Dorjee Momo

We arrived at Dorjee Momo at 5:05 and didn’t see a line, so we assumed we were ahead of the game. They don’t take reservations except for a 4-person, $45-per-head hot pot meal and we weren’t doing that for a regular Friday night. We found out from yelling to the server setting tables on the deck above us that they didn’t open until 5:30 but we should definitely stick around to hold on to our spot. “Ten more minutes until we change your life!” taunted another employee who was setting up downstairs. Change my life? Challenge accepted! That’s when the porch started to fill up with other potential diners. Don’t worry, I was very forthcoming in passive-aggressively letting the other people in line know exactly who had arrived first. I intended to be the first to walk in that door and I probably would have trampled anyone who tried to stop me.

Then I found out that the fancy hot pot people get priority seating and they were all there: three whole groups of them! I was getting nervous. I’d been warned that there was very limited space inside and besides, I really wanted to sit on the deck, like, really bad. But friends–never fear! There are only three reserved hot pot tables and a reasonable amount of seating to go around. And in case you’re wondering…

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…yes, we did snag the four seats on the balcony and yes, it was just as incredible as it sounds. Besides a fantastic view in beautiful April weather, the beverage pictured here is the #girlboss (their hashtag, not mine), a tart vodka-basil-yuzu concoction that tasted like drinking a flower, and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible.

We ended up ordering six dishes from the menu–two veggie and four that were meat-based.

 

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First up: chive momo. These were fantastic and not at all bitter from the chives like we expected them to be. The signature sauce that Dorjee Momo uses is spicy rather than flat-out hot. It has some of the numbing qualities of the Sichuan peppercorns, but it’s a balanced flavor instead of that uncomfortable mouthful-of-novocaine sensation that I’ve had elsewhere. We also had the lamb momo, which had a similar profile from the spices but had a good partnership with the lamb, which was moist and meatball-esque.

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The sunflower buns (left) were heavenly. The bun part was so soft but it was covered in crunchy fried garlic and filled with tender spinach. The sauce was pesto-like, which was unexpected. The pickle plate on the right might look sad to you. It did to me too, at first. But when you take into consideration that I literally have no idea what half of the things are on this plate, that’s probably pretty good, right? Each vegetable is also marinated in its own special pickle brine to complement the individual flavors. The stick-like thing on the bottom right is not celery, but it was tangy and salty. Pickled garlic is always a solid choice. There was cauliflower, bitter melon, lotus, an egg, and a really unique citrus rind.

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The Beef Shapta pulled us in with promises of 48-hour marinated beef. It also didn’t disappoint. Once again just mildly spicy, the beef was tender, and the softness was offset by crispy fried yuca.

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I saved the best for last! The coconut beef curry was highly recommended by our waitress and we almost didn’t get it. That would have been an actual crime against flavor. It looks bad, mostly because its appearance is highly reminiscent of my recent experience eating special Salvadoran spleen stew (I didn’t know that it was spleen when it was served to me and now the horrible smell haunts me). Where was I? Oh yeah…so this beef curry, although beautiful, was not the most appetizing thing to me due to my personal emotional trauma, but it was quick to make up for that. This was like beef therapy. It was rich and coconutty, spicy in a way that would not be unbearable to your ordinary layperson, and had a texture somewhere between ground beef and short rib. This was a don’t-miss dish, as were the sunflower buns.

We passed up on dessert, vegan ice cream, because it was vegan ice cream. This is my main suggestion for improvement for Dorjee Momo.

Side note: we spied on the hot pot tables inside, which looked AMAZING. I’m saving up that idea so that I can peer pressure my bestie into coming here for my next birthday.

Price: $45 per person.

Bottom line: Dorjee Momo promised to change my life. They did. They will change yours too. Just make sure you get there at 5:00 and bring your brass knuckles on the very real chance that you have to fight for your seat. I would do jail time for this place.

Mandalay

Mandalay hardly needs a plebe like me to review it. But here I am, and I’ll try to do it justice.

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We ordered the ginger salad and my husband got his old standby, nan jhi thoke. I was in the mood for something new, so I got the chicken #12: chicken with pickled mango. “How spicy do you want it?” asked our waitress brusquely. “Very spicy,” I said. She leaned in ominously: “Are you SURE?” “Yes,” I said confidently. “I’ve been here before.” I know what to expect when I come to Mandalay: food so hot that you won’t be able to taste anything but spice for days afterward. Due to a necessary overconsumption of water there, I have found myself in some regrettable situations during a post-Mandalay lag in Metro service. Plan accordingly. Whatever you think is spicy now, you are wrong.

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The ginger salad came first. “It smells like old socks,” remarked my husband, reacting to the copious fish sauce (though he will have you know that he didn’t find the stench of socks offensive). Don’t be afraid of the stink; as with all Southeast Asian food, the fish sauce adds a critical savoriness. Mandalay also offers a vegetarian version of all fish sauce-containing dishes, but don’t be fooled by their kindness. Embrace the smell. The ginger salad tastes of fresh cabbage and spicy ginger, with peanuts and crispy fried shallots. It’s a perfect appetizer.

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My chicken with pickled mango is not a letdown. A part of me feels ashamed that I talked a good game about my desired spiciness and I’ve now been served something that is unequivocally very spicy. I’m not sure that there’s any verbal warning that I can issue that could prepare the masses for Mandalay-level spicy. By my own doing, this dish is now so spicy that I have a hard time picking out any other flavors. The chicken is cooked in a deep red curry. I think there’s onion in there? And something Christmas-y, like cinnamon or allspice maybe? The bits of pickled mango are salty and sour all at once. I proceeded to drink approximately a half-gallon of water while I ate tiny bits of rice to try to alleviate the burn. It was all for naught.

Years ago, the first time my husband and I came to Mandalay, he ordered Nan jhi thoke. As a creature of habit, he continues to get it exclusively every single time we come here, and usually refuses to share. Like, actually, when we bring our friends here, we have to order two plates of it just so my husband can have his own. I wish I could fault him for this. Nan jhi thoke is served room-temperature with a thin fish sauce-based dressing, crushed peanuts, and bits of dark meat chicken. He also ordered this very spicy, but it was somehow mild enough for me to use to cool off my mouth after my chicken curry. I could probably eat this every day for the rest of my life.

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Price: $20 per person.

Bottom line: I’m never disappointed by Mandalay in terms of their variety, quality, or the seriousness with which they add spiciness. This place is not for the faint of heart or the heartburn-prone, but it is the standard by which I judge all other Southeast Asian restaurants (Ahem, Bad Saint) as well as the jewel of Downtown Silver Spring. Word to the wise: if you, like me, consume massive quantities of water during this meal, make sure you make a pit-stop before you leave.