Let's get this out of the way so everyone can breathe easy: Christina Tosi will not change the name of her famous pie, the one with the addictive oat-cookie crust, to appease cheap-thrill seekers who wonder if the D.C. outlet of the Milk Bar will sell a Marion Barry crack pie.
Such kitsch is not how Tosi made a name for herself. Well, let's rephrase that: Such obvious kitsch is not how Tosi made a name for herself.
After all, the owner and founder of Milk Bar, a native of Springfield, is the chef responsible for such left-of-center creations as cereal milk (milk flavored with corn flakes), the compost cookie (sort of the everything bagel of cookies) and the aforementioned crack pie. But these campy confections are born from Tosi's own imagination, not some misguided attempt to capitalize on an infamous politician with bad habits.
No, when the Milk Bar makes its D.C. debut at 7 a.m. today, before the sun even breaks the horizon, Tosi will showcase her own brand of eccentric sweets, free from cheap theatrics. (Momofuku's opening date is imminent but remains fluid; see more below.) Tosi will offer her established hits as well as some treats that will be exclusive to the CityCenterDC store or will originate here before moving to other Milk Bars.
“That’s not to say we don’t think about" kitschy Washington-centric ideas, Tosi says from her new D.C. playground. "We think about it. Of course we do. It's like the low-hanging fruit of ideas. . .But the second it comes in, you’re like, ‘No, no, no, no!'"
Not to worry, the newest Milk Bar will have plenty to call its own, starting with breakfast. Knowing that the District has an early-rising work force, hungry for something fast and portable, Tosi has developed three yogurt parfaits: one with passion-fruit jam and compost-cookie granola; another with citrus jam (including yuzu, grapefruit, orange, lemon and lime) and Thai tea granola; and a third with Tristar strawberries with a "super-seedy granola" (including hemp seeds, chia seeds, cashews, hazelnuts, toasted almonds).
"If those sell and people like them," Tosi says about the parfaits, "we will go crazy in the imagination flavor-development process."
Tosi isn't offering false hope. The Milk Bar outlet at CityCenterDC will have more than 50 employees and managers dedicated to the production kitchen or the bright, airy, light-filled corner store where teams will offer breads, cookies, pies, cakes, cake truffles, shakes, soft-serve ice cream and various drinks. The owner says at least 80 percent of the breads and desserts will be prepared in-house, in a basement prep space. The rest, such as gluten-free and dairy-free products, will be shipped from Milk Bar's New York-based production facility.
The goal, Tosi adds, is to eventually produce everything in house and perhaps ramp up production capacity to grow the brand in the D.C. market, should there be demand for more Milk Bars.
But for now, Tosi is only focused on finding out what Washingtonians want. She's introducing a few items in the District before they wind their way to Milk Bar locations in New York or Toronto. The items include a chocolate-chocolate cookie (decadent doesn't begin to describe this rich, onyx-colored treat), a pumpkin-pie layer cake and a Thanksgiving-themed croissant, just in time for the holiday.
"It's basically a stuffing-flavored compound butter that we layer into laminated dough," Tosi explains. "Then we stuff it with turkey that we’ve roasted and shredded. Cranberry sauce and gravy all go into it.”
The gravy, incidentally, is a pre-portioned frozen "plug" that slowly thaws over the course of the croissant's development, from the rolling to the proofing to the baking. Which would mean the Thanksgiving croissant is essentially Tosi's version of a Bolivian saltena, yes?
"Totally," the chef says.
Tosi says she's also refined her approach to crack pie soft serve ice cream, which she first engineered a year or two ago. "It wasn't right," the chef says, "So we didn't serve it very long." The new recipe, essentially, takes milk steeped with toasted oats and baking soda and combines it with a house-made pastry cream before churning it into the soft serve.
“We could just take a bunch of crack pie and blend it into ice cream, but that, for us, doesn’t work," Tosi says. "It’s like cheating. Believe it or not, the scales get tipped. The balance of flavor doesn’t work."
Speaking of soft serve, Tosi says she's prepared today to sell 250 liters of her cereal milk ice cream, if the weather holds and demand is high. "What we have to sell. . . is like three or four times what our busiest store does in New York City," she says. "And I think we can do it.”
In the meantime, David Chang says his Momofuku team still has work to do before the restaurant is ready for its Washington debut. "We could open tomorrow," Chang says while sitting in the dining room of his D.C. location. "But we're never going to be ready. I know we're just going to get hammered. I know exactly what's going to happen. People will be like, 'This sucks.'"
"I don't want that to be the case," adds the Northern Virginia native, who has been hosting friends-and-family services to fine-tune the staff. "I want to exceed expectations. It's not a cop-out. I want this to be around a long time."
Chang is not comfortable giving out an exact opening date until the menu and the kitchen crew come together to his satisfaction. Stay tuned.