It’s hard to choose what was the best meal of my trip. China Chilcano‘s Peruvian-Chinese-Japanese fusion feast with friends was legendary, and the Union Market was everything I love, with a trifecta of sandwiches, again shared with friends. (Well, we shared the experience, but they didn’t want any of my three sandwiches, even though I offered!) But Momofuku CCDC (https://ccdc.momofuku.com/), the Washington D.C. outpost of celebrity chef David Chang’s New York City restaurant empire, was also a meal to remember — once again improved exponentially by the excellent company.
I had sampled one of David Chang’s iconic dishes once before, his pork belly bao, when I visited the Momofuku-affiliated Milk Bar bakery on our NYC honeymoon back in 2009. As great as delightful Chef Christina Tosi’s baked goods were, I was overjoyed that they were serving those famous bao there, and so lucky I got to try it. I’ve tried to duplicate that pork belly bao at home over the years, but I’ve been waiting a decade for a chance to sample more food from the Momofuku family.
I am in a group that held an evening business meeting at our big professional conference, and we scheduled some dine-arounds for our members after the meeting. There was a list of D.C. restaurants near the convention center for people to choose from, and I volunteered to “host” a group at Momofuku CCDC, just because I wanted to eat there so badly. Four people signed up, and the five of us walked over together. I knew most of them, but mostly just by their impeccable reputations, and none of them knew each other. I made everyone do an icebreaker (which could have gone badly but didn’t), and by the end of our incredible dinner, I think everyone parted as frolleagues — colleagues who had become friends.
One of the CCDC specialties is bing bread, which is kind of like a cross between a pancake, a tortilla, and a pita. It was soft and fluffy and warm and steamy, and perfect to spread things on or rip pieces off to dip into stuff. Somehow a group of information professionals failed to make any “Bing” jokes, but it had been a long day and we were hungry.
My bing bread came with salted chili pimento cheese, topped with bread and butter pickled kohlrabi ($7). Pimento cheese is rapidly joining onion rings as something I’ll order whenever it’s on the menu, and I loved it. It has been a few weeks since this meal, but I’m 90% sure this was served chilled, which I always prefer to warm versions.
One of my companions got the bing bread with chicken liver mousse, topped with fennel jam, Chinese five spice seasoning, and toasted almonds ($15). I desperately wanted to try it because I love chopped chicken liver, but we had just met on the walk over here, and I didn’t dare ask her for a taste. She seemed to really enjoy it, though.
These were my garlic noodles, with crab, shrimp, corn, green tomato relish, and Thai basil ($33, which is out of my comfort zone for what I’d normally order as an entree, but I was at Momofuku CCDC and probably won’t ever make it back!). I’m so glad I splurged, because it was amazing.
Someone else ordered charred broccoli with smoked béarnaise sauce ($13). It normally comes with XO vinaigrette, but she’s a vegetarian so she asked them to hold it. I discovered XO sauce recently, and now I’m a little obsessed with it — a rich, savory umami-bomb of a condiment made with dried shrimp and scallops, cured Chinese ham (or bacon or lap xeong Chinese sausage), chilies, onions, garlic, soy sauce, and/or oyster sauce, cooked into a thick jam, sometimes with oil added, and in this case, vinegar. I should have asked if they would serve the XO vinaigrette on the side so I could try it, but it didn’t occur to me until just now, because these are the things I dwell on, weeks after the fact.
I’m not seeing this on the menu, but it looks like the same charred broccoli dish served with softshell crab, so that must have been a special that night. My colleague demonstrated his good taste, between the softshell crab and his seersucker jacket. (I was sporting mine too, and miraculously didn’t get anything on it.)
And this has to be the spicy cucumber, served with crushed almonds and togarashi seasoning ($7). This would be a great restaurant for vegetarians, since they had several options that are much more interesting and luxurious than their usual choices of fries or a salad.
After dinner, four of the five of us, now bonded over this magnificent meal, piled into a Lyft to attend a fancy party at the Library of Congress. (Not a hoax, a dream, or an imaginary story!) Then we split up almost immediately once we got there, but at least we’re all cool now. And at least they didn’t see me completely wipe out on some slippery marble stairs in the Great Hall. Luckily I wasn’t carrying anything and didn’t hurt myself, or worse yet, anyone else.