DREWNO BY DESIGN Hot and numbing crispy quail with toasted cumin, cilantro leaves and slivered fingerling potatoes
It seems like just yesterday that chef Scott Drewno came to town as chef of The Source, Wolfgang Puck’s sleek restaurant in the Newseum, but the eatery recently celebrated its eighth anniversary. Time flies when you’re making patrons happy. Washington, of course, is like any other big city when it comes to of-the-moment restaurants: What’s brand-new makes the Instagram feed. The antidote is to keep things fresh and to constantly reinvent. So, The Source underwent a renovation, mostly in the lounge area downstairs, which now consists of sexy, intimate seating groups with velveteen banquettes and tufted settees in hues of teal, mustard and gray.
Gone is the pizza oven from the downstairs kitchen; in its place is an open kitchen cranking out divine dumplings and dishes like hot stone-blistered baby octopus with black beans and ginger; and stunning fried-rice, one with bone marrow and smoked beef brisket, another with roast duck, crispy duck tongue and goose egg (yes, duck, duck, goose—clever). There’s also a small counter where two lucky diners can reserve what must be one of the most abundant and intriguing tasting menus in town.
While he planned for this renovation, Drewno made changes all over the menu, from the lounge and chef’s table downstairs to the dinner menu upstairs. A smart addition is the hot pot table, which Drewno built to his specifications to create an interactive dining experience. It is reserved nightly for one seating of two, three or four people. My journey here starts with a refreshing fermented black bean and citrus hamachi crudo. Then, through a hole in the center of the table, a server places a Chinese red Le Creuset Dutch oven brimming with fragrant broth made from chicken feet, whole chickens, pork, beef and aromatics like star anise and Sichuan peppercorn. The broth simmers via an induction burner underneath.
As in the tradition of Sichuan hot pot, a variety of ingredients are cooked in the broth, to be eaten à la minute. Diners are each given an array of utensils—ladle, Chinese soup spoon, strainer, chopsticks and tongs—to get the job done. The difference here is that the server makes the additions to the broth instead of the diner, and it is in a logical progression designed to build the broth into a crescendo of flavor and depth. Thin red slices of wagyu short rib and pork go in first, and are quickly plucked out and consumed. Pork belly and marinated pork shoulder follow. Next into the pot go skewers of ultrafresh head-on gulf shrimp and chunks of day-boat cod—followed by brisket dumplings.
On the regular dinner menu, the standout starter is the giant porcelain bowl of wonton soup ladled tableside into handmade ceramic bowls. In a dreamy 20-hour broth and on a nest of noodles float luscious pork-and-shrimp-filled wontons, chunks of tender pork, cilantro, scallions and an egg poached in tea and soy sauce. I add the pickled serranos offered on the side liberally.
You also can’t go wrong with any dumplings; the selection of dim sum (scallop siu mai, pork pot sticker, lobster spring roll and chicken dumpling) is a wise option, and lobster dumplings shine too. Among the entrees, Atlantic cod poached in fragrant chile oil strikes the right balance of piquancy without detracting from the fish’s sweetness. Blue-crab fried rice comes with it, which I eat to the last grain.
Drewno’s talent sets his crispy whole fish apart from others I’ve sampled around town. He deftly fillets the fish from behind the head to the beginning of the tail, removing the bony skeleton and reconstructing it before dredging it in seasoned flour before its plunge in the fryer. The crispy snapper rests majestically on its belly in a pool of Thai basil black-bean sauce. Not having to perform surgery to remove bones as I eat is a welcome relief yielding a reward of flesh crunchy on the outside, and succulent and moist on the inside.
Drewno has redesigned lacquered roast duck into a real showstopper. An array of condiments arrives at the table: shredded scallions, cilantro leaves, pickled daikon, cucumber batons, garlic hoisin sauce, Chinese mustard, 10-spice salt and steamed buns. A rectangular slate with a neat row of finger-thick slices of skin-covered duck breast is placed on the table. The slate’s accompaniment is a bowl in which the wok-fired legs, wing joints and chunks of meat pulled from the carcass rest on sauteed greens and black-bean sauce. To gild the lily, the meal ends with a bowl of duck broth and duck wontons.
The excellent dessert options include Drewno’s famous 15-layer carrot cake, coconut-lime semifreddo, and chocolate souffle christened with chocolate sorbet and chocolate sauce. Laudable cocktails from the bar and a superlative wine list provide further proof that this Asian restaurant headed by this American chef is a source of inspiration and a thousand happinesses.
The Source by Wolfgang Puck
575 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Lunch: Mon.-Fri., 11:30am-2pm; brunch: Sat., 11:30am-3pm; dinner: Mon.-Thu., 5:30-10pm; Fri.-Sat., 5:30-11pm
Appetizers: $13-$24; entrees: $26-$68; desserts: $12
Indulgent Date Night
In the back of The Source’s swanky lounge is a chef counter with two places and the perfect spots for a foodie date. Wok star Elias Hernandez feasts you with a tasting menu that starts with the likes of tuna tartare in sesame cones, sashimi and crab salad. A fish course (chile oil-poached cod, lobster dumplings, siu mai) follows and is capped by heartier delicacies like roast-duck baos, seared sweetbreads with miso, grilled wagyu strip steak and braised short rib with smoked-brisket fried rice. Save room for chocolate souffle!
The Source’s dim sum brunch on Saturday is always filled with food-world insiders scarfing up Shanghai noodles and tea-smoked salmon Benedict. But the new coveted slot is Monday’s Dumpling Day, where all orders of dumplings are $5 (4-10pm). Feast on wok-fired shrimp dumplings, hot-and-numbing pork dumplings, steamed shrimp-and-scallop siu mai, and shrimp-and-lobster spring rolls with sweet chile sauce.