Thursday, December 06, 2007

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The Source
575 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington DC 20001
(202) 637-6100
Chef Scott Drewno
Dinner Monday through Saturday

The Source on Urbanspoon

Despite the slow decline and eventual closure of the Spago in Northern California following less than stellar experiences at Postrio, I was still looking forward to seeing what the East Coast expansion of the Wolfgang Puck empire looked like, especially after seeing the posts on Chowhound and remembering the elegant meal I recently had at Cut in Southern California. The following (unanswered to date) letter to contactus@wolfgangpuck.com from November 2007 summarizes my experience:


I had the opportunity to dine at The Source last weekend. While it is a sleek and modern space with an impressive wine list, there were a number of serious flaws in my dining experience. Having dined at a number of different Wolfgang Puck fine dining establishments (my favorite to date being Cut in Beverly Hills), I must say I was severely disappointed. However, I understand that the restaurant has only been opened for a couple of weeks, so I thought you would want to know what problems I experienced, to the extent they can be addressed with further time and training.

We tried the following items from your menu:
Hamachi & tuna sashimi;
Suckling pig with plum chutney;
Tandoori sea trout;
Lobster-daikon roll;
Sauteed crab cake & crab salad;
Pork belly dumplings with black vinegar, chili oil, ginger, cilantro leaves;
Blue crab & shrimp siu mai with Shanghai curry lobster-uni emulsion;
"Chinois style" chicken salad, Chinese mustard dressing, candied cashews;
Lacquered Chinese duckling, wild huckleberries, ginger, glass noodles.

In addition, we ordered a bottle of Karthauserhof riesling and a half bottle of Zilliken riesling kabinett (see comments on wine service below). For dessert, mango souffle, recommended by the server, and the cookie platter. (My coffee tasted burnt as though it had been sitting on a warmer but was still lukewarm; my guest's espresso was also lukewarm and had virtually no crema.)

The amuse of spicy green beans with charred cashews was lovely, and I wish the rest of the menu stood up to that first note. An overall comment about the menu is that everything we tried tended to be too sweet and treacly, and lacked balance. The hamachi and tuna sashimi pieces looked like they had been through a shredder. The rice on the plate was mushy and the over-tall shredded daikon salad on top looked like a presentation right out of the 80's. The tableside pouring of soy sauce on the side? That has to go-- not only did it bleed unattractively into the dish and the rice, it provides the diner with no control on how much soy sauce to use on the fish. (The dots of wasabi out of the tube should also be 86-d.)

The pork belly dumplings and crab/shrimp siu mai appetizers were not bad, but there was nothing distinctive or memorable about them. While they cost substantially more than what one might find at a standard dim sum place, they tasted no different. Similarly, the duo of crab cakes were not bad but unremarkable, and there were several bits of shell in the cold version. The elements and taste profile of the Chinois chicken salad were solid, but the presentation was a mess-- it looked like leftovers piled in a bowl.

The only entree we tried, the duckling, was burnt on the outside and generally overcooked and chewy on the inside, with none of the fat rendered out, so it was simultaneously dry and fatty. The glass noodles on the side were likewise overcooked and stuck together like a clump of brown play-doh, and the cilantro on top of the duck was far from fresh.

The one spotlight on the menu was the suckling pig, which was cooked to perfection with crispy skin and tender meat, demonstrating that the kitchen does possess the ability to execute. Conceptually, however, most of the flavor profiles on the dishes we sampled were clunky.

I wish the desserts fared better, but the souffle was so undercooked that it still tasted like batter. The accompanying coconut sorbet and peanut tuile, however, were lovely-- that should be a stand-alone dessert. The cookie selection was fine but sadly no more distinctive than what one might find at a hotel banquet function.

The worst offender of the evening was the service, which while well-intentioned, was horribly inexperienced (on the table service) and overwrought (on the wine service). For example, while dirty plates were replaced, dirty silverware were not. In one instance, the server placed a stack of new plates in front of my dinner guest then proceeded to move the top plate from that stack in front of me. I have NEVER seen anyone do that outside of a diner, certainly not in a fine dining establishment.

Lastly, the Source's wine director seems knowledgeable enough, except that she was too busy looking around the room to pay attention to the table she was serving at the moment, and her practice of tempering the glassware was pretentious, unnecessary, and cumbersome. Not only did the wine sidetable (that had to be moved around the dining room from table to table) get in the way of the already-inexperienced service, I also did not appreciate that she used up a good 3+ ounces from each of the bottles of wine I ordered in order to temper the glassware-- I would have preferred to wipe the glasses clean myself and keep the extra wine. (Speaking of inexperienced service, you really do not want this staff to be serving whole fish tableside. It was painful to watch the servers wrestle with, bounce around, and butcher the beautifully-fried whole fish.)

The space and kitchen clearly have potential, and the service just needs to be polished up, but someone needs to pay attention to bring these details up to the level of the decor. I thought you would want to know.

Top 10 of 2007

I cannot believe it is already December. As usual, I am behind on everything, including posting. I realize this is cheating but at least it gets me thinking about where I want to eat in 2008.

What are your top 10 picks for 2007?

10. Momofuku Noodle Bar
9. Canteen
8. Restaurant Guy Savoy
7. Terra
6. Pizzeria Picco
5. Sushi Sam's Edomata
4. Per Se
3. Manresa
2. Urasawa
1. KOMI

Ambivalent About Momofuku

First, am I the only person who thinks "Momofuku" does not mean Lucky Peach or refer to the name of some obscure ramen person from...