Jun 22, 2023 - Food and Drink

What's next for Moon Rabbit chef Kevin Tien

Chef Kevin Tien at now-closed Moon Rabbit

Chef Kevin Tien. Photo: Deb Lindsey /The Washington Post via Getty Images

Kevin Tien's Moon Rabbit abruptly shuttered at The Wharf last month, but the dramatic closure of one of D.C.'s top restaurants means new chapters for the Vietnamese American chef.

Why it matters: Tien, 36, became a rising star at Himitsu — the former tiny Petworth restaurant Bon Appétit crowned one of 2017's best new restaurants in America — and he's pushed boundaries since.

Catch up fast: After parting ways with Himitsu, he opened short-lived Emilie's on Capitol Hill — and split a few months later.

  • Still, Tien takes a lot of shots — from upscale dining to chicken sandwich chain Hot Lola's and lots of collaborations in between, like one this week with Hill East Burger.
  • Beyond cooking, Tien co-founded Chefs Stopping AAPI Hate to raise awareness of violence against Asian Americans and support community organizations. The group has spread nationwide.

What's happening: The new father tells Axios that he's forming a hospitality collective: Doki Doki Group, a partnership with chef Judy Beltrano whom he met working at Momofuku, fellow Louisianan Alan Vo, and ex-Moon Rabbit pastry chef Susan Bae.

  • "I've learned the best people to partner with are the people who've been with you in the kitchen, in the restaurant," says Tien.

🍣 What's next: Doki Doki Sushi, a creative maki counter opening mid-summer in Chevy Chase's forthcoming The Heights food hall that'll serve creative rolls which draw from Tien's Vietnamese and Beltrano's Filipino heritage.

🔥 After that: Doki Doki BBQ, an Asian-style barbecue spot in the new Bryant Street food hall in Northeast D.C. that'll serve smoked and grilled meats — think pork burnt ends with coconut-fish sauce glaze — along with sides like crawfish mac, and passion fruit-mezcal Ranch Water come late summer.

👀 Far horizon: A standalone tabletop barbecue with Maketto chef/owner Erik Bruner-Yang.

In between: Fun pop-ups. For July, Tien is bringing back classic Himitsu dishes (uni toast, hamachi crudo) to the OG Petworth space that's currently Little Vietnam, run by a former cook.

🐇 What we're watching: Moon Rabbit's comeback. After Tien parted ways with the InterContinental Hotel amid unionization efforts at The Wharf property, he says he's been picky about partnerships for the upscale Vietnamese concept, which he plans to evolve.

  • "When Moon Rabbit closed, there were a lot of people saying, 'Hey, put it here.' I could have said yes to 10 different things and have it open. I want to make sure everything is on our own terms moving forward."
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