After the Kite Festival, we checked out Sou'Wester in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. The hotel might not be near anything, but it has a fantastic view of the waterfront and tidal basin. After loving everything about CityZen at the Mandarin, we were eager to try out its casual comfort food-serving sibling Sou'Wester.
I bet you're wondering: what is up with that name? Well, Sou'Wester refers to a wind from the southwest (think Nor'Easter), and since the restaurant is in Southwest, DC and serves southern food, it makes some sense. It probably wouldn't be on my short list of names though. As for the pronunciation, according to the staff, it is intentionally ambiguous and can be pronounced multiple ways.
The dining room is just casual enough to make you fit in wearing jeans but just fancy enough to feel like a special night out. I loved the waterfront view from our table by the window.
Now that I have a bread machine (see here), I have no sympathy for restaurants with crappy, stale bread baskets. Making bread is so easy. Sou'Wester won me over with their cornbread/sweet potato roll/biscuit basket. I liked the creativity and generous portions.
After a nice chat with the sommelier and a good wine recommendation, we ordered oysters, which were pan-fried then served in the shell with a spicy, creamy sauce. The flavor was great but the presentation was the star. The oysters were served over a bed of rock salt piled high to look like ice and dotted with black peppercorns. While the plates fit the southern theme, we thought they were too ugly and too old-fashioned to fit with the modern dining room.
We ordered a side of hushpuppies and grits to go along with our meal. The grits weren't memorable (though B may disagree), but the hushpuppies were the first hushpuppies I've ever had that weren't hard as rocks. One time in college the dining hall served hushpuppies. They were so hard that people took to throwing them around. Well, everything is funny until a hushpuppy lands in your cereal bowl and splashes milk all over your face. But I digress....
For his entree, B had the red snapper with mashed potatoes. For good measure, they added a hearty dose of bacon. In B's world, bacon makes everything better.
I had my heart set on fried chicken and ordered it even though it didn't make the waitress' list of suggestions. Unlike so many over-fried chickens, this one struck the perfect balance between juicy and crispy. It had me comparing it to the fried chicken that my Grandmother's brother makes, and if I'm comparing fried chicken to Uncle Boyd's chicken, you know it is good!
For dessert we ordered the fried apple pie which was not worth the calories. It had a lot of pastry shell and not a lot of filling, and just tasted dry overall. The vanilla ice cream was good but not good enough to rescue the pie. I put down my fork with pie left over and that is a very rare event for me. Next time, I'll skip dessert and focus on finishing all of my fried chicken and hushpuppies.
Second Thoughts From B
I'm a jeans and t-shirt kind of guy. I'm in no way uncomfortable in formal situations but I more in my element when I don't have to worry about presenting myself with utmost decorum. That's probably why I so enjoyed Sou'Wester. You'll find better dining options in DC (look next door at CityZen) but you won't find many that are as casually comfortable as this. And don't be confused; this is mostly a one-way street. While most guests are dressed down, the staff is buttoned up and treat you as a fine diner whether you're in shorts or a tux.
As J said, we had a beautiful window table overlooking the marina and Jefferson Memorial. Dressed up or down, it was a million dollar view. The food in my opinion - including the creamy grits and comfortingly simple apple pie - was more representative of the view than my outfit... in other words, high-class. My fish tasted like a perfectly deconstructed seafood chowder. Whether that was the intention, I don't know, but it was good. I enjoyed the oysters and felt that the hushpuppies were as good as they get (granted, my experience is limited). The winner though was J and her fried chicken. Unlike hushpuppies, I've eated a lot of fried chicken in my life and this might top the list. Even if it doesn't, it makes the conversation. In my opinion, great fried chicken makes your mouth water weeks after you've eaten it and by that criteria, we've got a winner.