smoker that churns out more than 300 pounds of meat daily including ribs, pork, brisket, chicken and delicious candied bacon. We’ve sampled Big Frank’s succulent pulled pork (rubbed and smoked for 20 hours) and two sides: Rosemary’s blue-cheese-laced coleslaw and bourbon BBQ-baked beans. We also enjoyed the smoked half-chicken with truffle fries, a slab of dry-cured candy bacon and beef brisket, For the project, Gaynor Jablonski, who owns Valor and the Ugly Mug, has joined with longtime friends and fellow veterans: Mark Moore and Frank Boland.

Holiday Tradition
As always on Christmas Day (plus New Year’s), La Plaza, 629 Pennsylvania Ave. SE. will be open all day for lunch and dinner. Call 202-546-9512 or visit www.laplazadc.com.