City Paper is not for tourists
If you’ve spotted a building on Pennsylvania Avenue SE that was recently painted a dramatic shade of red, that’s the future home of Dorjee Momo. The Tibetan restaurant from married couple Dorjee and Amberjade Tsering has been popping up inside Bullfrog Bagels up the street since January, giving diners a first taste of hot pot and pan-fried dumplings.
When Dorjee Momo’s permanent location at 1300-1302 Pennsylvania Ave. SE opens in mid-November, it will be more than a restaurant and bar. Two one-bedroom Airbnbs will be available to rent above the dining room, and they will be outfitted to look like modern Tibetan guesthouses. Amberjade decorated the apartments with modern portrait photography by Tibetan artists such as Nyema Droma and simplistic, cozy touches. “You’ll have the immediate feeling that you’re being taken care of,” she says.
The kid-friendly units are part of the Airbnb Plus program, which denotes that they’re “the highest quality homes with hosts known for great reviews and attention to detail,” according to the company. Amberjade says they will have a philosophy library, window herb and chili gardens, and a wealth of local products.
Dorjee was born into a nomadic family in eastern Tibet that was often on the move. He later fled his home country, crossing the Himalayas, to become a refugee in Nepal followed by India. He settled in the city of Dharamshala where he met Amberjade, who was learning how to speak Tibetan and working in human rights. Dharamshala is not only a city, but the word for a Hindu religious resthouse. “It’s a place someone sleeps when they’re on a pilgrimage,” Amberjade explains. “We want our concept to be resthouse that’s on people’s way back and forth.”
The restaurant will serve a small selection of dishes for breakfast from 7 to 10 a.m. ranging from fruit and smoothie bowls to Chinese-style breakfast noodle soup, steamed buns, and Sri Lanken red rice congee. “People in the neighborhood going to work can come and have a peaceful moment in the morning and eat something nice,” Amberjade says. Lunch will be carry-out only. Diners can order ahead and pick up their items from the bar where they’ll be able to observe cooks hand-pulling noodles and folding dumplings.
Dinner will have the largest à la carte menu of both meat- and plant-based dishes, and hot pot will continue to be a main attraction. “We’re going to have hot pot tables for groups of four by reservation like we do now,” Amberjade says. They also plan to add a table that seats eight people for larger format hot pot parties. The unhurried experience of gently cooking meat and veggies in a gurgling broth fragrant with spices is relaxing and communal. “The whole point of hot pot is that you’re making time for each other,” she explains.
The dining room will have French bistro windows that open to the outside as well as three columns dispersed throughout the dining room that are being hand-painted by Tibetan artists to mimic what you might see at a monastery. “Everything you can pay someone to do, we’re paying Dorjee’s generation of Tibetans,” Amberjade says.
Dorjee adds, “I want to use my position as a business owner to support other immigrant and refugee-owned businesses. It is really important to me to commission my generation of young Tibetan and South Asian artists to work on this space.”
Amberjade is encouraged that a slew of Tibetan culinary students have reached out. “It’s hard for Dorjee sometimes,” Amberjade explains. “There’s no other Tibetan that’s stood up and been like, ‘I’m a professional chef.’ It’s looked down on and seen as an undesirable thing. It’s been good for younger generations to see him do that.”
There will also be a 14-seat bar and a small patio surrounded by fruit trees and a handmade tent to create shade on sunny days. The basement level of the four-story building will serve as both the kitchen and a manufactory space where Dorjee will make a line of frozen momo dumplings and steam buns that can sold at retail shops across town. The couple will also live on the premises.
Get a sense of the menu here. Note that the Bullfrog Bagels pop-up will continue until the permanent restaurant opens.
Dorjee Momo, 1300-1302 Pennsylvania Ave. SE; dorjeemomo.com