I remember the first time I tried dim sum, like it was yesterday. Only it was 1994 and I was in in the middle of my undergraduate experience, wearing flannel shirts, buck shoes, and jcrew jeans. I basically looked like this. A friend and I skipped Humanities 101 for a stop in Downtown Crossing to have the top of our earlobes pierced. Ouch. After what seemed like surgery without any anesthesia, my friend suggested we get dim sum. Dim sum? What's dim sum? I didn't want to sound like an ignoramus, so I casually said that "I loooove dim sum." It should be noted that at that point in my life I called myself a sketchatairan, refusing to eat most meat. Typical meals: Celeste pizza and cheese sandwiches from Subway. To say I had a limited palate is an understatement. Obviously, I had never tried dim sum.
My friend, a Chinese American, guided me through lunch proudly, quietly boasting about food that was a part of her family's roots. Dishes arrived at our table: brown blobs stuffed in dumplings, chicken feet, fish roe, and other unrecognizables wrapped in leaves. Did I feel cosmopolitan? No, I felt quesy. The food was good, if I could get past my psychological limitations, but as an ignoramus trying new things it was unsettling. Plus my earlobe was killing me.
My taste buds have grow up since then, and I can truly say that "I looove dim sum," but finding a great dim sum restaurant in the DC area has been difficult. A few weeks ago, I tried the Saturday dim sum brunch at The Source, where Scott Drewno is serving up some seriously delicious plates.
This is not the dim sum you may find in chinatown or suburban strip malls. Those places are indeed delicious, but so is yuppie dim sum. I think it's "differently awesome" and there are enough shout-outs to authenticity to make dim sum aficionados happy. The biggest problem at The Source is knowing what to order.
The way dim sum at The Source works is your order is grouped into "tastes," basically small plates. 5 tastes for $30 and 8 tastes for $40. Five tastes are more than enough for one person, but it's much better if you go with a bunch of people and order many, so you can try them all. I'm going to make it easy for you by providing a list of 8 tastes that I would order off the menu next time I go. The 5 tastes highlighted in green were my favorites.
- Potbelly Potstickers (order two plates of these!)
- Wild Field Mushroom Dumplings
- Duck Bao Buns
- Chinese Sausage Fried Rice
- Shanghai Noodles with Oxtail (or w/o if you are a veggie. I tried them both ways and they were equally tasty)
- Wok Fired Shrimp Dumplings
- Turnip Cake
- Crystal Chive Dumpling
In terms of ordering strategy, I recommend sticking to the Asian dishes. I thought the lobster BLT was fine, but forgettable, especially among the spice. Due to pregnancy diet restrictions, I didn't try the Banh Mi or the Kobe Beef Hash. They are on my list for next time!
The Source offers tasty Bloody Mary variations. The DC-themed one has a tiny little half smoke garnish. A super treat, even if you order it without alcohol.