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Not every source in Washington, D.C., is anonymous. The Source, Wolfgang Puck’s debut restaurant in the nation’s capital, is anything but anonymous, with a chic, assertive personality and excellent food that is already drawing crowds only a month or so after opening. Just off Pennsylvania Avenue and 6th Street Northwest, The Source is in the ultramodern building housing the under-construction Newseum, which opens next year. But banish from your mind any idea that The Source is merely a museum cafeteria with heat-lamped hot dogs wrapped in foil. The Source is a restaurant to be reckoned with, right up there with its neighbor, the Capital Grille. Reservations are already hard to come by at The Source’s upstairs dining room, and even in the ground-floor bar area, where a more casual menu and ambiance prevail, crowds surge and recede — mostly surge — throughout the evening. What people are lining up for upstairs is a menu of substantial dishes with American, European, and Asian heritage, all prepared and served with a distinctive Asian gloss. Executive chef Scott Drewno got his start in the Puck empire as a line cook at Chinois in Las Vegas, so anointing a range of dishes with Asian flavors is his specialty. My entree one night was a hearty dish of American-style Kobe beef short ribs ($36). But what set it apart from any other plate of short ribs was that it was cooked with Indian spices, which sounds risky but works terrifically well. Similarly, my dining partner’s main meal was a sizable pan-roasted lobster ($58), lacquered with a sweetened sauce combining flavors of garlic, pepper, and Thai basil. Too sweet, my friend thought; it robbed the lobster of some of its fresh-from-the-sea zip. A fair point, but I think it still worked as an intriguing approach to serving lobster. At that price, it had better be good. Opening dishes were superb. The shrimp and scallop siu mai (small dumplings) were the best we’d ever had ($16), with the fish flavor enhanced by a sauce of a curry-tinged emulsion of lobster and uni (sea urchin). A spicy tuna tartare ($15) was served with sesame-miso wafers shaped into cones, a very good complementary taste. During one lull in service, we were offered small helpings of Szechuan green beans and Chinese duckling that were perfectly done. Likewise for the fare on the bar menu downstairs, which we sampled in two separate forays. My favorite was arancini ($8) just like my grandmother used to make (honest). These are small balls of cooked rice, moistened with tomato sauce, then lightly breaded so that when fried, they look like small oranges — hence the name. When my wife and I went to the bar lounge on a Saturday night (no reservations required) we tried several offerings, including what looked to be the most popular: Kobe beef sliders ($16), a plate of mini burgers, each topped by a grilled pickle chip about the same small size as the burger itself. With homemade buns, they were playful and very good, though they got cold fast. We also tried fresh and flavorful bluefin tuna tartare ($17), shaped into a burger-like round and served with wontons and ginger. Some side dishes were decadent: parsley-flecked french fries ($8) with great crunch and flavor, enhanced with rich bearnaise sauce for dipping; and concentrically stacked shoestring onion rings ($8), served with harissa aioli, a sort of peppery mayonnaise. They were all excellent, though overly salted. At midmeal, another dish arrived, compliments of the chef: one of Puck’s signature pizzas, with thick slices of smoked salmon and salmon roe covering dill-spiked sour cream ($22). Very tasty, though it seemed more suited for a Sunday brunch than a Saturday night. The chef and the wait staff were attentive, and we and other customers got numerous visits from various maitre d’s, managers, and even the chef himself, all asking how things were going. On another trip, I had a complaint that a bartender responded to quickly. I noticed that the three television sets in the bar were all tuned to sports. But ensconced inside a building devoted to news, shouldn’t The Source offer at least one news channel? I asked the bartender, and soon CNN flickered on one set. The experience was complete.
Tony Mauro, Legal Times ‘ Supreme Court correspondent, has reviewed restaurants for more than 30 years. On a freelance basis, he also writes articles for the First Amendment Center, an operating program of the Freedom Forum, which will operate the Newseum in the building where The Source is located.

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