The Mandarin Oriental is a beautiful, imposing hotel nestled in the desolate southwest corner of Washington near L’Enfant Plaza. Preciously polite bellhops greet me as the taxi pulls up. As I enter the hotel through its revolving doors, my neck strains upward—the hotel’s foyer has strikingly tall ceilings, impressive décor and glamorous flower displays. The lobby is quiet—filled, no doubt, with business travelers who chose to stay the weekend in Washington.
I follow the music through the hotel back to Sou’wester, the American bistro nestled in a hotel with an Asian flair. The entire building, with its high ceilings, glistening marble and wood floors, pale walls, minimalist décor and influx of natural light, is peaceful and calming. I actually pause from my thousand-miles-an-hour routine to breathe, if momentarily.
Along the way I scoop up Meaghan, who yesterday was a (blonde) rival and today is, again, a best friend. “I was pleasantly surprised when we walked in to find a mini live orchestra complete with a full sized bass, hard to come by these days,” she says.
The waiter sat us by the window, overlooking the marina and letting us soak up the remaining sunshine as fall continued to hold out through November.
After the Blondes vs. Brunettes football game the day before, neither of us could stomach mimosas or Bloody Marys. I ordered my usual: “water, orange juice, and coffee.” “Same for me,” said Meaghan.
“Oooh,” she quipped, spotting the “Almost as good as the last time I made pumpkin pie,” cocktail, made with pumpkin-infused vodka, on the menu. We vowed to come back another evening to sample.
The wait staff—a crew of three for our table—kept our water and orange juice classes consistently full. “Thank goodness,” said Meaghan, a fellow GWU grad student and six-cups-a-day coffee addict, when they placed a full French press of fresh coffee on our table.
The meal began with a lovely bread basket filled with biscuits, rolls, and cornbread muffins, served with sides of heavenly honey butter and an olive oil spread—something I rarely see but always enjoy.
Lovers of all things pumpkin, we both spotted the roasted sugar pie pumpkin soup on the menu. “You get it,” I said to Meaghan, “Soup is kind of hard to share.” Ever accommodating, our waiter offered to split the soup for us—leaving us both happy girls.
“The soup was by far the highlight of my meal—it was rich and not too thick, with a dollop of whipped crème fraiche on top. Sitting here writing this, I’m tempted to head back to Sou’wester for my lunch break just to have another bowl,” Meaghan later said in an e-mail.
Sou’wester, which means “Southwest winds,” serves, unsurprisingly, American comfort food from the same region. Having an appreciation for all things Southern after four years in North Carolina, I mandated that we order the hush puppies. They were perfectly done, served in a tin basket with parchment paper and more honey butter, of which we couldn’t get enough. Meaghan, in general, isn’t wild about hush puppies, so she only tried one while this Southern belle had more than a few.
We also split the quiche du jour, served with a side of mixed greens and tomato Provencal. “The tomato Provencal was somewhat soggy and I didn’t go back for a second bite— but the quiche was made of Gruyere cheese and spinach and the crust was the perfect amount of flaky,” said Meaghan after-the-fact. “My only complaint was that the portion was rather small—I could have eaten a lot more.”
We finished the meal with an order of French toast to share. Again, the server again offered to split the order on separate plates for both of us—thoughtful and considerate. Served with fresh raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries, the French toast was above average, yet made with typical slices of bread—reverting back to the restaurant’s mission of delicious, well-prepared-yet-familiar dishes everyone can enjoy.
The Blonde and Brunette Bitches say: A for amazing service, fantastic ambiance, and great comfort food.
Sou’wester at the Mandarin Oriental
1330 Maryland Avenue S.W.