We heard months ago that Peja Krstic was opening a second location of East Dallas favorite Mot Hai Ba.
And now, less than two months away from its opening, we’re getting a look at what it will be all about.
“I walked in here the first time, and immediately I was in love,” Krstic says of the space in Victory Park. “And it will be exactly what you expect at Mot Hai Ba.”
That proclamation is one that needs to be heard. We know the East Dallas location is intimate, communal in seating and serves food that consistently exceeds expectations. I haven’t had a plate there and thought, “Well, that was a miss.”
So when news came out about a bigger, second location opening across town, folks in the Lower Greenville area were talking: How will it scale? Will it feel the same? Will we still get these flower petal-topped delicacies? Will it still be the perfect place for a date night or (small) group dinner?
Krstic says yes, it will be. And then some.
“They are two places with the same thought process of service and food, just with different environments,” he says.
The space is considerably larger. Where he has 40 seats in the East Dallas location, he can have about 100 seats inside the Victory Park spot. Each has or will have a patio.
But as he walks through the new space, you’ll see how there are areas virtually split from each other: A little area to the right when you walk in is longer and narrow — not unlike the Mot Hai Ba we know now — and this space will have stools, like the Mot Hai Ba we know now. Beyond that, to the far wall, is a space for a large table, with a long booth.
To the left when you walk in, there’s a lounge-type area against the wall, designed for a small group.
Immediately near the door will be taller stools at a counter overlooking the bar and the main dining space, with a slight view through the kitchen window.
“This is for walk-ins and no-reservations,” Krstic says, noting those usually get the tiny table in the ignored corner. “This is the best seat in the house.”
The main area has a few booths and communal dining — that’s not going away. You can’t see it when looking in, but there’s a wall on the other side here, with two-top tables on the other side, offering an ideal, intimate dining option.
Finally, another low-threshold wall separates the main space from another, that’s right up against large, east-facing windows.
It’s almost like we have five Mot Hai Ba spaces in one.
The space looks different compared with the previous, very red-orange decor that was there. Dark colors, black, gray and wood go throughout. Once the place opens in March, we’ll see pops of red on the wall with a collage of plates and vibrant plants hanging in different areas.
While Krstic will jump between districts 14 and 2 with his two restaurants, he has put in place a Dallas chef to lead the Victory Park location: Joel Orsini.
The chef de cuisine, whom many of us know from formerly-known-as-Izkina, aims to continue his momentum in sustainability while supporting Krstic’s vision for Mot Hai Ba.
“More than anything, my position, my role, is day-to-day operations, helping to build his team to a level that he wants and appreciates and that he’s established at his flagship, basically,” Orsini says. “I’m spending [time] over at the original Mot Hai Ba. I really want to learn it, get the best understanding and have every little nuance in what he does.”
Orsini will bring his own creativity and sustainable approaches (“not that he doesn’t do that already,” Orsini says of Krstic) while weaving them in with flavors we know from the restaurant.
“This place represents what can be in this neighborhood, to be a neighborhood space,” Krstic says.
After all, the East Dallas space, in its antique building, is a prime example of a neighborhood restaurant.
“I’m not going out of my comfort zone,” he says. “This is catered to this neighborhood. It would be kind of silly to have this place in East Dallas, and it would be kind of silly to have that Mot Hai Ba here.
“Your food and service should never depend on the interior or exterior. Food has nothing to do with the bricks.”
There’s also room for more wine, with a list expanded far beyond what the East Dallas location has, which is focused on French wine.
“Here we will have wines from everywhere, but we’re focusing on very good quality, smaller production, ones you can’t find in stores,” he says. “Wine connoisseurs, I think, they’re going to be pleasantly surprised.”
The kitchen is fairly large — though it doesn’t have a back door or a walk-in — with much more square footage than the previous one.
If you’ve been in that first kitchen, I can assure you: It’s tiny and steamy. This kitchen is bigger than Mot Hai Ba’s interior — dining and kitchen combined.
Also in that kitchen is something we don’t see too much of in the back of Dallas restaurants: a chef’s captain’s table.
Here, two guests will get 10 to 12 courses cooked by Krstic in the kitchen.
“I already have people who are booking this,” he says, noting he’s not game to take any more quite yet. “I really want to make somebody feel special. Maybe no photos, maybe post two weeks after dining.
“This [cooking] is sacred to me. This is not a joke. It’s a lot of work,” he says. “This [the chef’s table] gives us something really to look forward to.”
Mot Hai Ba, 665 High Market St. (Victory Park). Planned to open in March.
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.