Photo of Amberjade and Dorjee Tsering by Farrah Skeiky
Photo of Amberjade and Dorjee Tsering by Farrah Skeiky

Remember the moment in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy lands in Oz and everything becomes colorful? Bullfrog Bagels in Eastern Market will undergo a similar transformation when Dorjee Momo takes over the space during the evening as a part of a long-term residency starting Jan. 27. 

Married founders Dorjee and Amberjade Tsering have trained their staff to transform the upstairs space within 20 minutes each day. They hang a rainbow of vintage textiles purchased from vendors in a Tibetan exile community in India on the walls, display Tibetan art, and place gold offering bowls on the tables. 

Dorjee Momo got its start in D.C. hosting dinners in private homes. The Union Kitchen members even cooked for the Dalai Lama’s sister at a fundraiser for a Tibetan NGO. “That was a huge moment for Dorjee. I was like, ‘You better not burn anything,’” Amberjade jokes. They have also popped up in restaurants like Sally’s Middle Name and Thip Khao. Most recently Dorjee Momo was one of the first two food vendors to rotate through Shop Made in DC

Momos, traditional Tibetan dumplings Dorjee makes by hand, will be available at this pop-up, but the menu—divided into plant-based and meat-based dishes—is much more expansive and symbolic of Dorjee’s nomadic life. He’s lived in Tibet, China, Nepal, and India. 

The couple expects the Sichuan-style hot pot to be popular because the comforting, communal meal is pretty much impossible to find in D.C. proper. “The broth is made with chili flakes, star anise, cinnamon, garlic, ginger, and cipollini onions,” Dorjee says. Conveniently, there are electrical outlets at each of the tables in the space that seats 22 in the dining room and five more at the bar. 

In addition to pan-fried lamb momos, menu highlights include coconut butter grilled king mushrooms with leeks and chives; shapta (savory marinated beef with green onion and ginger); amdo paley (yeasty homemade bread similar to an English muffin); yellow daal with jeera rice; and a roadside pickle plate with star anise-pickled black grapes, chili radishes, and miso poppy corn. The pickled grapes and the 21-spice dipping sauce for the momos will be available for purchase at the restaurant and other retail locations throughout D.C. 

​Dishes will cost between $7 and $18 for a la carte dishes. Hot pot will start at $35 per person.

Because the menu is adventurous, the cocktails are simple. “When guests come and sit down, the food is an unknown,” Amberjade says. “They don’t know what it will look like or taste like, so we want the cocktail menu to be recognizable, like a negroni but with a twist like Sichuan peppercorn-infused gin.”

The non-alcoholic drinks might be even more interesting. There’s a coffee coconut shake that Dorjee learned to make at a cafe he worked at in India after leaving his former life as a monk behind, as well as a drink called “ginger, lemon, honey” that’s popular among Tibetan exiles in Dharamsala, India. Guests will be able to add tea for a caffeine kick if they so desire. Dorjee is also trying to get his hands on yak butter to make yak butter tea, native to Tibet. There are yak in Colorado and Montana, but the trick is packaging the butter properly so it doesn’t spoil. 

It’s a bit serendipitous that Dorjee Momo will open its most ambitious, long-term project to date in Bullfrog Bagels. When Dorjee first got to D.C., his first job was as the lead morning baker at the Bullfrog Bagels on H Street NE where he rolled out thousands of bagels. Now he’s rolling out his own hand cut noodles in another Bullfrog Bagels location.

Dorjee Momo will be open Thursdays through Sundays from 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. starting Jan. 27. They expect the residency to last through summer 2018 and possibly even longer. Currently seating is on a first-come, first-served basis, but they’re working to implement a reservation system. 

If you can’t wait until Jan. 27 to try Dorjee’s food, the pair is participating in a vegan pop-up at Bloomingdale’s Big Bear Cafe on Jan. 14.

Dorjee Momo, 317 7th St. SE; ​