Dispatch from DC: The Source

Third and final week of reporting all the fantastic food I was lucky enough to sample in DC last month. I can’t believe the explosion of good food there – certainly something not present just a couple years ago. When boss K and I were planning our department’s meals for the week, I was in almost a frenzy over all of the worthy choices. For our team dinner, she offered a number of possibilities near our hotel, and the combination of terms Newseum, Wolfgang Puck and Asian Fusion enticed me to an alarming degree. What those terms add up to is The Source, Puck’s DC fine dining headquarters, which just so happens to feature Asian fusion food with a Chinese emphasis, and be located in the Newseum, which for media relations professionals is one of the coolest DC landmarks.

The interior of The Source is pretty stark – white walls and black accents, without much else to distract from the stunning, colorful, impactful cuisine. One disappointment was the rest room, which, in the vein of Eat’s slightly dilapidated lavatory, was shabby. Was it is with high end dining spots not attending to the upkeep of their washrooms? This disappointment, however, was mitigated right off the bat with the complimentary amuse bouche of cold sesame green beans served with glazed walnuts. The beans were crisp and bright green, savory with sesame oil and soy, and sweetly accented by the nuts. A great way to start the meal.

You know what wasn’t great? How my colleagues started discussing the movie Contagion as we were choosing our appetizers, a conversation that quickly led to a table-wide ban on the suckling pig I wanted to order. You know what, I watched that movie when I returned home, and the pandemic was not the pig’s fault, people! It was that trollop Gwenyth Paltrow feeling up half the casino after the scummy chef didn’t wash his hands. Don’t blame the piggies!

They did, however, let me order the pork belly “tiny” dumplings with black vinegar. I mean, I couldn’t have honestly been swayed on this matter. And boy, were they delectable! Classic Asian flavors played off the always-reliably-delicious pork belly in these tiny morsels: salty/umami/soy, bright/chile/cilantro, acidic, fatty….YUM. Equally good were the special spicy beef dumplings, which were larger, explosive, melt-in-my-mouth tender and just hot enough to remind you you’re alive. Our third appy, tuna tartar, was different from your run of the mill tuna starter. It had a superbly creamy texture and just enough spice to wake up the mouth ever so slightly, all in a fantastically crunchy, subtly sweet little fried cup.

I knew what I would order well in advance from checking out the menu online: lacquered duck with lo mein. First off, I am a sucker for Chinese noodles, and I’ve been meaning to work more duck into my diet. That’s not to say I wasn’t still envious of K’s choice: the pork belly special. God, it’s like pork belly is a cruel mistress providing me intermittent pleasure and a lot of strife when I’m over here trying to be happy with the dinner choices I’ve made. Knock it off, divine swine!

But listen, this duck? It was pretty spectacular in its own right. The skin was professionally and precisely rendered, utterly crispity-crunchy and coated in a rich, sweet, deep, savory plum wine reduction. The meat absolutely melted, it was so tender, and if you have any reservations about duck being gamey or exotic, try it here. This was as familiar as dark meat chicken, but 100 times more flavorful and satisfying. Meanwhile, the lo mein, served on the side, was my first fine dining version of this take-out classic. It was kick-ass: firm, thick noodles with a gorgeously smooth, deeply flavored brown sauce, not overtly salty but tongue-coatingly rich, studded with big chunks of sautéed bok choy and crisp green onions. It was gorgeous and delicious. Deliciously gorgeous. Gorgeously delicious.

Colleague S and I decided we also wanted to split the shanghai noodles as a side dish. This is just superfluous carbs for the sake of being a greedy little piglet, let’s be clear. But they, also, were perfection: thick udon-esque noodles coated in a beef sauce comprised of cooked-down short ribs, bok choy, red onions, a bit of tongue-tingling chile and a gravy-like brown sauce. Even more savory than the lo mein, this was China’s answer to comfort food, elevated to Wolfgang Puck’s heights.

K’s pork belly, which didn’t taste salty, but merely savory, the most perfect bacon and veggie plate you could ever imagine

Keeping with my recent fascination with oddly flavored ice creams, my dessert choice was almost pre-determined: chocolate ganache torte with avocado-pistachio ice cream. The torte was somewhat hum-drum and very rich, but the ice cream was ultra velvety, owing to the creamiest of vegetables, avocado. I loved it. Korean chile was supposedly one of the components of this dish, but I actually would have welcomed more spice to offset the heavy sweetness of the chocolate torte. All I know is, I can’t wait for Hagen Dasz to jump on this trend and make apple cheddar and avocado pistachio ice creams.

Someone else ordered the chocolate chocolate chocolate soufflé, which is quite the affair, as it turns out. The tableside preparation verges on elaborate, and the triple hit of soufflé, sorbet and sauce delivered an almost too-rich bittersweet chocolate punch. If you’re a chocoholic, this is for you, though I like something fresh and bright to offset it.

I was so enraptured by the pristine Asian flavors present in this meal, I’m going to get Chinese food for lunch today. These are precisely the flavors – of soy, sesame, oyster sauce, chile and rice wine – that I crave when I think about Asian food. This is best classified as Asian comfort food, utterly designed to cradle the diner in a shower of deep, layered flavors.

The level of service at The Source is elegant bordering on stuffy – they could have ratcheted it down a notch on the formality scale, and I still would have thought the prices were fair. That tattered rest room was really the only place I could ding this District gem. A quick table poll came up with a rating of 8 on the BHS scale, though I was really feeling it as a 9. But again, I very much love Asian food, and that outstanding short rib braise, crispy rendered duck and homey, savory pork belly really hit every flavor and textural note I could ask for. On the scale of eats in the Nation’s Capital, I would score it behind the Blue Duck Tavern and in a different category than Founding Farmers, which is much more relaxed and hip, but I would go back and order anything containing pork or duck on that menu anytime. Or any noodles. Or any dumplings. Oh crap, I just drooled…My hunger is big; my personality is bigger!

The Source on Urbanspoon

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