Second Source [restaurant review]
As I walked up to The Source’s new location in Manhattan Beach for the first time, I mused over all the different meanings for the word source. While waiting for my food I looked them up on the internet, and in case you’re interested, there are 10 synonyms, which include pedigree, origin, fountain, dawn, cause, and provenance. I have no idea which meaning sparked the name of the restaurant, but it works on several levels.
The Source opened their first location in Hermosa in 2012, which makes that the source of The Source. When I reviewed the original in 2013, I found much to like about the innovative and health-conscious combinations of fruits and vegetables, though the offerings were somewhat limited and most portions were on the small side. The Manhattan Beach location is more ambitious, and based on two experiences there, also more successful. They’re open morning to night rather than just breakfast and lunch, offer a wider selection of items, and serve wine, beer, and low-alcohol cocktails. Chef-owner Amber Caudle created a menu that is both gluten and dairy free, so those with dietary sensitivities have great variety to choose from.
In some cases I found it hard to believe that they were eschewing gluten, because their breads were so successful. The pinnacle of this was the eggplant and tomato bruschetta on sourdough, a dinner item that is offered in panini form at lunch. I enjoy sourdough bread and have been disappointed by every GF version of it I have had until now. This one was a remarkably good platform for a delectable mix of roasted tomato, eggplant, and seeded pesto. A sprinkling of fresh herbs added aroma and texture, and the sunny Mediterranean flavors melded to create a must-try item.
Another item I found dazzling was their cassava tacos filled with cauliflower mole, pickled red onion, and topped with cilantro. I have never liked casava breads much because they usually have a heavy, starchy character and not much flavor, but Chef Caudle has managed to make cassava tortillas that are actually interesting. The texture is similar to a chewy, white flour tortilla, the flavor mildly earthy, and they hold together well even with a moist filler. There are three street tacos to an order, and the spicy mole with crunchy, pungent pickled onion packs a lot of flavor.
Other starters that can also be a main course include a salad with three different types of beets roasted, pickled, and raw. It’s interesting as an exploration of the different flavors available from one ingredient, but would be an academic exercise if the other elements weren’t complementary. The lightly bitter arugula, citrus dressing, fresh herbs, dukkah seasoning, and almond-based ricotta cheese do this quite well. The mixed vegetable bowl also used dukkah, an Egyptian seasoning mix of coarsely ground nuts, herbs, and spices, which helped tie together the separate portions of sweet potato, roasted cauliflower, green salad, and avocado topped with pesto and a poached egg. This is both a balanced and a hearty meal – you won’t hear any complaints about portion size here – and the dukkah added a spicy and exotic flavor along with a bit of sesame and nut crunch. The experience of tasting these two dishes made me decide to add that spice to my grocery list, because I want to play with it at home.
There were a few items that didn’t work quite as well, like the banana bread French toast topped with banana slices, jam, cashew butter, maple syrup, and cinnamon-coconut pecans. This might work well as a dessert, but as a breakfast it’s only for those who really like to start the day with something extremely sweet. We also tried a daily special of fried kabocha squash that wasn’t bad, but didn’t live up to my expectations. It was cut just a bit too thick to become crisp, and while the flavor was fine, it was ordinary while most other things here were well above that level.
The fried chicken sandwich plate was conventional but very well executed, a big chunk of crisp-battered bird with spicy aioli and pickles on a GF bun that was remarkably like a traditional biscuit. The pickled carrots that came with it had a sharply vinegary flavor, and I might ask for a different side if I order this again.
Then again, now that I know
about the salmon dinner, it will be hard to order anything else there. The perfectly
roasted fish is over black rice atop a mild carrot-turmeric curry, and the flavors are brilliant together. Black rice, sometimes called forbidden rice because it was reserved for Chinese aristocracy, has a mildly nutty flavor like brown rice but a smoother, slightly chewy texture. It was integral to the dish rather than being just a background starch, and we got every particle of rice and bit of curry from the bottom of the bowl.
To pair with your meal there are beer, wine, and cocktails, but also house-made elixirs that can pack a non-alcoholic punch. The “turmeric tonic” has hefty amounts of cinnamon, ginger, cayenne, and black pepper oil mixed with cider vinegar and lemon, and your first sip will send your senses into overdrive. It’s hot and cold, vinegary and citrusy; a drink you can’t just knock back but have to savor. It’s also available as a cocktail ingredient, though I haven’t tried that yet. We did try a Source 75, a mix of sparkling wine, dry vermouth, lemon, green orange oil, and monkfruit; and a mix of sparkling wine with fruit called Shimmer & Shine. I thoroughly enjoyed the former but found the latter a bit sweet for my tastes. The Source gets credit for setting tradition aside and crafting original wine-based cocktails rather than trying to make ersatz versions of old school drinks like a whiskey sour.
They also offer a selection of wines and beers, and on our most recent visit they recommended a Farmlands Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. This was very good, with bold fruity flavors balanced with acidity, and it made me want to check out their other wines by the glass to see if there are more gems like it. It would go very well with The Source’s chocolate-sea salt budino, which includes exotic ingredients like baru nut and, almost unbelievably, lion’s mane mushroom. I couldn’t discern exactly what each of those added to the chocolate flavor because I had never tried them separately, but the combination certainly works. It’s rich, creamy, exotic, and thoroughly satisfying.
The Source is a source of wonder to me, a wildly eclectic and creative place sandwiched between an Indian restaurant and the Big Wok Mongolian barbecue. You may not have noticed it before, but you should seek it out. Get it to go or dine on their nice patio with amusing art, but go. You’ll be glad you did.
The Source is at 924 N. Sepulveda in Manhattan Beach. Open We. — Sun. 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. Parking and outdoor dining in rear. Wheelchair access good. Many vegan options, Beer and wine. (310) 921-8505. TheSourceCafe.com. ER
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