DC’s posh Mandarin Oriental hotel might be an unlikely place to show off the sleepy, Southern side of Washington, but chef Eric Ziebold is seeking to do just that. His casual new restaurant, Sou’Wester, offers a Gone With the Wind vibe with gone-to-the-Eastern-Shore regional comfort food.
Occupying the former Café MoZU space, the restaurant invokes a distinctly different sense of time and place than Ziebold’s sleek destination dining room, CityZen. Diners catch their first whiff of Sou’Wester’s bucolic-chic seasoning in the lobby “sun porch,” where “country time” happy hour—with cocktails between $7 and $10—is served in wooden rocking chairs daily from 3 to 5. Inside, ceiling lamps covered in wicker resemble crab pots, sunflowers float in glass vases, and a spacious, breezy dining room looks out on houseboats bobbing on the Southwest waterfront.
“Sou’Wester is a moment back in time,” says Ziebold. “When creating it, we thought, ‘What is it that we’d like to eat in DC sitting on the waterfront? What represents the city?’ ”
Ziebold has charged CityZen chef de cuisine Rachael Harriman with overseeing the menu, which is peppered with updated Southern-style flavors (pork belly and pickled watermelon rind, roast shoat leg with baked beans) as well as Mid-Atlantic influences (Maryland blue-crab bisque, sautéed perch with Old Bay chowder). The fryer gets plenty of action too, sending out hush puppies, okra, crispy chicken, and even apple pie. On the sweets end, CityZen pastry chef Amanda Cook brings banana cream pie, brownie sundaes, and carrot cake to the roster.
But even the most hardened porch rocker knows you can’t mop up crab fritters, pan-fried oysters, and black-eyed peas on a dry palette. Sou’Wester’s traditional cocktails include a Proper Mint Julep and a root-beer float buoyed by Jack Daniel’s, while oenophiles can pick from more than 100 varietals. The bar serves Dom Pérignon by the glass, but if you’re looking for something more laid-back, you’ll spot Miller High Life and Pabst Blue Ribbon amid the microbrews on the beer menu.
“I look at this as a rural destination,“ Ziebold says. “Few people realize that Washington is a water town where people fish and live on their boats. Now, instead of going to Annapolis or the Eastern Shore to get that country experience, they can come here.” Of course, diners may want to scrub off a bit of that country salt and dirt from their fingernails if they choose to check in to the hotel: Rooms run from $495 to $10,000 a night.
Open daily for breakfast from 6:30 to 11, lunch from 11:30 to 5, and dinner from 5:30 to 10.