The Majestic, Level, and Sou’Wester: The Needle

Every month, we take the pulse of three area restaurants.

The Majestic
Sunday nights at this Old Town standby can be frustrating if you haven’t put in an order for Nana’s Sunday Dinner, a family-style feast of, say, delicious-looking fried chicken with mac and cheese and strawberry shortcake—none of it is offered on the à la carte menu. But you still can eat well. A Caesar salad made tableside is one of the best we’ve had. Our table fought over a gorgeous curl of butter-poached lobster with lobster ravioli. The Chesapeake seafood stew’s broth could have used more punch, but it was packed with fresh shrimp, clams, and mussels. And an over-the-top brownie sundae complete with rainbow sprinkles shone.

On a recent trip to this Annapolis small-plates hot spot, we enjoyed an array of tastes that honored its lineup of local purveyors, including house-made pickled veggies, quick-roasted Brussels sprouts seasoned with tea-smoked salt, hand-cut fries sprinkled with garlic, thyme, and rosemary, and a complex three-mushroom risotto. The only sour notes? The bison satay skewers we once loved were stringier this time, and dessert remains an afterthought.

When this Mandarin Oriental hotel restaurant opened in 2009, it was billed as Eric Ziebold’s venture into down-home Southern cooking—a departure from the complex sauces at CityZen, his other kitchen. He installed chef de cuisine Rachael Harriman to oversee production of the fluffy biscuits and crackly fried chicken. Harriman left in February, and in her wake is a watered-down menu. Once-dreamy hushpuppies recently arrived over-fried, slices of duck were gray, and coconut cake was dry. Even the best dishes of the meal—steamed clams in white wine, grilled oysters with a vinegar-bacon sauce, and brick-grilled chicken—were unmemorable.

This article appears in the July 2011 issue of The Washingtonian.

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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.