Muze in the Mandarin Oriental: New name, new talent, new food. How about a new look?


The Mandarin Oriental’s Muze: new name, new chef, new menu — but the same look. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

The informal restaurant in the Mandarin Oriental changed its name from Sou’wester to Muze last month, a reboot that includes the appointment of a new chef de cuisine, Mark McDonnell, a veteran of Rogue 24, and finds more Asian accents on the list.

For your consideration: a sandwich layered with beet relish, goat cheese and falafel (made green with edamame) and a main course of veal glazed with fermented black bean sauce. The latter shows up with a carrot puree seasoned with star anise that further underscores the venue’s change in direction.

It can take a few meals to warm up to the concept — and several long minutes to be greeted by a waiter, who only after taking your order brings out water. At the same lunch, another server goes from table to table asking “Caesar? Caesar?,” eventually reaching the party waiting for the salad. Nearby, a companion and I leave most of our corn fritters in their cute fry basket; the snack tastes fine, and we like the racy chili sauce for dipping, but the fritters’ coats are tough as leather.

The name is fresh; the look isn’t. The setting remains a big, boring, pale yellow dining room, with theater-length white curtains framing its enormous windows. Muze has sweep and light in its favor, but not flair.

So why make the trip? Because the plump steamed mussels in a pool of green curry are excellent, and they come not just with french fries that compel you to finish them but also with a hot, wet cloth and a lemon wedge for cleaning up after the fragrant seafood feast. And because the coconut tapioca is one of those rare desserts that satisfy your sweet tooth while also leaving a refreshing trail in their wake. The soothing, snow-white finale fits in a lovely coconut sorbet, diced pineapple and pale green panes of cucumber meringue.

The kitchen also does well by simple roasted rockfish, which it mounts on smashed potatoes sparked with black olives. On top of the entree teeters a tiny crown of sea bean tempura and some shaved fennel.

McDonnell, 30, has talent. But he needs the cooperation of the dining room staff to make Muze more of a draw. And some decorating funds wouldn’t hurt.

1330 Maryland Ave. SW. 202-787-6148. www.mandarinoriental.com/
washington/fine-dining
. Lunch sandwiches and entrees, $14 to $32; dinner entrees, $20 to $39.

Weaned on a beige buffet a la “Fargo” in Minnesota, Tom Sietsema is the food critic for The Washington Post. This is his second tour of duty at the Post. Sietsema got his first taste in the ‘80s, when he was hired by his predecessor to answer phones, write some, and test the bulk of the Food section’s recipes. That’s how he learned to clean squid, bake colonial cakes and distinguish between nutmeg and mace.
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