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  • Reservations Recommended

    Restaurant Review ~ Momofuku / 1090 I St., NW

    If you are paying attention to DC’s food hullabaloo, you know that folks have gone wild over the opening of Manhattan’s food empire, Momofuku and its various destinations right in CityCenterDC. Even before its official opening, its DC presence challenged the hungriest to be on-site when the doors did open.

    If you have read about that cataclysmic opening day, you know patrons lined up probably at the crack of dawn to get their first nibble of a Momofuku treat at 7:30 a.m., and that was only at its on-site bakery, the Milk Bar. Now that the restaurant itself is open, you can bet that crowds pour in at mealtimes. And to be assured of getting a seat at a table and not at the up-front bar area, make a reservation. In the beginning days, there was a three-week wait for a table, but life has calmed down a bit there.

    One thing to note: For DCers and Virginians, its owner and wonder-chef, David Chang, is a local. Born and raised in Vienna, Virginia, Chang attended Georgetown Prep and Trinity College, before he went to culinary school in New York City and began his pan-Asian restaurant empire. He has written a cookbook and numerous food magazine articles, and won culinary praise and awards.

    So does that mean you should eat at Momofuku? Well, yes, but remember, the food you taste is not cooked directly by Chang, and chances are you will never even see him fact-to-face. After all, he has restaurants everywhere.

    This Momofuku’s ultra-modern minimal décor provides a sleek setting for what is a contemporary twist on pan-Asian cuisine, specifically, Japanese and Korean. As you are seated by a courteous staff member and handed a lunch menu with its limited selections of goodies, be sure to ask for some explanations. We heard that most offerings are shareable, rather like a tapas situation, but that might not apply to the salads.

    And if you are super hungry, that might not even apply to the buns. These come two to an order and are steamed white doughy packets that are wrapped around a choice of fillings: shiitake, pork, shrimp and crispy beef brisket. If you are not wild about mushrooms, skip the shiitake and stake on besting your hunger on one or several of the other three. The shrimp are flattened and pressed together, served with spicy mayo and pickled red onions; the pork comes with hoisin sauce, scallion, and cucumbers; and the crispy brisket with horseradish and pickled red onion. Our waiter admitted that these were his favorites.

    To round out the meal, scan the noodles and rice sections where you can select such fillers as momofuku ramen with pork belly, pork shoulder and poached egg or the Korean bowl of momo bap, similar in character and a bit spicy. But the winner is the rice cake, the pressed and shaped sticky rice served with a delicately flavored broth and chickpeas, scallions, and cabbage.

    As you wrap up the meal, consider a treat from the affiliated Milk Bar, where you can drop in for a takeaway cookie, or order your sweet at the table. Best bet: the freshly made soft-serve ice cream

    Note that the dinner menu is more complete and features a costly, reserve-ahead meal — the fried chicken dinner. As the website notes, the cost is $135 for two fried chickens, one Southern and one Korean, plus moo shu pancakes and sauces. Interested? Call to get the inside information.

    Momofuku / lunch, daily 11am-3pm; dinner, Sun.-Thu. 5-11 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 5pm-midnight. 202-602-1832; www.momofuku.com/ccdc.

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    Alexandra Greeley is a food writer, editor, and restaurant reviewer. She has authored books on Asian and Mexican cuisines published by Simon & Schuster, Doubleday, and Macmillan. Other credits include restaurant reviews and food articles for national and regional publications, as well as former editor of the Vegetarian Times and former food editor/writer for the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. Click here to visit her website.