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Wolfgang Puck's The Source: Chinois East?

My wedding dinner was at Chinois on Main in Santa Monica twelve years ago. We sat at the food bar in the rear-after I tripped face first over Kareem Abdul Jabaar's extended leg-supervising the sacrifice of several lobsters for my wife and I, among other Pagan rituals celebrated in then, Puck's greatest restaurant. I have returned annually since then while also searching for a hint of excellence at his other restaurants ranging from the "new" Spago to San Francisco and Seattle's Postrio, Vegas' Spago and Chinois and other outposts.

The Source, a block off of Pennsylvania Avenue, on the bottom three floors of a rental apartment building a football field behind the soon to be celebrated Newseum, today is his best restaurant. It also has the potential to be one of the best restaurants in the United States. Yes, it is THAT good. And, perhaps, that cutting edge. Here. In D. C.

I have not met Scott Drewno but I have read his resume: Chinois, Spago, Jean Georges at Vong. He "specialized in Asian cuisines" working alongside Puck and Lee Hefter to create the menus for The Source. Here it is also an attempt to capitalize on local ingredients featuring the Chesapeake Bay as well as "local and organic produce" of the mid Atlantic. This is featured in a "tasting of Maryland crab: sauteed crab cake and crab salad, mango, Thai viniagrette with aromatic herbs." Also, "blue crab and shrimp su mai with Shanghai curry lobster-uni emulsion."

The over the top first courses were an outstanding "seared Big Eye Tuna, Wasabi peas, Yuzu shallots, hot garlic-balsamic ponzu" (as fine of a version of tuna tartar/sashimi/carpaccio that I have ever had anywhere) along with "roasted suckling pig with plum chutney, pickled cippolini and sweet bean." A friend who tasted this refused for five minutes to try a bite of anything else: he insisted he did not want to obscure the flavor with anything less.

Spicy tuna tartare with sesame-miso cones, shaved nbnito and tobiko is an impressive presentation that appears to be miniature ice cream sugar cones filled with tuna tartare. Several around us who tried this appeared to swoon.

Kobe beef short ribs with "slow cooked" Indian spices, Masoor Dal lentils and Raita was outstanding. Fall apart, meltingly tender flavorful this bested Central's excellent version while pan roasted Red Snapper with small, fresh red Thai curry shrimp and pineapple-chili sambal was explosively delicious. As so many other dishes at The Source the combustible flavors had a great deal of depth with layers upon layers opening one after another. Even an amuse of Szechuan string beans was almost profound: after a taste I crunched the beans in my mouth and waited for the bite to open on my tongue. This was multilayered food that Paul Prudhomme once extoled. Taste that went on and on, discovery that just didn't end with the first spoon or forkful. The Source tonight went one on one with K-Paul's on Chartres street in 1980. That unique, that creative, that good.

The single best dish, the single best taste and texture and contrast of the night was a Fabio like presentation of a dessert known simply as "Cherry Blossom." A huge, oddly rectangular bowl held a multilayered dessert that that I didn't take notes on. But it was world class: texturally with contrasts of cold ice cream and warm cherry streudel but also with crunch and creaminess. One last reprise for a primary theme of the night: contrasting taste and texture with layers of flavor almost endlessly opening. Well over the top, a defining moment in a great dinner that was not expected-certainly not in what I had thought would be just another variation of a Wolfgang Puck clone.

The wine list is extensive. The sommelier is from Danko. Gary Danko which, for me, is San Francisco's best restaurant. And now she is here. And she is the equal of Mark and Vincent. Knowledgeable, correct, polished and a real credit she was justly "recruited" to The Source and already an asset for it. The staff? Another credit to the restaurant and the concept. From South Beach and Penn Quarter those who we met were knowledgeable, all stoked with the vision that they presented. Smooth, Michelin correct and "foodie" enthusiastic they were honored to be part of The Source. A staff that sincerely and warmly asks this city to embrace it and their restaurant as our own.

And we will. The Source. Thank you Wolfgang and Scott for opening your best yet...here in my hometown.

Joe Heflin

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    1. Thank you mselectra for your reference in another post on a similar thread.

      1. Thank you Joe for your detailed review! Now I'm super excited to try The Source (although for the time being I think I will have to start off with his lounge menu and save the upstairs for another occassion).

        Btw, what was the price of your meal or the price range of appetizers, entrees, desserts, and wine? Thanks

        2 Replies
        1. re: Elyssa

          Elyssa, I have the menu in front of me: the ten "first flavors" range from a low of 14 to a high of 19; all portions were small. The big eye tuna was 18. My wife had a lobster-daikon roll with "sweet and sour" dressing which were four delicate (for lack of a better word) bites. Entrees are mostly in the 28 to 36 range with a pan roasted chicken the lowest at 28 and the highest a pan roasted lobster with garlic pepper sauce and "Thai holy basil" for 58. Kobe steak was 60. At Chinois one of his specialties is "wok fried" whole Sea Bass which he has here. The Source was 40 and Chinois was about the same. All desserts were 10.

          The prices are up there but this is a serious restaurant. My comparison to Chinois on several levels is fair-the food is very similar in both as is the pricing. Still, I honestly believe that The Source, right now, is better than Chinois on Main. I should also note that we each had an amuse. There was also a comped "additional taste" for us to try which was a somewhat smaller first course, i.e. 2 or 3 bites instead of 4-6.

          Wine has a 125-150% markup but the service is outstanding; stemware is Spieglau. We had a bottle of '04 Atauta for $89. on Wine-searcher the average retail is about $40.

          1. re: Joe H

            Thanks Joe. Certaintly will keep it in mind for my next "special occassion" dinner since it's pretty pricey (but sounds worth it).

            I think the nice thing is that I hear the downstairs, lounge area also has an interesting menu but on a slightly more affordable scale. I like when restaurants allow me to taste what the chef has to offer with out blowing my entire budget.

        2. First Flavors:

          Spicy tuna tartare, sesame-miso cones, shaved bonito, tobiko 15
          Wild Japanese hamachi & tuna sashimi, avocado, endive-sweet onion salad 17
          Roasted suckling pig with plum chutney, pickled cippolini, sweet bean 16
          Seared big eye tuna, Wasabi peas, Yuzu shallots, hot garlic-balsamic ponzu 18
          Tandoori sea trout, pickled cucumbers, tomato chutney, cardamom raita 16
          Warm Maine lobster-daikon roll with "sweet & sour" dressing 19

          Tasting of Maryland Crab:

          Sauteed crab cake & crab salad, mango, Thai viniagrette, aromatic herbs No price listed
          "Tiny dumplings" pork belly, black vinegar, chili oil, ginger, cilantro leaves 14
          Blue crab & shrimp su mai with Shanghai curry lobster-uni emulsion 16
          "Chinois style" chicken salad, Chinese mustard dressing, candied cashews 14

          Meat and Poultry:

          Lacquered Chinese duckling, wild huckleberries, ginger, glass noodles 30
          Kobe beef short ribs "slow cooked" Indian spices, Masoor dal lentils, raita 34
          Pan roasted organic chicken, garlic gai lan, lapsong sausage, fried rice 28
          Grilled lamb chops, Hunan eggplant, pea tendrils, chili-mint viniagrette 36
          Szechuan filet steak "au poivre," caramelized shallot-peppercorn sauce 37
          Grilled Kobe NY steak, Chinese "hot * sweet" mustard, parsnip puree 60
          Kurobuta pork chop & honey glazed belly, 10-spice, fennel-pear marmelade 38

          Fish & Shellfish:

          "Wok fried" whole Sea Bass, Yuzu ponzu or spicy Thai-chili & fragrant herbs 40
          Spicy "Assam prawns," fresh curry leaves, turmeric, mustard-yogurt curry 30
          Pan-roasted Maine lobster, garlic-pepper sauce scented with Thai Holy Basil 58
          Steamed wild King Salmon "Hong Kong Style," baby bok choy, ginger, soy 30
          Pan roasted Red Snapper, red Thai curry shrimp, pineapple-chili sambal 29
          Seared Maine diver scallops, tamarind peanut sauce, pad Thai noodles 31

          I do not have a copy of the dessert menu but all desserts are 10. Their signature dessert is the "Cherry Blossom"

          5 Replies
          1. re: Joe H

            Wow Joe! You are just a wealth of knowledge. This menu looks great. In particular the whole sea bass, the Chinese duckling, and the blue crab and shrimp su mai sound excellent. Although certainly a pricey place!

            1. re: Elyssa

              On Don Rockwell's board someone has posted that they are fully booked on Friday night, even for parties of two. On Monday morning I made a reservation for six and was told then that only an early slot was available. Word on this restaurant has rapidly spread. Anyone thinking about going there, even a week or two out on a weekend should make your reservation now. Also, downstairs does NOT serve the same menu as upstairs.

              1. re: Joe H

                Joe, I have no doubt that your stellar post is one big reason why this is so! My wife and I will be going in a couple of weeks; i'll be sure to post on the experience, hope others do too.

                1. re: Geoff

                  I've been looking for an extra special place to go for a special night of hopefully memorable food next weekend. Thanks for this review, as I have been waitng to see how the new Puck restaurant in our city would turn out.

                  Eileen

            2. Since I'll be alone on my next trip to DC, do they have a bar in the upstairs restaurant, and do you think I could eat at the bar?

              6 Replies
              1. re: jeanmarieok

                There is only the bar downstairs which has a small kitchen and menu that is dedicated to it. However, we were told on Friday that yes, you can order from the upstairs menu at the bar. It will be a different experience downstairs from up.

                1. re: Joe H

                  The lounge menu certainly isn't moderate or cheap but still looks mighty tasty. What I'm curious about is for those prices what the serving size is. For example can you easily share with a friend, say the tuna tartar and the general tso chicken wings and be satisfied? Serving size is key with those prices I would imagine for those of us who certaintly can't afford the main restaurant menu.

                  1. re: Elyssa

                    Wait til the tourists at the Newseum see that a side of fries is $8.

                    1. re: Elyssa

                      Elyssa, the prices don't seem out of line with the other top places in town at all. Even if you order the most expensive appetizer ($19), entrée ($60) and dessert ($10), at $89, you're about or below (even well below) the cost of Citronelle, Komi, CityZen, Eve, Minibar, IALW, Maestro, and many others. These aren't casual Tuesday night let's-grab-a-bite prices but for a special dinner, this isn't bad for DC. And that's the highest priced items.
                      It's easy enough to run up a sizeable bill with some pretty pedestrian small plates at some of the places in PennQuarter that people frequent. If the food at The Source is really good, maybe it's worth the cost in the Lounge as well.

                      1. re: MakingSense

                        I was commenting more on the prices in the Lounge. Because I certainly can't afford the upstairs menu until I save up a little and wait for an anniversary or birthday (or the folks coming into town ;) )

                        The Lounge is a little pricier then some other lounge in the area. I was hoping it would have been only slightly cheaper since the food sounds so great because it would have been a fun place for my Book Club to meet or grab a drink and some food after work with some friends. But I think it all comes down to how big the portions are.

                        I'm not knocking the restaurant at all. I certainly want to try out the Lounge. I just don't know how often I will be able to eat there type of thing.

                        1. re: Elyssa

                          Wonder if they're trying for an different market than the other PennQuarter lounges. Have you seen the prices of the apartments in that building? Holy moly!