The ramen and the pork buns are long gone, yes. But this iteration of Momofuku is far superior to the cut-and-paste Dave Chang-ian concept that once greeted guests at this massive, brightly lit City Center space.
Executive chef Tae Strain assumed kitchen duties at Momofuku in April 2018, moving coast-to-coast to remix the menu — leaving his post at San Francisco’s Michelin-starred the Progress. Whether he wanted to be a part of a growing food city or just pay less to rent an apartment is unclear. What is clear: Strain’s changes were necessary to breathe life into a restaurant that attempted to profit as a New York-reproduction. He recognized that DC diners wanted their own, local version of Momofuku. So that’s how the Maryland-native approached rebuilding the menu. Momofuku is Mid-Atlantic with clear Asian influence.
The most delicious change has been the addition of bing bread, a Chinese flattened bread that is crisp on the outside and creamy on the inside. Guests can choose from a handful of spreads, some seasonal and local (the Maryland Blue Crab Dip), others not (my personal favorite: Sunflower Hozon). They’re especially good as a snack during what may be one of the city’s best happy hours; the bar area fills up fast after 5 p.m.
For all its merits, it’s still surprisingly easy to nab a walk-in table. This is not a spot that requires you to set your alarm at midnight two weeks before you want to eat there. It’s approachable, and the food is constantly changing. We suggest you to try it before it does—and bring friends. Another virtue of Strain’s menu is the family-style items that reward groups. Guests can split whole dry-aged duck (serves 2-3: $93) or soy-marinated short ribs (serves 3-4: $94). Seriously, what’s not to love?
Sunflower Hozon Bing
One of several excellent spread options offered, the sunflower hozon combines fermented sunflower seeds with Momofuku’s take on hummus—garlicky and wholly inappropriate for a first date unless you’re carrying a tin of Altoids (Do people still carry those? Been a while since I’ve gone on a first date.)
Fig & Treviso Salad
If you don’t like figs, OK, this dish isn’t for you. But that’s a bad take. Figs are delicious and a critical component of one of life’s greatest snacks, Fig Newtons. *Stares lovingly into the abyss* This salad is better than that, though. Honestly, I’m all in on a salad where the green, leafy bits are replaced by shaved ham. That’s the dream, really.
Soy Marinated Short Rib Ssäm
Soy Marinated Short Rib Ssäm This is a holdover from Chang’s menu, yes. But that doesn’t make this dish any less essential. These ribs are meaty: a little sweet, a little savory. Grab some friends and attack these bad boys.
NB: I wrote this piece in late 2018 in an effort to freelance for The Infatuation. It did not work.