Lost amid the celebration that David Chang, Northern Virginia's puckish prodigal son, would finally return home to open a restaurant was news that his CityCenter DC project will actually feature two homecomings: Christina Tosi, founder and chef of the separate Momofuku Milk Bar, originally hails from Springfield, Va.
In breaking the news, Washingtonian's Todd Kliman reported that Chang still feels a close connection to the D.C. region despite his success in New York, Toronto and Sydney. Ditto for Tosi, whose family and friends have not just been vocal supporters of her work. They've been active participants, helping Tosi do whatever was needed to open the various Milk Bar locations, whether paint the walls or feed her dogs when she was bogged down in a project.
"They feel as much ownership of every Milk Bar as I do," Tosi says by phone this afternoon. "I always wished that one of them would move to New York . . .Now work actually gets to be near home and near friends."
Chang and Tosi's D.C. operation will likely follow the blueprint of Ma Peche, the Midtown destination in the Chambers Hotel, which features both an Asian fusion restaurant and a separate Milk Bar shop. Menus for the D.C. spot are still under development — Chang's press team indicated the restaurant will offer a sort of greatest hits menu from other locations — but Tosi expects her Milk Bar to feature items that have already made it a legend in Manhattan and Toronto. Think "compost cookies" (stuffed with, among other things, broken potato chips and pretzels), "crack pie" (a salty-and-sweet invention with an oat-cookie crust) and "cereal milk" (the childhood favorite: milk steeped with sugary cornflakes).
By the way, Tosi never expected her crack pie would have political overtones in two separate cities: First in Toronto, where Mayor Rob Ford admitted to hitting the pipe, and now D.C., where former Mayor Marion Barry will never outlive his infamous date in a hotel room.
"Crack pie was not created for him," Tosi says about Ford. "But Torontonians love that it's available closer to home. The Rob Ford jokes never cease to amaze me."
But her D.C. menu will likely evolve to include local tastes. Tosi says she has learned a lot about catering to non-New Yorkers when she opened the Milk Bar in Toronto last year. You open with one menu, she says, but it quickly morphs into something else when you find out exactly what customers want. She expects D.C. customers will help evolve her menus here, too.
"For me, it's really important that the first Milk Bar in D.C. really feels like the first Milk Bar in New York," Tosi says. "It feels like its own thing, its own character."
In some ways, Tosi's work at the Milk Bar is a reflection of her journey as a baker, encompassing her childhood in suburban Virginia and her career in New York City restaurants. The Milk Bar, she says, is "how I translated my style and experience being a home baker and mashed that up with being a formally trained pastry chef." Her place, in other words, happily embraces polar opposites: the crazy, cupboard-clearing creations of the school bake sale and the rigid, ratio-driven products of formal baking programs. Tosi is a French Culinary Institute graduate (and former employee at Bouley in New York) who still yearns for the simple pleasures of home.
Tosi expects that her D.C. Milk Bar will feature breads, cookies and desserts prepared both on premise and at her production facility in New York. There's some equipment in New York that will not make the move to Washington, she says. But for those items that may migrate from the Big Apple, Tosi says:
"My dream is to drive the delivery truck, so I can see my family all the time."
David Chang's press team also issued the following statement about his forthcoming restaurant at CityCenter DC:
"Momofuku is excited to announce that we will be opening a restaurant and a Milk Bar location in Washington's CityCenter DC, on the corner of 11th and I Street. The restaurant will be a new concept, but will also feature some of our favorite dishes from across our menus in New York, Sydney, and Toronto. The project will open in 2015.
This will be David Chang and Christina Tosi's first project in the District and both look forward to opening in the D.C. area, close to their respective hometowns.
Updates and more information can be found on our website as it becomes available."