2011 Spring Dining Guide
By Tom Sietsema
Sunday, May 15, 2011
The name suggests something folksier than the chic interior delivers. But the food at CityZen's simpler sibling in the plush Mandarin Oriental, helmed since January by chef de cuisine Eddie Moran, is newly seductive. Hot hush puppies break open to reveal fluffy centers, crisp oysters reinforce the kitchen's knack for frying, and every slice of the knife draws juice from chicken cooked beneath a brick and brightly seasoned with a jam of Meyer lemon and rosemary. Sou'Wester's lamb soup - packed with comfort in the form of ham, tomato, beans, greens and chopped cured lamb flank - was a winter obsession of mine; the bowl deserves permanent residency on the menu.
Not far from several theatrical attractions, Sou'Wester would be wise to trim its trencherman portions; some of us would rather not to fall asleep during the second half of a show at Arena Stage. Moran, an alumnus of the respected Jardiniere in San Francisco but more recently from the dining scene in Charleston, S.C., responds, "I want people to go home with dinner, and lunch for the next day."
Count on his market salad to truly sing of the season, his shrimp and grits to honor the South - and a slip now and then. Mushroom soup, for instance, smacks more of Campbell's than a kitchen. Yet dishes such as the smoked bluefish salad, sweetened with apple juice and creamy with aioli (and eaten with airy house-made potato chips), reinforces Sou'Wester's mid-Atlantic theme, and my enthusiasm for the cooking here.
Inside advice: Tables 91 through 94 come with views of the Potomac, but the most romantic of the landings here might be No. 86, overlooking the Tidal Basin.
Although the service is serious, the menu lets you have some fun. Order Miller High Life, and the $5 brew arrives on ice in a champagne bucket, with a flute; among the desserts is a fine red velvet cake.
Last dinner, my coat was waiting for me as I departed, and our car was parked right out front while hordes of partyers stood waiting for a valet. Either a restaurant critic was made, or Sou'Wester aims for superior service. I'd love to believe it's the latter.