When you dine out, you might think about the ingredients that go into your food, but you probably don’t think about all the numbers that make your meal happen. Restaurants are filled with interesting figures that might not be apparent when you bite into an enticing entrée or take a sip of a signature cocktail, but they’re all around you.
This week we take a jaunt down to The Source in Penn Quarter, where executive chef Scott Drewno brings a modern flair to China’s age-old culinary tradition. We find out the astonishing number of handmade dumplings his kitchen produces daily, just how much pork the Cochon 555 champ cooks every week, and which Beatle has graced his dining room.
Seats in the dining room: 120
Seats in the lounge: 70
Seats in the private dining room: 45
Times owner Wolfgang Puck visited the Source in the last year: Four
The District hosts a lot of lame ducks, but it is also a longtime haven for aficionados of the feathered fowl. George Washington liked to unwind by hunting for mallards. Dick Cheney enjoyed a similar relaxation technique, but his poor aim scored him headlines rather than dinner. These days Nancy Pelosi is the winged wonder’s highest ranking admirer. As the story goes, the discerning Democrat uses duck dishes to judge the quality of a restaurant. Luckily for The Source’s(575 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, 202-637- 6100; ) executive chef Scott Drewno, she adores his lacquered Chinese duckling. “She keeps coming back for it,” says the talented toque. “I’m always happy to hear her tell me that she loves it.” And no wonder: The preparation involves a three-day process, cooking the whole duck at four different temperatures, and bathing it in a vinegarsolution.
The California congresswoman can take a world tour by taste-testing some of the District’s other finest restaurants. Chef-owner Dean Gold places an Italian stamp on the leek- and black-cardamom-spiced duck breast at Dino(3435 Connecticut Ave. NW, 202-686-2966); there is a French-fusion spin on chef-owner Bart Vandaele’s duck breast a l’orange at Belga(514 8th St. SE, 202-544-0100); and José Andrés puts a Spanish accent on masa cakes stuffed with shredded duck confit at Café Atlántico(405 8th St. NW, 202-393-0812).
I’ve had the pleasure of dining at the Source several times, where I’ve always enjoyed Drewno’s talented take on traditional Chinese cuisine. Those meals have always been extravagant, multi-dish feasts that seem to consume the entire table though. So how would he tackle the tiny portion tasting menu format? Turns out that this challenge sent him back to the drawing board. He developed 10 new dishes for his Rogue Session, which is more than any other chef participating thus far.
It’s ballsy to try out so many new ideas at a place like Rogue 24. When portions are so compact and diners’ attention is so zoned in, failures are glaring. Not that I’m worried. Drewno seems to have a dexterous versatility, which means he can spearhead a pop-up at Toki Underground one day and be named a James Beard semifinalist for Best Chef the next. Let’s see what going for broke tastes like.
Bacon & eggs/char siu pork/quail egg
“This is my play on bacon and eggs,” says chef Drewno as he puts down a small rectangular plate with a curl of char siu barbecued pork belly and a stained glass dyed quail’s egg. The hidden yolk is deviled, which matches the sugary tones of the pig. I wholly endorse this breakfast-as-appetizer approach. Game on.
Tonight I’m doing the non-alcoholic pairings; the first is a grape phosphate soda. A trio of pickled grapes knocks around at the bottom of the glass like stone marbles. With a crunchy pop these green orbs reveal an acidity that complements the tiny inch-long baby octopus floating in a vinegary Asian chili sauce alongside a few coriander-pickled cuke cubes. The meat is springy, but soft; a real treat.
Step away from the Chef Boyardee can and stop humming “On Top of Spaghetti” already. The meatball — the comfort food classic common to cuisines as disparate as Afghani (lamb kofte kebabs) and Andalusian (saffron albondigas) — has rolled back into style at restaurants and at parties.
And while making your own meaty orbs takes time, the process isn’t difficult, and it yields a crowd-pleasing party food. “Everyone loves a good meatball,” says Casa Nonna executive chef Amy Brandwein (1250 Connecticut Ave. NW; 202-629-2505). “They’re simple but also very complicated.”
To begin, you’ll need to start pressing the flesh, so to speak. Basically, a meatball involves finely ground meat, which boasts a consistency that mixes well with spices and forms easily into rounds.
The type of meat you choose can be based on what you like or the type of cuisine: Pork is nice in Asian meatballs; lamb lends a pungent earthiness to Mediterranean versions; and a combination of beef, veal and pork works well for Italian-style polpette.
It can be depressing when every casual conversation you have includes phrases such as “windchill factor,” “whiteout” and “the next Snowpocalypse.” But you can fight the winter blues one spoonful at a time by slurping up a bowl (or two) of the superlative soups found in our nation’s capital. They have the power to fill your belly, lift your spirits and remind you that warmer seasons will soon come. Get the lowdown on four places to sit down and two takeaway options over at the Express website now.