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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!

              2. Thanks for your reviews here and on DR. Encouraged by you, the two of us went last night (Monday) and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Here is our small report: We ordered a beautiful Vouvray fairly priced at $42 & served beautifully. Then they brought us a small amuse of schezuan green beans, which I could get addicted to. We ordered the lobster roll and big eye tuna apps. Both were luscious, but we were surprised the tuna was cooked, although very rare, because the menu called it tar tare. For entrees we had The Peking duck and Crispy Snapper. Both had great flavors, the fish was whole and the waiter expertly removed the bones and head tableside. To finish we had the cherry blossom desert and coffee. Overall, the food was fantastic. We liked the modern décor and the music, also. Our only small criticism was some of the service… our waiter who took our wine and dinner order served the main items was good, but the others who were helping him need better training: they mixed up the side orders for our entrees (only two of us), left our wine glasses empty a little too often, and didn’t bring small things like cream for the coffee. We tend to like not having waiters hovering and get involved in our own conversations... so when we have to look for a waiter someone is not checking on their table enough. Considering the place was half empty, we expected better service.

                1. A quick dinner upstairs at The Source before the theatre was an enjoyable experience. The staff is extermely warm and welcoming - it's nice to be pampered so well.

                  As far as the food is concerned, They started me off with a generous amuse (appetizer sized) of Candied Szechuan String Beans. I think they should stop serving these. Candied chinese food is not going to endear me to Asian fusion. Of course, it's free, plentiful, and there's nothing to complain about, but a few fresh pieces of bamboo shoot would have been a more mature start.

                  Two appetizers were successful: seared tuna. This did have the appropriate luxurious mouthfeel that I expect from sushi-grade tuna. The other components that went into the dish were tasty.

                  The other was suckling pig. The pig was fantastic. I wish the plum sauce served with it was tart, not sweet. This was the third dish in a row with a sweet component (the tuna was served over a kind of shallot confit), so by now I was looking for something else.

                  Fortunately, the Cherry Blossom dessert is appropriately tart and is an extraordinary creation, the type of dish I was expecting at these prices.

                  I'll be happy to go back, it's so far an easy place to slip into for an early meal. Even though I enjoyed the appetizers, I don't feel compelled to revisit them. Instead, I'd rather explore other items on the menu.

                  1. My GF and I ate there this evening so let me add point and counterpoint to Joe's excellent review. First, the service and ambiance were first class. The wine list is quite good and has a reasonable markup (approx double retail). My one wine nit is that they list bordeaux wines by the predominate grape. For example, they list right bank bordeaux as merlots. While the predominate grape is indeed a merlot, it is not a pure merlot. All Bordeaux wines are blends. The wine I chose, for example, was 70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon but listed as a Merlot. Bordeaux wines should be listed as such. But I pick nits.

                    As appetizers we had the tuna tartare and the big eye tuna. Both were excellent but the big eye tuna was the better of the two; it melted in your mouth. The presentation of the tuna tartare was more interesting than the taste. It was a play on sushi hand rolls using a black and white sesame tuille instead of nori.

                    For entrees we had the Red Snapper and the Lacquered Duck. The snapper was outstanding; the best dish of the night; simply wonderful The duck was good but nothing special; neither of us would order it again. A crispy skin on the duck would have saved the dish.

                    For dessert, we had the Cherry Blossum and the apple/pear dessert. I was very disappointed with the cherry dessert; I wouldn't order it again. The cherries were wonderful but they and ice cream were topped with shredded, deep fried wonton which ruined the dish for both of us. The attempt to add an Asian influence ruined the dessert. The apple/pear dessert was very good.

                    I suggested to the server that she suggest that the chef have a tasting menu. I was delighted to learn that they plan to have a tasting menu within a week or two. The menu will offer 5, 6, or 7 courses; tasting samples of items on the a la carte menu.

                    I have never dined at Chinois so I can't make a comparison. In Washington, I expect Sietsma to rate it at about 3 stars. It is very good with great potential but it is not yet at the top tier.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Dakota Guy

                      Six of us had a ten course tasting dinner there two weeks ago. I believe it was their first since there seemed to be quite a bit of discussion before we settled on it. We ended up with a four + hour dinner with matching wines to each of the courses for $200 prix fixe per person. All of us thought that it was worth it. It also offered us a chance to really sample the menu. Curiously, the only disappointing dish of the evening for me was the Cherry Blossom dessert that I raved about above. I don't know why, perhaps because they had "shrunk" it to a half portion to fit in the tasting but it lacked the overall "wow" of the first time we had it. Totally agree about the "big eye Tuna" and the red snapper. Kobe beef short ribs and the Kobe beef filet continue to shine (for $60 a la carte it should!) as do the wok fried Sea Bass, suckling pig and the pork chop. I think the expectation for Sietsema to give it three stars is realistic with, optimistically (obviously I really like this place), an outside chance for three and one half. There are huge flavors here that are inconsistently available elsewhere in the D. C. area. Malia, the sommelier, really is a huge plus to this restaurant: did you have the opportunity to meet her? We were fortunate to have her spend quite a bit of time with us since they were not crowded that night. In fact several of us thought that her availability would be seriously limited on future nights. But she is really good and extremely personable; I also believe her recommendations are sincerely based on what she believes a diner will like and not what a bottle may cost. She gives serious consideration and respect to one's budget. I use the analogy of Vincent for Maestro, Mark Slater for Citronelle and Todd Thrasher for Eve because I believe they are similar: all are huge credits for the restaurants they present. Malia is as good as I have met, here or anywhere. For me it is no wonder that she was recruited from Danko. There, she must be missed.

                    2. We ate in the dining room at The Source last night, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I'd have to agree with the early accolades; this is definitely among the top places in town right now. I'm looking forward to returning, and soon.

                      I thought the design of the spaces, both in the bar and upstairs, was nice. I'd like to see a little more texture in the dining room; something green, or just a little art.

                      I've commented on this board before about wanting, craving, loving, demanding, FOOD WITH FLAVOR. Too many places serve perfectly nice food, but without the oomph to really help me sit there and savor what they're serving me. Well, everything we ate last night had outrageously good flavor - flavors, really. Complex, deep, varied -- just lots of big deliciousness in every bite.

                      My only disappointment - there were only two of us, so we couldn't order more items off the menu!

                      As a little starter, we were served sesame szechuan string beans. Quite spicy, good flavor - i really liked these a lot.

                      We tend to favor small plates, so our dinner was three first tastes, a shared entree, and a shared dessert. Others in this thread have commented on the bigeye tuna and tuna tartare cones. Well, we got 'em, and they are outstanding. If it was socially acceptable i might have actually licked the bigeye plate, so as not to miss one iota of the ingredients on the plate. Likewise the suckling pig, especially the crackling and glazed skin. Just outrageous. We shared the Assam prawns, which were large and very tasty. I wouldn't say that they're spicy, but if you enjoy any version of curry taste, you're gonna love this dish. Served with brown or jasmine rice; we had brown, and it was perfect.

                      A nice bonus - and I wonder if anyone else has experienced this so far: after the two first tastes, the kitchen sent out, with the suckling pig, an extra - a nice-sized bite of the arctic char that was on the menu. This was fabulous - great "char" on the skin side, and very flavorful, moist fish. In a sense, this was a lovely amuse that came in the middle, rather than the outset, of the meal.

                      For dessert, we shared the mango souffle, which was very light and absolutely worth ordering. On the side comes a fantastic, tart lemon curd, and a little ball of coconut sorbet with a coconut cookie. Remember every macaroon you have ever had in your life? THIS is what it's supposed to taste like.

                      A couple of nice glasses of wine accompanied everything very nicely.

                      So.....a big thumbs up. Can't wait to go back and begin working through the rest of the menu!

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: Geoff

                        Wow, we must have found them in an off night or we expected too much.
                        We had dinner at the Source tonight and it was a mixed bag. Initially the service was slow, but that picked up quickly.
                        My husband ordered a Flirtini and I a dirty martini, both delicious.
                        We got an amuse of Sechuan bean with sesame seeds and candied walnuts, quite tasty.
                        We ordered appetizers, the Sui Mai for my husband and the Spicy Tuna Tartare for me. Both were quite delicious.
                        For our main course, we both ordered the Sechuan filet. Medium rare for my husband and very rare for me.
                        However, my steak ($38) came medium rare as well. For that price I sent it back.
                        They were apologetic, I got a free glass of wine and another appetizer (which really just filled me up more than I liked). But I had to wait twenty minutes for another steak and my husband was done with his by the time it arrived.
                        The steak that followed was absolutely delicious, it has to be said.
                        Then dessert time came and I was full from all the extra's waiting for my steak. But my husband ordered "Crispy Cherry Blossom" and we were supposed to share. I have to say it was the worst dessert I have had in a long time and my husband agreed! The ice cream and cherries were buried in a mountain of something strawlike and very unappetizing.
                        The Source bills itself as fine dining, but in my opinion it has some growing to do if it wants to compare itself to Michel Richard Citronelle, Galileo's or other DC knowns!

                        1. re: Kasaka

                          I agree about the Cherry Blossum dessert; it is awful. If they remove the crispy fried topping it would be quite good. I hope The Source does not emulate Galileo which closed over a year ago !

                          1. re: Dakota Guy

                            Galileo closed because the building it was in was completely gutted.

                            1. re: Dakota Guy

                              Interesting comment about the Cherry Blossum and The Source. We have not been since early November and return just before New Year's. We had a ten course tasting dinner there on our last visit and the Cherry Blossum was, well, seemingly a different dessert from the one we had on our first visit. At the time I assumed this was because they were trying to give us a three or four bite portion of one rather than the actual dessert. Still, it was disappointing, especially considering how much I had raved about it. Obviously, based on what I wrote above and our two visits I love this restaurant. But it will be interesting to see what we find when we visit in several weeks.

                            2. re: Kasaka

                              Well except for the steak incident and dessert it seemed your night went pretty well, and they did try to address the steak issue by giving you a drink and something to eat while you waited which seems very nice. Getting a steak without using methods that a chef shouldn't use (deep fryer microwave) from medium rare to very rare does take some time but they should have timed that better from the beginning. But it is a hard mistake to fix in a timely manner.

                              So I wouldn't say it was a total bust from your post there seems to be a lot you really enjoyed and for being so new I would say that in time I think it will get where they/you want them to be. Thanks for the post I haven't been yet, but when I go I won't order the cherry dessert unless fixed.

                          2. Six years later I was back at the Source lured by the prospect of eating crab and pork dumplings which were on the prix fixe menu. The menu was more food and more expensive than I wanted really, but I felt I just had to have those dumplings.

                            Unfortunately I was very disappointed in them. True they were well made, but they lacked even the slightest crab flavor (or crab that I could tell) and were dominated by big chunks of shrimp. I don't know what the shrimp were doing in a pork and crab dumpling, but this seemed like a cop out and the shrimp dominated the filling and flavor.

                            The next course was pork belly chow fun, and the dish was delicious and the noodles as good as can be.

                            A dessert course of yuzu tart was a bit heavy and sweet, like a tropical cheesecake. There were some nice other touches on the plate like fresh blackberries.