Saturday brunch at The Source is a dim sum gain

Sea Scallop Sui Mai / Photo by Joe Newman

I admit that I’m a dim sum snob. If it doesn’t come in a bamboo steam container served from a push cart, it’s already got two strikes against it. Which meant Saturday brunch at The Source — Wolfgang Puck’s five-year-old foray into the Washington, D.C. dining scene — was starting off with little margin for error.

At the Newseum’s signature restaurant, Puck does for the traditional Chinese dumplings and buns what he did for pizza. Made it better? Not necessarily — but it’s definitely more interesting.

You would expect nothing less from Puck, who has transcended celebrity chef status to become one of the food industry’s most valuable brands. The Austrian-born entrepreneur may have made his name reinventing pizza in Beverly Hills, but these days, he’s more Vegas, baby.

According to his website, six of his 21 fine dining restaurants are in Las Vegas, matching the six he lists in the Los Angeles area. The Source is one of only two restaurants on the East Coast, with the other up the road in the Borgata Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City.

Paired with the Newseum — one of the best “non-free” museums in the District — The Source is aptly named, as this is a city where everyone either is a source or relies on them.  Still, Puck conceded in a 2008 Washingtonian interview the name took some getting used to:

“We were talking about where things come from. Things come from the source. And I said it’s the same thing with food or with the news. There’s always a source for everything. A source for fruit, a source for vegetables, and so on. So I thought, ‘We’ll call it the Source.’ At the beginning, I thought, maybe this sounds a little too funny. But now I think it works.”

Since opening in October 2007, The Source, under the direction of much-admired Executive Chef Scott Drewno, has won a fistful of accolades, including a top 3 ranking on the Washingtonian‘s list of 100 Best Restaurants (Drewno also won the 2010 Capitol Food Fight charity event and was named that year’s top chef by the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington).

While The Source’s offerings include a Japanese Izakaya-style menu in the lounge and an Asian-inspired 7-course tasting menu in the upstairs dining room, the brunch menu is a pared down, small-plate experience. The $8 cocktails include a Pomegranate Mimosa, Pear Bellini and a John Daly (sweet tea vodka, lemonade and mint) but the true measure of a brunch is the Bloody Mary. I leaned into our bartender, Michael, and asked: “Be honest, how’s your Bloody Mary?”

Michael vouched for it, promising that the pre-prepared mix was freshly made at the bar. Served with olives stuffed with blue cheese, the Bloody Mary lived up to Michael’s billing. It was spicy and tangy but not overpowering.

The brunch menu offered five plates for $30 and eight plates for $40. We ordered five — Mini Banh Mi rolls, Sea Scallop Sui Mai, Pork Belly Pot Stickers, Lobster & Shrimp Spring Rolls and Duck Bao Buns. Not a bad plate in the bunch, though the spring rolls were no better or worse than what you might find on the cheap a few blocks over in Chinatown.

Duck Bao Buns

Then there were the Duck Bao Buns. If you needed a reason to do brunch here, this is it. The sweet white buns folded around tender morsels of duck stole the show.

The problem with ordering the five-plate option and sharing it with another person is that adding a sixth dessert plate for $7 makes no sense when you can move up to the eight-plate option for just $3 more. We ordered another round of the Duck Bao Buns, followed by the Tangerine Gelato and Sesame Chocolate Globes. The dessert plates were excellent, if a little too much. Five plates were good; six would have been perfect, but on this day, eight was more than enough.

If you’re heading out for a Saturday of museum hopping, plan your mid-morning browsing at The Newseum because The Source beckons.

The Source is at 575 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. Flickr photo of The Source by andrew.deci

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Joe Newman

I'm Joe Newman, multi-media story teller, non-profit do-gooder, international street photographer, serious poker player, intrepid traveler. Bourbon drinker.

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