The talented New York chef David Chang called Tuesday to fill me in on the details of the new Momofuku, set to open at CityCenterDC in the spring or summer of 2015.
At least, I think that’s why he called.
The self-laceratingly honest, F-bomb-spraying chef didn’t go too deep into specifics, mostly because he said he hasn’t really figured out what sort of restaurant he wants to fill the space. In the meantime, however, he bared his angsty soul in a 30-minute conversation that spanned a range of topics.
Chang, who grew up in Northern Virginia, sounded almost giddy at times, bubbling over with enthusiasm and vowing to make his homecoming a memorable one. “I haven’t been this excited,” he told me, “in a long, long time.”
At 4,500 square feet, it will be the largest of any of his restaurants outside of Toronto. He’ll be in the same complex as fellow NYC chef Daniel Boulud.
“It’s an extraordinarily amazing space, but you wouldn’t traditionally associate it with Momofuku.”
He considered spaces that were smaller and full of character, but: “I don’t really want that. It’s too snobbish in a way.”
And yet: “I don’t really want to serve burgers, either.”
“It’s going to be a Momofuku restaurant but . . . where I want to take it is to make it a little bit more—not just accessible. It’s going to be exactly what we do and nothing like what we do at the same time.”
“Absolutely not. But yes, in some ways, too.”
No ambiguity there.
“To me the super-interesting right now is straight down the middle. Like, super-casual dining. … I don’t want to make food for foodies. And I know that’s really inflammatory if read the wrong way.”
How will it differ from other Momofukus?
“I don’t want this to be just another outlet of Momofuku. We’ve never opened another outlet. This one’s going to be different from everything else. Will it be wildly different? I don’t know. We just want to serve great food. And that takes time.”
“We want to be good neighbors. We want to enhance the town. I want to help DC. I still read the Washington Post every day. All my friends and family are there. I root for all the teams there. I was a hair away from opening up in DC ten years ago. I opened in New York because I had more of a support network there. I just don’t want to let people down. You know? I just don’t want to let people down.”
On the other hand: “We’re going to make mistakes.”
“There’s gonna be stuff that we’ve never done before, or that we’ve done, but not done a lot of.”
And pork buns?
“And pork buns.”
Any chance we’ll see a culinary homage to Wes Unseld? (Chang’s Twitter feed used to have a strapping pic of the Hall of Fame center who manned the pivot for the ’78 Washington Bullets.)
“I wish, I wish.”
Meantime, for all those who are busy stoking the fires of the Kevin Durant to DC movement—#KD2DC—are you officially down for the cause?
“Oh, yeah. Whatever I need to do. ’Cause we’re so close.”
Since we’re already off the rails, how about talking a bit about the Redskins and Daniel Snyder? (Chang went on record almost two years ago with his interest in buying the Redskins.)
“The name thing is hard for me because, yes, it’s terrible. I understand why it needs to be done. But I’m divided. I have a weird allegiance to the Redskins I grew up with, the Joe Gibbs Redskins. And at the same time I have an extreme dislike of Dan Snyder. That’s the only reason I would want to accumulate a stupid amount of money, is to buy the Skins. Look, DC deserves a team that like the Spurs or Patriots. The only way we can do that is if everyone boycotts the Redskins until we get a new owner. My suggestion is that all the Redskins fans root for the Raiders, until the Lerner family comes in and buys the team. Or Leonsis.”
Current Culinary Enthusiasms
“I’m fucking infatuated with fucking Salvadoran cuisine. Not that I’m saying I’m trying to tap into it.”
“Spinach artichoke dip. Chicken fingers.”
Changian Angst, part I
“It feels strange to be coming in and not be the underdog. I want to be the underdog.”
Changian Angst, part II
“We’re gonna take a lot of bad falls. I know it.”
How do you know?
“We don’t open restaurants that work right away. They’ve all been unique restaurants. All the recipes are different. Momofuku Toronto, there’s nothing that’s the same. The pork buns are the same but that’s it. . . .”
Eventually, they do work. And you have tons of fans to prove it.
“You know, at the end of the day, I think people are gonna be like: ‘Fuck this place.’ I’d love to make everyone happy, but you know . . .”
A Final Message, in Advance of Opening
“Don’t judge us now, and don’t judge us a year from now. Judge us in five years, or ten.”
Find Todd Kliman on Twitter at @toddkliman.
UPDATE (1:20 PM): A Momofuku representative says that an outpost of Momofuku Milk Bar, the dessert branch of the empire headed by James Beard Award-winning chef/Northern Virginia native Christina Tosi, will open inside the new restaurant. The sweets shop has a cult-like following for its crack pie, compost cookies, creative cakes, and more.