Source opened for business in late 2010 with ambitions to showcase “global tapas,” meaning it wouldn’t be bound by a particular cuisine when it designed its menus and that its many small plates would, we assume, be eclectic and engaging.
My early visits were impressive but not thrilling. The cooking at the Granite Bay eatery was solid and the menu inviting, but it never achieved that funky tapas vibe that would have heightened the experience.
But now, three-plus years later, the restaurant has it all dialed in – the menu is exciting and very well designed, the cooking is precise and often beautiful, the beer and wine options are appropriately focused on pairing with food, and the service staff is passionate and knowledgeable about the restaurant’s mission.
Tapas, or small plates, are an ideal way to get know a serious chef because you can jump around the menu, find an array of ingredients, seasonings and combinations that appeal to you and then zero in on the kitchen’s thinking about food.
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Irie Gengler, the well-traveled co-owner/chef, has an excellent résumé (including stints at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago, Roy’s Restaurant on Maui, Brix in the Napa Valley and the Firehouse in Old Sacramento) and a serious repertoire. His food, while rooted in the Mediterranean, is all over the map – but in a good way.
Nevertheless, a tapas restaurant in an upscale suburban shopping center poses a particular challenge, for it will attracts serious, well-traveled foodies willing to try adventurous and edgy dishes, but it will also draw a good number of straightforward eaters who want food that seems familiar and doesn’t jar their palates.
The amazing thing about the menu at Source is that it offers plenty of options for both camps without dumbing down the flavors or compromising quality. The offering of food and the wide-ranging sourcing at Source are very thoughtfully realized.
For instance, those looking for vegetables to take centerstage might focus on the blistered shisito peppers with sea salt dubbed “Russian roulette,” because you never know if you’ll be nibbling on a mild pepper or one that will set your mouth ablaze (great with a pale ale from nearby Loomis Basin Brewing); grilled asparagus with arugula and Sierra Nevada chevre cheese (perhaps paired a sparkling wine); or a salad of roasted beets with goat cheese and crunchy toasted hazelnuts.
Also worth ordering is the large Fuyu persimmon salad ($9.50), loaded with ingredients and colors, making for a rustic-meets-refined eating experience (pairs nicely with a chardonnay from Frank Family Vineyards).
This seasonal salad would be a full (and very healthful) meal for many.
While all the food is well done, relatively safe – it would be unfair to call them tame – tapas should attract eaters we might label as fussy, if not set in their ways: Hawaiian-style flank steak served sliced with a mix of meaty shiitake and portabello mushrooms atop creamy potatoes ($26 for the entree or $15.50 for a tapas serving); richly marinated “drunken beef skewers” around sweet potatoes ($8.50); or beef sliders topped with a wonderful smoky/salty/sweet bacon marmalade served with sweet potato fries ($13.50).
All are great choices for someone who might have that deer-in-the-headlights look when encountering the food options here.
One of the things that makes Source soar, however, is that these relatively safe dishes still have plenty of appeal to serious eaters – the techniques, the precision and the great flavors are constants nearly everywhere on the menu.
But foodies will not want to stop there. There’s a really fun “seafood in a can” dish of scallops that will make you think you are eating one of those great dishes at a dock on the Galician Estuary in Spain.
Then there is one of my favorite edgy dishes at Source that I highly recommend – Boquerones ($7.50), long, elegant slices of Spanish white anchovies marinated in olive oil and served with these oversized and toothsome “giant” white beans, sliced quail eggs and yuzu zest. The anchovies are briny and tender and deep with fish flavor, and they work well with the acidity of the white beans in the tangy sauce.
This outstanding and engaging little dish worked well with an off-dry riesling or a Railrider Black India Pale Ale by the new Out of Bounds Brewing in Rocklin.
Getting a true sense of the food and the superb cooking will take either several visits or a meal with a large group.
Other recommended dishes include the Dungeness crab tater tots (fried with a perfect crunchy shell but still tender inside); the seared diver scallops with pesto potatoes and ginger creamed corn; the barbecue glazed baby back ribs; the house-made chorizo with a winning balance of spicy heat offset by a slight sweetness; and the meatballs that get that meaty texture just right and have a great depth of flavor and nuance in just a few bites.
The service here definitely adds to the experience. The front of the house is clearly connected to the kitchen and passionate about what’s going on with the food. When you ask about a dish or a technique or are looking for a recommendation, you’re going to get an answer that is sincere, detailed and intelligent.
The desserts hold up just fine with the bulk of the savory menu. While I’m rarely thrilled with flan – it’s almost always OK but rarely great – this flan was firmer and more substantial than most, and the coconut flavoring was a pleasant kick. But my favorite dessert was the fig bon bons – a complex little surprise of wonderful figs covered in one kind of chocolate and stuffed with another.
The wine and beer selections are also made with plenty of thought, with a surprisingly large wine list of local, regional and international labels that make pairings with the food a pleasant experience with numerous options and approaches; and the beers showcase some of the best regional breweries, including Berryessa, Loomis Basin and Out of Bounds.
Since that initial visit when I was happy but not blown away in late 2010, I have returned to find a restaurant that has it all figured out.
My only regret is that I did not return sooner.