It all happened so fast. One day, I get an e-mail telling me that I’ve been invited to a private event hosted by Munchies. I was reading the email over and over again to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. I finally pinched myself and realized that I was indeed awake and that this was really happening. Two days later I’m at Union Market checking to see if my name is on a list to a dinner that I never thought I would be attending.
I’ve been following Munchies, Vice’s division for all things food related, since it first launched. From the in depth articles about stories not commonly addressed in the public eye to the addicting videos about the gluttonous habits of chefs in their Chef’s Night Out series, everything is great. I couldn’t believe I was actually going to be attending an event hosted by Munchies.
Just like any other college kid, if I find an opportunity for free food, there’s a good chance I’ll be there because who the heck doesn’t love free food… But when you get a last minute invite to a Munchies event, you just got to drop everything and go – no exam or assignment was going to stop me.
I got to the event a little late so I was a little behind in getting my networking game on. My plan of attack was to start up a conversation with the first person I could find that wasn’t already talking to someone. I made contact and his name was Daisuke Utagawa, restauranteur for notable restaurants Sushiko and Daikaya.
I couldn’t believe it. I had just eaten at Daikaya’s ramen shop a couple of weeks ago and now I was talking to the man behind the genius. Daisuke grew up in Tokyo, but somehow decided to make his home in DC after traveling extensively to various parts of the world. My knowledge of food seemed trivial in comparison to his. After exchanging restaurant recommendations in the area, we were left contemplating the same question: why did we get invited to this event?
The answer: Munchies wanted to introduce DC to what they were doing and there’s no better way to do that than invite everyone – from social media foodies to local restaurant industry buffs – and break bread.
Best Free Meal I’ve Ever Had, Hands Down
Going in, the only thing that I knew was that Munchies had partnered up with Leffe, a beer brand known for their Belgium style beer, so I automatically went in assuming that I’d be getting Belgian food. When I think Belgian cuisine, I think bistro style eats. The first thing that popped into my head was moules frites (aka mussels and fries) and wouldn’t you know it, that was exactly what was served for the first course.
In place of the traditional white wine, Chef John Mooney decided to use the lighter Leffe Blonde in order to steam his mussels. A little bit of garlic and parsley rounded out the dish perfectly. Everything was served family style, so when the pot of mussels hit the table I kept my cool and waited for someone else to make the first move. I’m always hungry, so I was fighting every instinct I had to just grab the whole pot and hoard it for myself.
Luckily, someone else made the first move and grabbed some of the crisp, double-fried frites. Relief fell over me, and I started feasting on everything in sight.
The mussels were grit-free, which was impressive to say the least, and the Leffe Blonde served as the perfect drink to accompany the course. The frites were served with a garlic aioli for dipping – that’s right, no ketchup in sight so you know this was fancy – but honestly I was using those bad boys to sop up all that leftover mussel juice. I could’ve easily guzzled the rest of the broth myself, but my manners stopped me from doing so. Stupid manners.
Onto the main course. We were served a Leffe Brune braised beef over roasted potatoes with cabbage. It was a bit chilly that night, and the best cure for that type of weather is anything braised, so this was right on the money. You can’t go wrong with a hearty plate of meat and potatoes and this was no exception. Even though we had a knife to aid us on this venture, the beef was was so tender, it needed only the slightest encouragement from my fork to be separated.
What really stole the show for me was the decadent endive dish that served as the sidekick to the beef. I’m not even a veggie person, and I have to admit this was the best dish of the night. The endive was wrapped in ham and smothered in a rich Mornaise sauce. What really put it over the top was the golden brown crust that formed having come out from under the broiler.
The only complaint that I have was that they decided to use a slotted spoon to serve the dish – huge mistake. I could’ve had more of that liquid gold, but I was denied its glorious nectar because of those damn holes. I wish they had given us some bread. It would’ve helped to mop up what was left of the Mornaise, not to mention the mussel broth from the start of the meal.
You can’t finish a Belgian meal without some waffles, so for dessert we got some killer Belgian waffles with berries and cream. A simple, yet elegant way to finish the meal. The waffles were light and the assortment of berries on top were super fresh and sweet. The dollop of whipped cream brought the dish together beautifully. It really reminded me of the classic berries and cream with the waffle basically serving as the vehicle to get it from point A, the plate, to point B, inside my belly.
With Free-Flowing Booze Comes Great Conversation
So in between all the mayhem of stuffing my face full of food, there was actual conversation. I was definitely listening more than I was talking, which was completely fine by me.
I was quickly introduced to Brian Miller of Edit, Daisuke’s restaurant design genius, and Dave Wiseman of DGS Delicatessen. I was in awe of what each of them had to say about the industry and their story towards a career in the restaurant biz. Neither of them started in the restaurant industry but they gravitated towards food because they loved it and had a passion for it.
Brian and Daisuke had known each other for a while, having traveled to Japan exploring ramen shops and izakayas, casual Japanese gastropubs, in order to research both the cuisine and design aesthetic that would eventually be used for Daikaya. Their passion for food was obvious just from the constant banter of where to get the best sushi and tempura in the country.
Dave, on the other hand, was a local boy who grew up in the area. His restaurant, DGS, stands for District Grocery Store. The name says it all in a nutshell. He was passionate about bringing back the traditional Jewish deli to the DC area and has done so very successfully.
The biggest takeaway of the night wasn’t the food, but the conversation that I was a part of. The two things that I’ll always remember was what they had to say about authenticity and passion.
They hated the word “authentic” and acknowledged that words like “personal” and “traditional” are better to use in place of it. Authenticity is so hard to pinpoint because there’s no clear-cut way of defining a dish or a cuisine as being “authentic.”
Food needs to be something that represents you as a cook; it is how you interpret the memories of your past meals. To say that a dish is “authentic” is kind of bull. Every chef has a different reference point and will prepare each dish uniquely.
Passion was discussed in length. Passion in the restaurant industry should always stem from one’s love for food and will be the driving force to success. The idea of adopting a franchise system was blasphemy. The idea of stepping into one of these imaginary franchises and realizing that it wasn’t up to spec was unthinkable.
To them, each of their restaurants was a little piece of themselves. They poured their blood, sweat and tears into operating their restaurants on a daily basis, and to even acknowledge the idea of selling out for the cash just killed them.
So, what did I take from this experience? To put it simply, I came for the free food and booze, but I left with a greater appreciation for the restaurant biz as a whole. Here’s hoping that I get invited to the next one, whenever it is.
Last, but not least, pics or it didn’t happen. I still can’t believe I was there.