100 Best Restaurants 2010: Sou’Wester

No. 69: Sou'Wester

Cuisine: Straightforward Southern cookery as seen through the eyes of one of the area’s most celebrated chefs, Eric Ziebold, and one of the world’s elite hotels, the Mandarin Oriental. From the expertly engineered biscuits and hushpuppies to the meticulously rendered grits and fried chicken, the mastery of detail is inescapable—you may come away marveling at the clarity of many of these dishes. It’s hard, too, not to wonder whether it was all necessary—whether down-home food really benefits from being so technically proficient.

Mood: The plate-glass window looks out onto the Southwest DC waterfront, but there the appeal of the multilevel room pretty much ends. This is as sterile as hotel dining gets (pouring a Miller into a Champagne glass seems as incongruous as grits and hushpuppies at the Mandarin Oriental), despite the few Southern-style touches on the table and the earnest efforts of the excellent staff.

Best for: Those who crave unpretentious comfort food and who can put up with digging into it in a pretentious setting.

Best dishes: Root-beer float with Jack Daniel’s; a remarkable, seemingly cream-free crab bisque; Rappahannock oysters with a house-made grilled sausage; the best hushpuppies you’ll ever eat, Sou’Wester’s inspired counterpart to the irresistible mini–Parker House rolls at CityZen; creamy yellow grits with a yolk-spilling poached egg and miniature bites of veal sweetbreads; juicy, well-seasoned pan-fried chicken; a filet of porgy with a rich crab imperial; banana cream pie.

Insider tips: The hushpuppies, unlike a lot of hot, fried foods, hold up surprisingly well; order an extra round or two and take them home.

Service: •••

Open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Moderate to expensive.

See all of 2010's 100 Best Restaurants 

Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Logan Circle.