When Himitsu co-founder Kevin Tien split to focus on his forthcoming Capitol Hill restaurant Emilie’s, it left his former business partner, Carlie Steiner, with some big decisions to make. The first thing Steiner did as sole owner was tap Amanda Moll to serve as the executive chef. Next it was time for a new name to mark the fresh start. In early fall, once paperwork is complete, the small but mighty restaurant at 828 Upshur St. NW will be known as Pom Pom.
“What’s more playful and youthful and whimsical than pom poms?” Steiner asks. She’s 27 and Moll is 26. “I have all these Bolivian and Mexican pom poms all over my house and at Dos Mamis. The whole rebrand is to get our whimsy back. That’s really what I want to see for the next few years. Just goddamn fun.”
Steiner and Moll first met at A League of Her Own—a bar for queer women inside Pitchers DC in Adams Morgan. Bar manager Jo McDaniel fortuitously introduced them just as Himitsu was looking to pass the baton and Moll was hungry for her first executive chef job. “[Steiner] presented this to me and it was semi-terrifying because it’s a big jump and big shoes to fill, but I think I was finally ready,” Moll says.
“To have a very badass female chef who happens to be a lesbian is cool for the LGBTQ community,” Steiner says. “We have this conversation of visibility. This allows young, queer folks to look up and see themselves in this position and I think that’s huge.”
Steiner adds that she’s happy to add a woman to the top-level management team because it fits with the restaurant’s undercurrent of featuring wines from female winemakers and cocktails made from spirits from female distillers. Himitsu also has a history of backing organizations that support women’s rights. “Owning a restaurant or being an executive chef of a restaurant is about a lot more than food today,” Steiner says.
Moll most recently worked as a sous chef at Southeast Asian restaurant Doi Moi. She’s also cooked at Mintwood Place and the short-lived Shaw Bijou. But her first back-of-house restaurant job was at Red Robin near Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. She was studying industrial systems engineering when she realized she didn’t want a future at a desk job.
“So I started working in the only kitchen in the area that would take me,” Moll says. “Within the first month or two I already learned the stations. Then I started to work at one of the best steakhouses in the area. Within a couple of months, I was doing the sous chef job.”
It helps that Moll cooked growing up. “I grew up with a single mom who worked all the time,” she explains. “She’d get home tired from work and would start cooking but we wouldn’t eat until 9 p.m. At age 10 or 11, I started cooking us family meals.”
Moll will pull from Southeast Asian, Latin American, and Persian cuisines in developing the new menu, which will fully launch on Sept. 18. She and Steiner hope the new name will signal to diners that the restaurant serves more than Japanese-inspired dishes. (Himitsu means “secret” in Japanese.) No cuisine will be off limits at Pom Pom.
Sample dishes include raw hamachi with zhug (a verdant Yemeni hot sauce), pomegranate, preserved lemon, lebna, and za’atar; “Steak + Kisses” with raw wagyu beef, beet chimichurri, rose petals, and hazelnuts; “Scantily Cooked Salmon” with wild king salmon, mustard, unagi sauce marmalade, and salt-roasted rosemary; and a weekly rotating burger special.
There will also be a plate topped with five different colors of soup dumplings dyed using natural products like blueish butterfly pea flower. A glutton for intense prep work, each of Moll’s five soup dumplings will have a different kind of soup inside. The rainbow pasta plate is exactly the kind of whimsy the pair are hoping to capture at Pom Pom.
The restaurant will remain open throughout the transition.
Pom Pom, 828 Upshur St. NW