Celebrity chefs are common now. It's easy to forgot that chefs used to simply run kitchens (if you can call that task "simple") without lending their name, face and personality to products, television shows and restaurant empires.
I remember when chefs first started becoming household names, and the name that I remember first learning was Wolfgang Puck. Not surprisingly, it's his mug that illustrates Wikipedia's Celebrity Chef page.
The Austrian immigrant became known for his first Los Angeles-area restaurant, Spago, a showcase for "California" cuisine. I was lucky enough to get to visit Spago in 2000, which was such a thrill for me at the time. Since its opening in 1982, Puck's empire quickly grew, making Asian fusion mainstream with Chinois and offering air travelers a better food option, including his great pizzas, at Wolfgang Puck Express, among his many concepts. His list of restaurants counts over 75 fine- and casual-dining establishments all over the world.
When Puck's The Source opened in 2007, it was a big deal. The restaurant is attached to The Newseum, a media-focused museum that relocated from suburban Arlington, Virginia to downtown Washington, D.C. on Pennsylvania Avenue, America's main street, just blocks away from the U.S. Capitol. At the time, our roster of local celebrity chefs was pretty lean, with José Andrés pretty much cornering that market in a time before Mike Isabella and Aaron Silverman. Chefs from other markets--like David Chang or Daniel Boulud had not yet opened establishments here (Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin opened Westend Bistro around the same time Puck opened The Source, however Ripert is no longer associated with the Bistro). So a celebrity chef of Puck's caliber opening a restaurant in D.C. was a really big deal. Not surprisingly, the restaurant's contemporary Chinese menu--executed then as it is now by Chef Scott Drewno--made headlines.
For whatever reason, we never had dinner at The Source until recently. There were plans from time to time, but they always seemed to fall through. We stopped in for drinks a few times though and were impressed with the cool vibe of the two-story space's modernist, minimalist decor framed by large glass windows (which unfortunately just look at the uninteresting back side of the D.C. Superior Courthouse--you can't have it all).
After last fall's decor and menu revamp, The Source is making headlines once again, having been re-reviewed by the Washington Post's Tom Sietsema and featured for a few months on Eater DC's Heatmap (it has since fallen off). We finally found time to visit The Source for a proper dinner.
|Adios Nonino cocktail|
|Selection of Dim Sum|
|Korean Pear and Kale Salad|
|Top: Chili-Oil Poached Nordic Cod. Bottom: Fire-Roasted Pork Belly and Littleneck Clams|
|15 Layer Carrot Cake|
There were a couple of niggling issues I'd feel remiss not to mention. One was that the floor under our table was pretty dirty. Chris had to go the restroom to clean off his shoe after stepping in something rather sticky, and when I looked under the table there was an obvious collection of unswept food bits. The second is that the restaurant is really noisy. I know this is a trend in restaurants and I don't always mention it (Espita Mezcaleria was also very noisy, almost uncomfortably so), but it's becoming more a of problem, especially when its difficult to hear your server or your dining companion without shouting.
Those couple issues aside, The Source definitely delivered many more pluses than minuses, offering a interesting and tasty menu with friendly, attentive service. I'm glad I finally got the scoop on what makes it a newsworthy night out.
The Source, 575 Pennsylvania Avenue NW (In The Newseum; separate entrance on 6th Street), Washington, D.C. (Penn Quarter). (202) 637-6100. Reservations: Open Table.