Momofuku CCDC: A Weeknight Date Night

Last week, Dan and I decided to have a little mid-week date night at a place downtown. Since I work downtown, and he often works near our home Metro station, it’s not difficult for us to meet downtown in the evenings sometimes, though we rarely do it. I’d only ever tried Momofuku once, when they first opened in D.C., and it was for lunch without Dan, so I thought that might be a fun place to try again (for me).

Momofuku is a series of restaurants founded by chef David Chang, who was originally a Northern Virginia native, but moved to New York City to found his first restaurant, Momofuku Noodle Bar. He eventually teamed up with pastry chef Christina Tosi to found the sister establishment, Milk Bar. In 2015, shortly after I started working in DC, they opened a Milk Bar and Momofuku CCDC in Washington, D.C. I had lunch with a friend there in November 2015, but had largely forgotten about it since then, mostly because it was a very difficult place to get into when it first opened. Since then, it seems the business has calmed down to more reasonable levels, and I was easily able to get us a dinner reservation for Wednesday when I was looking the weekend before.

One of the reasons I wanted to go to Momofuku is because one of their most popular appetizers are their steamed buns. Anyone who’s read our “About” page knows that steamed pork buns are one of my favorite foods. So of course we had to start with a selection of buns. We had the crispy shiitake mushroom buns and the pork belly buns, and they were everything I had remembered and hoped for. Dan commented that next time we come back, we should just order all of the buns and only order more food if we’re still hungry. The shiitake mushroom bun was new to me, but the crisp texture of the mushroom paired so well with the softness of the steamed bun that I almost preferred it to the pork belly bun. I would almost prefer if the pork belly had been crisped up a bit instead of left soft and melting inside the soft bun.

For our entrees, we chose two spicy options, a half order the Korean fried chicken and the spicy cold noodles. As I’m a bit less tolerant of spicy food than Dan, I chatted with the waitress about the spice level and decided that I could probably handle it, but that we could order something else if I really couldn’t eat either dish. They came out and looked amazing. The Korean fried chicken is a half a chicken’s worth of parts (a half breast, a thigh, a wing, and a drumstick), fried crisp, and coated in a spicy sauce based on gochujang chili paste. And it’s very spicy. It was delicious, but just barely too spicy for me. I ate one wing because it was tasty, but left the rest for Dan. I will say that the assortment of pickled vegetables and salad on the side were the perfect way to cut the heat as I ate.

The other dish, the spicy cold noodles, was also spicy, but in a fresher way. The noodles themselves looked like good quality ramen noodles, served cold with a green sauce that tasted like herbs and chiles. It was tossed with sweet candied nuts and cooked Chinese sausage. Though it was also noticeably spicy (even to Dan, who is notoriously hard to impress), I found it cooling enough to eat. I made most of my meal from the noodles, although we did take some of them home for Dan’s lunch the next day.

We had to save room for dessert. We decided to try one of the signature items from Milk Bar, the Cereal Milk ice cream. A little cup of soft serve was the perfect ending to the meal, and cut any lingering heat from our mouths. It tastes like the milk at the bottom of a sweetened bowl of corn flakes and comes with two wooden paddle-style spoons, like what came with the ice cream at my dad’s company barbecue each year, to increase the nostalgia factor. While I wouldn’t necessarily choose it over some of the more complicated offerings, it was great to try it.

And with that, we settled our bill (with tax and tip it came to around $110 for two, with one drink for each of us), picked up our leftovers from the hostess (they use an ingenious token system to keep you from leaving it on the table), and headed home. If you’re interested in checking out Momofuku CCDC or Milk Bar, you can find more information on their website:

Urban Butcher, Silver Spring, MD: The Early Dinner Menu feat. The Meat Mountain

One of our favorite date night restaurants is Urban Butcher in Silver Spring. While we’d never be considered regulars, it is a standard go-to for nights when we want to do something a little more special. We went there for Dan’s birthday last year. So when I saw that they had started offering an early bird three-course menu, I was curious. We had a free evening, so we decided to have a little date night.

Urban Butcher is a meat-centric restaurant with a laid-back, though stylish, vibe in downtown Silver Spring. They have their own meat cellar where they produce house-cured meats and their own aged cuts. This is definitely not a vegetarian restaurant, although a vegetarian could probably find a few things on the menu. But the meat is what Urban Butcher does best.

To call them a steakhouse would be to somewhat miss the point. Yes, they serve steak (and a pretty good one, in my experience), but they offer so much more. Favorites that we’ve had in the past include two kinds of tartare, a tuna ceviche, house-made pastrami, and a braised oxtail dish that was out of this world.

But our most recent visit was to check out the Early Dinner Menu. The menu consists of three courses: a charcuterie plate, a main course, and either a dessert or a drink. There is little choice, but the value is excellent. The dessert is a single choice each day, and the drink is from an abbreviated version of their cocktail, wine, and beer menu. We decided to have one dessert and one included drink, and then add an additional drink.

Our first course was an assortment of charcuterie, plus one cheese. It came with two cured meats, two salami, a pate, a cheese, and accompaniments of pickles, mustard, and grilled bread. The cures were a lamb bacon and the pork lomo, both of which were excellent (the board came with three pieces of each and neither Dan nor I could decide which one we wanted two of). The salami were the salami Toscano and diabolo. The diabolo had an appropriate amount of kick, given it’s name, but not so much it burned my mouth, and the Toscano was delightfully peppery. The cheese was a shepherd’s sheep’s milk cheese and nicely creamy and mild to balance the stronger flavors of the meats. And the pate (my favorite!) was a chunky, country-style pate that went well with the bread, mustard, and pickles. It was a delightful way to start our meal — a nice taste, without being an excessive amount of food before our main event.

The primary main course choice is their Steak Frites, but they’ve recently added a new option to the menu: the Meat Mountain. Of course Dan and I went for the Meat Mountain. This comes out on a small tabletop grill (although it’s already cooked and it’s not terribly hot) loaded with a ribeye steak, lamb chops, pork, chicken drumsticks, sausages, and some grilled potatoes and broccolini.

It is… a lot of meat. Dan and I soldiered valiantly, but still took enough home for a brunch of steak (and lamb and pork) and eggs the next day. All of the meat was excellent, immaculately flavored and cooked perfectly. They do tend to cook the ribeye a bit rarer than asked, so we asked for medium rare and received a perfect slightly-more-than-rare steak. And it was obviously well-rested because, despite it being quite rare, it did not bleed.

My favorite was the pork with latin spices. The spices were subtle and not overpowering to the flavor of the pork, but enhanced it beautifully, and it was cooked perfectly. While Dan agreed that the pork was excellent, he referred to the sausages as “the Platonic ideal of a sausage.” One thing that Urban Butcher does well is meat. That said, I was surprised by the care and flavor that went into the potatoes and the broccolini, the latter of which was perfectly charred, with a smokey flavor, but not burned or overcooked.

One of the reasons we had to restrain ourselves a bit with the Meat Mountain was because we knew we had a lovely dessert coming. Churros with chocolate are one Dan’s favorite desserts, an artifact from his semester in Spain in college. Sadly, the chocolate sauce was a bit thin the night we went, although we’ve had it in the past and it was thicker, so it might have just been a bad batch. But the subtle orange and spice of the chocolate sauce tastes delicious, and the churros themselves were perfectly cooked, crispy, and fresh from the fryer, while somehow not being too greasy or burn-your-fingers hot. It was the perfect end to a wonderful meal.

One of the advantages of the Early Menu is the value. The standard menu (with Steak Frites) is $35 per person, while the Meat Mountain adds a supplement of $20 for two. So our entire dinner, including an extra beer that wasn’t on the menu selection, came to just over $125 with tax and tip. If you’re interested in checking it out, the Early Dinner Menu is offered Tuesday-Saturday from 5-7 p.m. and all day on Sundays. More information on Urban Butcher can be found at their website:

Coffee Cupping at Vigilante Coffee

Jenn here. Yesterday was Veteran’s Day observed, so we both decided to use our day off to take care of some errands and just generally explore. Because we never have Friday afternoon’s free, we were excited to be able to finally go to Vigilante Coffee for a coffee cupping.

Vigilante is a local coffee roaster and cafe in Hyattsville, where we’ve been regulars for a couple years now. We discovered them a couple years ago, pretty soon after they opened their counter in Hyattsville, and going there for coffee and pastries has become something of a Sunday morning tradition for us now. They take a lot of care with their coffees, from sourcing to roasting to serving. And because the roast their coffees lighter than most places in the area, in general, Dan loves them! We’ll talk a bit more about the roastery in the future, but today, it’s all about coffee cupping.

Coffee cupping is a standard way of tasting different coffees. At Vigilante, they set up along one of the bar areas. We had Austin to guide us through the process. First, he put dry coffee into the cups and gave us the opportunity to smell the dry grounds. He chose three coffees, two of their newest ones (La Fortuna and El Lovo) and one that they’ve had for a while (Solok). After we’d given each of them a good sniff, he added water and let them bloom for about eight minutes. After that, we broke through the “crust” of hydrated coffee ground at the top of each cup and smelled the aroma of the brewed coffee. From there, Austin skimmed the floating bits of grounds off the top of each cup and we taste each coffee. The tasting method is very specific, using a spoon to take a small amount of coffee and sucking it in with a slurp to aerate the coffee and coat the inside of your mouth with it.

The coffees Austin chose were an interesting mix, with the Solok being slightly darker and less acidic than the others. The tasting process was unique and gave us a fuller picture of each coffee. Interestingly, Dan had had a cup of the La Fortuna earlier that morning and definitely recognized that it was the same tasting it that afternoon (despite his professing to have no palate!), but says it was neat to go through the whole process of smelling and tasting to learn new things about each coffee. All in all, it’s something we would definitely do again.

If you’re interested in visiting Vigilante Coffee for a cupping, they have them every Friday at 1 p.m. in the Roastery in Hyattsville.