Dorjee Momo reminds me a lot of superheroes. Maybe it’s because I’ve been waiting 14 years for the sequel to The Incredibles, or maybe it’s because this is the story of a chef who has overcome insurmountable odds to open this restaurant. The restaurant’s owner and chef, namesake Dorjee Tsering, trained in a Tibetan monastery for 16 years, feeding thousands of monks while honing his craft. Then, as political circumstances became more and more unpredictable, Dorjee found himself as a refugee, forced to cross the Himalayas on foot. Eventually he made his way to India, where he met his now wife, and they both returned to the United States. That life alone takes true super powers. His restaurant’s location even has an alter-ego, serving humbly as Bullfrog Bagels on Capitol Hill during the day before transforming into Dorjee Momo in the evening, saving hungry tum tums with dumplings and hot pot. I was already 100% sold on the concept and spirit of Dorjee Momo before I even stepped in. A recipe for hot pot that traveled literally halfway around the world? Yes, please. I was joined by my girlfriend, Kate, and our co-workers Robbie and Sarah to give it a try.
As a relatively frequent visitor to Bullfrog for breakfast, I was pretty impressed by the subtle transformations to turn the space into a different restaurants at night. It’s amazing what wonders dim lighting, a few well-placed plants, curtains, and covering up the framed photos of breakfast foods and actual bullfrogs can do. Better disguise than Clark Kent’s at least.
Dorjee Momo also comes packing with a small but legit craft cocktail list, all three worth trying. The Moonpeak was like an Old Fashioned if you added a bunch of extra spices to it (I want all my Old Fashioneds with clove now). The #bosslady was seriously the prettiest cocktail I’ve ever seen. I have no clue how they concocted that shade of purple (also, it’s real tasty). The lychee martini was just about the most interesting drink I have tried. The cocktails were honestly almost as memorable as the meal itself, which was an awesome surprise.
The lamb momo (Tibetan dumplings) arrived a short while later, and damn were they good. Easily the best prepared dumplings of any kind I’ve ever had. They managed to get a perfect crust on the bottom of each one while keeping the top half nice and doughy. The filling was extremely flavorful, and the dipping sauce was spot on. They just looked so good that we had crushed half the order before anyone thought to take a photo. Momo are Chef Dorjee’s favorite childhood food, and you can taste that passion for dumplings. Certainly worth the trip just for these bad boys.
Next came the actual hot pot, an experience which was…overwhelming. This was my second ever time eating hot pot, and the rest of the table were rookies. My first time was in a market in Thailand with four other friends. Each of us ordered our own pot and fix-ins, and sat at a small table in 90 degree heat with five boiling cauldrons of broth. We probably could have shared and saved ourselves from what turned out to be a really sweaty meal. I was determined not to make a fool of myself the second time around.
Thankfully, Dorjee Momo manages the hot pot experience for you, and they know that one cauldron of broth is plenty. Their version came with a little Swedish flair for the evening as an Ikea hot plate was set up in preparation for the pot of broth being delivered to the table. Then there was the giant wooden box of veggies. Then the giant crate of meats. We ended up being left with just barely enough room for four small bowls of rice and our cocktails. I will give Dorjee Momo a pass on this. They are being hosted in a bagel shop for now after all. One caveat on the hot pot is that it requires a group of exactly four or eight to make it work. They only have 27 seats total, so they’ve gotta be efficient with their hot pot place settings, you know? Plus, if you had fewer than four people it would just get a little too crazy to handle.
Once we gave ourselves a few minutes to take it all in, we got over our nerves and started tossing in meats and veggies to cook. And then a little bit of oil and garlic? I dunno, maybe I did end up making a fool of myself. The important part is that the broth was fantastic. It had the kind of spice that sticks with you for a while but isn’t overbearing. It makes you a pleasant kind of sweaty (if that’s a thing). We also took turns eating the mysterious fruits floating around the broth. I think they were maybe goji berries or dates? Really what I am trying to say is it had a super complex flavor and everything, from pork to tofu to broccoli to mushrooms, were all complimented well by the savory, spicy, sweet, mouth-numbing broth. The momo were the undisputed star of the evening, but the hot pot was still great and a lot of fun to eat.
As far as DC restaurants go, Dorjee Momo is about as unique as they get, offering up a global cuisine in a distinctly melting pot way. It’s a Tibetan restaurant tucked away in the second floor of a New York bagel shop just down the street from the U.S. Capitol that uses Swedish equipment to keep your food warm. Maybe the restaurant’s greatest superpower is the showcase of cultural symbiosis and the promise of making it in America. It’s the type of business everyone should support. The combination of great cocktails, out-of-this world dumplings, and the always exciting adventure that is hot pot all served up by an actual superhero earns Dorjee Momo 3.75 out of 4 om noms.